Last month I had the pleasure of reading The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander with almost twenty young readers. It was a tremendously good book club because, after a year and a half of reading together, we have developed a common vernacular and culture. It isn’t enough to discuss the story arc or character development of a book. We compare every book, and I mean every single book, to The Lord of the Rings. We compare every hero to Frodo and Aragorn. We compare every villain to Sauron and Saruman. We compare the comedic characters to Merry and Pippin. And we compare the writing quality to Tolkien’s descriptive prose. As scary as Alexander’s cauldron-born are, they pale in comparison to Tolkien’s wraiths and Uruk-hai and, therefore, are not scary. As funny as Tolkien’s Merry and Pippin are, we appreciated how much more humor is present in Alexander’s writing.
A fascinating aspect of this particular club is that we deemed Alexander to be a middle storyteller in the timeline of great fantasy storymakers from George MacDonald to N. D. Wilson. So, our comparisons went in two directions. Naturally, we talked about how this series relates to Middle Earth and George MacDonald’s The Princess and the Goblin, but we also theorized on how it influenced N. D. Wilson’s 100 Cupboards series.
In our two-hour book club session, we spent 30 minutes socializing and the remaining 90 minutes talking about the details that would make or break this book as a classic.
Interestingly, after my club, a friend shared this link with me. For the purposes of my club, only the first book was assigned (but some of my students had read the entire series – more than once). I personally have not finished the whole series, and was surprised by this article. I am eager to finish the series now with eyes for this existential philosophy.
Our discussion included these questions:
- Describe Taran at the beginning of the book… and then at the end. Does he change? If so, how?
- Let’s talk about Gurgi: What is he? Is he good? How or why does our understanding of him change? (Fun fact: my kids think that he is like Gollum… that took me by surprise)
- How does this story remind you of Middle Earth? How is it the same? How is it different?
- Some critics have called this a poor knock off of The Lord of the Rings, what do you think of that? (My kids adamantly disagree with this assessment. They think it is its own story that was influenced by LOTR as nearly everything has been. They think that it is, however, a bit like the Princess Bride in terms of tone and humor.)
- How does this story remind you of the 100 Cupboards books? (Doli = Franklin Fat Fairy; Dwarf Valley = Fairy Mound; Elionwy = Henrietta)
- Let’s talk about Elionwy. In the Cupboards series, Henry and his cousin Henriette share a basic name. We have concluded that that is because they are usually two halves of one coin. Do we see this in Elionwy and Taran? Is there a Middle Earth character that she is like? (The kids say that she is definitely not Arwen, but Eowyn)
- What is the significance of the story of the lame ant? Is there an Aesop’s Fable like that? What does this reveal about the value of all beings?