Wow. That was amazing.
My siblings and I just finished an epic read-aloud journey into the far-off world of Prydain, created by Lloyd Alexander. Something about fantasy series - there's just nothing like them. Especially when they're read out loud. Know what I mean? Some of my greatest sibling memories were formed when my dad was reading The Lord of the Rings and the Chronicles of Narnia out loud to us. Falling in love with the characters and the constant wondering what would happen next gave us something to talk about and share in common despite our different interests, and - well, enough reminiscing. :) Prydain was a rare chance to share yet another fantasy journey with my siblings when I was near convinced there wasn't anything left to read. :)
So, there are five books in the series, in this order:
1. The Book of Three
2. The Black Cauldron
3. The Castle of Llyr
4. Taran Wanderer
5. The High King
My review will be of the series as a whole, and at the end, if you're interested, you may see the books listed in order of my favorite to my least favorite. :)
What was it about?
I already mentioned it was an epic fantasy journey - can anything else be said? :)
Actually, the plot was very similar to The Lord of the Rings - a dark lord rising to power and casting a shadow of fear over the land, his disgusting minions striking terror into the hearts of the good folk, and an unlikely hero joining with a band of unlikely friends to fight evil. There were lots of differences from The Lord of the Rings, however. The story wasn't simply a quest to defeat Arawn (I know, it sounds shamefully similar to Sauron); Arawn's power isn't as far-reaching and creepy as Sauron's, and several of the books hardly mentioned him. The series is really more of a coming-of-age story than an adventure story at heart (though it is chock full of adventure!), as we see Taran grow from a rash, rude-mannered little boy to a great hero.
And Lloyd Alexander's style was much different from Tolkien's - much faster-paced and more comic.
What were the characters like?
Ohhhh, they were awesome. And I'm still writhing in agony trying to decide on my favorite one.
Let's see, the protagonist was definitely Taran, the Assistant Pig-Keeper. He was one of the first main characters I'd been able to actually attach to in a long time. Usually I like the main characters and only really love the side characters, but Taran is actually in the running for my favorite character in this series. He's so delightfully flawed in the beginning, with all these boyish misconceptions about heroes and battles and such, and he grows in such a wonderful, gradual, believable way (although I did feel like at the beginning of The Black Cauldron he kinda forgot everything he learned in The Book of Three...or maybe he just got caught up in the excitement of a new adventure).
Then there was Eilonwy. Ooh, Eilonwy! - the talkative, spunky, "Taran-of-Caer-Dallben-I-told-you-so" Eilonwy. And her golden bauble that glows in the dark. That bauble was really cool.
And there was Fflewddur Flam, the absolutely hilarious, endearing, adorable bard. (I don't know what he'd think of me calling him adorable. But I shall call him adorable anyway, for I adored him.) I really think he must be my favorite, with his constant "A Flam is fearless!" "A Flam never falters!" and his harp with the strings that break whenever he tells a lie. (Oh, "lie" is such a malicious word...let's say "fib.")
And then there was Gurgi! Faithful little Gurgi! Think Sam Gamgee and Gollum rolled into one - but a cute version of Gollum, a furry version of Gollum. He's sacrificial, he's loyal, he's sensitive, he's endearingly shaggy and continuously hungry and heartbreakingly funny I. Loved. Gurgi.
And Gwydion. The Christ-figure/Aragorn guy. Enough said. Not strictly funny, mind you, but absolutely and totally awesome all the same just because he's such an epic hero.
And my other favorite character was Prince Rhun, the curious, well-meaning, bumbling Prince Rhun. It's really a crying shame he was only in two of the five books, because I loved him so. He did not come in half as much as he should have. *pouts*
All of them were very well-developed, with their own little quirks and flaws and strengths. All of them grew, unless perhaps they were meant to be despicable all the way. All of them were awesome.
Was there anything not-so-great about it?
Um. I already mentioned the very-similar-to-The-Lord-of-the-Rings-thing. At first I refused to admit it was so. But it is. It's not enough to stop me from loving it, but it does make the whole thing a tad less...original.
One other MAJOR disappointment. The ending. I. Am. So. Mad. At. The. Ending. So much so that I asked my siblings NEVER to let me write an ending like this. I hereby give them permission to bop me over the head if I do. IT TORE MY HEART OUT! And crushed it into little tiny pieces. No author has the RIGHT to do this to his characters, not to mention to his readers! Okay, that was an overreaction. Lloyd Alexander warned us in the author's not of The High King (another great little thing about this series, the author's notes) that we would have to decide for ourselves whether the ending was "happy, heartbreaking, or both." Well, Lloyd Alexander, here is my opinion: it was heartbreaking. Absolutely and utterly heartbreaking. Maybe in a month, or a year, or a decade, I will be able to see the happy part. But as of now my world has crumbled to ruin.
What gems of beauty/wisdom were hidden in its depths?
If I can get over my slump about the ending, I will tell you. *goes back to re-read analysis of the characters*
There was lots of loveliness in it. At times, it struck me with a depth of allegory comparable to Narnia or LOTR. I've mentioned before that Gwydion is quite the Christ-figure. I haven't actually sat down and written out all the allegories that might be in it, but I felt them as I was reading, if that makes any sense. The whole series just has a very deep, truth-filled feel to it, particularly the climactic battle in The High King. It makes me wonder if Lloyd Alexander was a Christian. I bet he was. Although I don't have any source to confirm that.
About every book had lovely little quotes scattered through it. Let's see if I can find some....
"It is not the trappings that make the prince, nor, indeed, the sword that makes the warrior." - Gwydion, The Book of Three
"My dear boy, this is a bit of metal hammered into a rather unattractive shape; it could better have been a pruning hook or a plow iron. Its powers? Like all weapons, only those held by him who wields it." - Dallben the wizard on Taran's sword, The Black Cauldron
"If you want truth, you should begin by giving it." - Dallben, Taran Wanderer
I loved this book. The characters were awesome. The ending was horrible. Overall I recommend it. And I shall most probably read it again. Possibly skipping the last chapter or two. Or possibly even skipping the last book. Or even the last two books.
Speaking of the books! Here they are in order of my favorite to least favorite.
Favorite: The Castle of Llyr, Book 3. Because it was the happiest one with the happiest ending, and because it had the most Prince Rhun in it. And, oh, the climax was so exhilarating and sweet and painful.
Second favorite: The Black Cauldron, Book 2. I actually think this probably had the most well-done plot - it would have worked pretty well as a stand-alone. It's not my favorite because it's a good deal heavier than The Castle of Llyr.
Third favorite: The Book of Three, Book 1. It only took a few days to get through this book, because the characters were so tantalizing and delightful and the plot was so exciting, and it just makes you want to read the whole series! It's bumped down to #3 on the list mostly because I feel like the climax wasn't very...climactic. Like, it was a great start to the series, but Taran didn't actually...accomplish much at the end.
Fourth favorite: The High King, Book 5. Even though it broke my heart and crushed my soul (to quote Tangled), that was mostly only at the end. If it hadn't been for the last few chapters (and a few heartbreaking incidents through the book), it would've been tops. The plot/climax was really good, and it was great to see all the loose ends of all the other books finally tied up. Plus pretty much every character who came in before and was still alive had an appearance, which is cool.
Least favorite: Taran Wanderer, Book 4. Because even though it started out absolutely awesomely, it was extremely disappointing at the end. Not only did it not have Eilonwy, not only did Taran spend a dull three chapters wandering around "the Free Commots" (the name was enough to strike terror of boredom into my siblings' hearts ever after), but *spoiler* you spend the whole book waiting for Taran to find his parents, and then *spoiler* he doesn't find them. So the conflict wasn't even solved.
And that wraps up my probably-too-long ramble on the Chronicles of Prydain. (You forgive me for rambling, right? Because fantasy series are so easy to obsess over?)
Have you read any of these books? Did you like them? Do you agree with me that the ending is heartbreaking, or was I too hard on Lloyd Alexander?