More than 10 years ago, family friends were raving about Lloyd Alexander and The Chronicles of Prydain. At that time, I had a newborn baby and didn’t have enough headspace to investigate their recommendation, but for some reason, I never forgot how much they loved the books. A few years ago I was studying the Mensa reading list and noticed that the Chronicles we recommended for readers in grades four through six. I purchased a copy of the first book, The Book of Three, and set it aside for future reading.
Finally, about two years ago, I decided to try to read them. I was miserably bored. Given how well they were loved by others, I decided that I must have just been in the wrong mood. I tried again last year. Still, I just could not seem to care about the assistant pig keeper.
In the interim, my 10-year-old discovered that I had The Book of Three in our audible account (I have the Anniversary edition with books 1 & 2 in the same album for just one credit) . Even though I had not pre-read them, I saw them recommended everywhere, so I decided to let him go ahead. He was enthralled.
And, again, I keep hearing about them. So, last week, I decided that I was going to make whatever attempt was necessary to read at least half of the book. That probably sounds silly, but I have dozens of books sitting in my bedroom waiting for me to read and review. I just don’t have any reading time to waste. I knew that I had to give this book some real effort so that I could discover for myself either why I did or did not like it.
The first chapter is hard. It’s not hard to read. It’s not hard to understand. It’s a little bit unfamiliar, but not terribly so if you have any affection for Arthurian Legend. It’s just sort of dull. And, of course, that’s the point. It is supposed to be equal parts dull and equal parts disorienting. Whether or not it was a wise choice on the part of the author to start so slowly is almost irrelevant. The reality is that as soon as the pig runs away, the adventure is underway.
This charming and exciting book draws on imagery and characterization that will sound delightfully familiar to fans of The Lord of the Rings. The format is reminiscent of George MacDonald fairy tales. The setting is from old Welsh legends and yet clearly feels like Arthurian Legend. The themes are biblical and that of true myth. All in all, the ingredients that make up this original and highly imaginative tale are all portioned out appropriately and blended beautifully.
In our online book club we talked about who the target audience of Prydain is and what parents can expect in terms of romance, violence, darkness, etc. I think the best way to explain this series starter is to say that it is probably a really natural fit for readers who have loved Narnia but are not quite ready for The Lord of the Rings. There is just a little bit of creepiness in some of the characters that make it a little bit darker than Narnia, as well as the promise of more darkness to come in the series from a sorceress and other mythical creatures. I have not read the other books yet, so I cannot speak to how the story evolves, but this first book is not as creepy as 100 Cupboards, although there are some dead but undead creatures which could be difficult for sensitive and imaginative readers. The actual story telling is not creepy at all, but a sensitive reader may wish to linger on the idea of the dead undead creatures and subsequently be unsettled, not unlike some of the characters in Baum’s Wizard of Oz.
As I am able to read through the series, I will continue to write reviews.