The Book of Three (The Prydain Chronicles #1) ★★★★★

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Title: The Book of Three
Series: The Prydain Chronicles #1
Author: Lloyd Alexander
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 110
Words: 47K


The youth Taran lives at Caer Dallben with his guardians, the ancient enchanter Dallben and the farmer and retired soldier Coll. Taran is dissatisfied with his life, and longs to become a great hero like the High Prince Gwydion. Due to the threat posed by a warlord known as the Horned King, servant of the evil Arawn Death-Lord of Annuvin, Taran is forbidden from leaving the farm and charged with the care of Hen Wen, the oracular white pig. When Hen Wen inexplicably panics and escapes, Taran follows her into the Forbidden Forest. After a long, fruitless chase, he is attacked by a host of horsemen galloping toward Caer Dallben, led by the Horned King himself. Taran manages to escape, but drops to the ground, wounded. He awakes to find his wound treated by Gwydion, the crown prince in Prydain’s ruling House of Don, who has been travelling to Caer Dallben to consult Hen Wen. Gwydion, determined to find the pig, takes Taran along with him. Guided by Gurgi, a hairy humanoid living in the forest, they reach the Horned King’s camp, and learn that his target will be Caer Dathyl, the home castle of the House of Don. Gwydion determines to warn the royal court, but the group is attacked by Arawn’s undead Cauldron-Born soldiers, who capture Gwydion and Taran, and take them to Queen Achren in Spiral Castle.

The sorceress asks Gwydion to help her to overthrow Arawn—her former apprentice and consort who usurped her throne and claimed the Iron Crown of Annuvin for his own—and to join her in ruling Prydain together. When Gwydion refuses, he is imprisoned, but not in the same place as Taran. Princess Eilonwy, who was sent by her kinsmen as a young girl to learn enchantment from Achren, visits Taran’s dungeon cell, and agrees to free first his companion, and then him. While travelling through a labyrinth of tunnels to join Gwydion and his horse Melyngar outside the castle, Taran and Eilonwy steal weapons from a tomb. As they emerge into the woods, Spiral Castle collapses; they later learn that this is because the weapon Eilonwy has taken is the legendary sword Dyrnwyn. Eilonwy has misunderstood Taran’s request to free his companion, for the man waiting outside is not Gwydion, but another former prisoner of the castle: Fflewddur Fflam, a king by birth but a wandering bard by choice. The three search the ruins, then mourn Gwydion’s presumed death, and decide to take up his task to warn Caer Dathyl.

Rejoined by Gurgi, but pursued by the Cauldron-Born, the group is driven far east of their northward course, and ends up in the underground realm of the Fair Folk, who have rescued Hen Wen. The Fair Folk’s King Eiddileg grudgingly agrees to let Taran have her back, re-equip their party, and provide a guide, a dwarf called Doli. On their journey to Caer Dathyl, against Fflewddur and Doli’s advice, Taran rescues an injured fledgling gwythaint, one of the great birds of prey that Arawn has enslaved. The gwythaint recovers quickly and escapes overnight, shortly followed by Hen Wen, who flees just before the Horned King’s army spots them all. Fflewddur, Doli, and Gurgi stand to fight, while Taran and Eilonwy go ahead on Melyngar, with the Horned King in pursuit. On the top of a hill, the Horned King attacks them, and breaks Taran’s sword on the first blow. Taran seizes Dyrnwyn from Eilonwy, but lacks the “noble birth” needed to draw it. White flame burns his arm, and throws him to the ground. Just before losing consciousness, Taran sees another man in the trees and hears an unintelligible word. The Horned King’s mask melts and he bursts into flame.

When Taran awakens, he learns that the man who destroyed the Horned King was Gwydion, who had been with Achren at another stronghold when Spiral Castle fell. After withstanding Achren’s torture, he learned to understand the hearts of all creatures, and was able to communicate first with the gwythaint, and then with Hen Wen after finding them in the forest. From the oracular pig he learned how to destroy the Horned King, by saying his secret name. Recognizing his nobility, Eilonwy gives Dyrnwyn to him, while Taran and his companions are to receive treasures from Caer Dathyl in recognition of service to the House of Don. Eilonwy receives a ring made by the Fair Folk, Gurgi a wallet of food that cannot be depleted, Fflewddur a golden harp string that can never break, Doli the ability to turn invisible (which he unusually lacks). Taran—who in the course of his adventures has realized that Caer Dallben is where he most wants to be—asks only to return home. Gwydion accompanies him back to Caer Dallben, along with Eilonwy, Hen Wen, and Gurgi, who take up residence there as well.

I read this multiple times in middle and highschool (grades 6-12 for you non-Americans) and then once again in 2006. But as was my wont back in those days, I don’t really give a synopsis and I didn’t review each book individually. So I wanted to go into this and read all 5 books on their own and see what I thought of them now.

I am still very pleased with how much I enjoyed this. What struck me the most though on this read was just how derivative of Tolkien this was. Part of that may be because Alexander was using a lot of the same base material as Tolkien, but I really think he modeled a lot of his writing on Tolkien. And for this series, I am perfectly ok with that. I’ll explain why in the next paragraph (just in case you decided to stop reading and go off in a huff, which is something I’ve been known to do once in a while, hahahahaha).

This is a strictly middle grade series. It is meant for tweens and middle teens. By the time someone hits their late teens, I think it might be too late to “introduce” this to them. It was also written for that age group. While it doesn’t pander and is still well written, it takes into account the mental and physiological differences between a child and an adult. Kids need books written FOR them and Taran and Eilonwy represent children in the purest sense. I would give this to a tween long before I’d give them the Lord of the Rings. LotR is meant for adults and while children can read it, they simply aren’t quite ready for it. So give them Prydain and let them become familiar with the old legends and mythologies.

The cover I have used here is not the cover I grew up with. That’s fine but I like the original better. I think I will showcase all the older covers on the final book review, so I can talk about it as a whole separate issue instead of cluttering up each review with essentially the same paragraph of blather 😀


31 thoughts on “The Book of Three (The Prydain Chronicles #1) ★★★★★

  1. I read the whole thing in the details, and was thinking it sounds like it was written for YA’s or teens, and derivative of King Arthur stories with a big dollop of Tolkein thrown in for good measure. Nice that you can still enjoy it in your dotage 🤣

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I really love this series. You’re absolutely right about the age group it’s aimed at.

    One of my friends pointed out that a reason she loved giving this series to her kids, rather than the (popular about 10 years ago) Eragon series, was the moral lesson. For Paolini’s book, the path to success is find a dragon egg, get a magic sword, and have a hot elven girlfriend. For Alexander’s heroes, the path to success is hard work, willingness to make the good but hard choice, and especially loyalty to friends – but all packaged up in a great story rather than a sermon.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Interesting. I never read this series because it wasn’t one of the popular ones that got a Dutch translation in the bookstores of my little town when I was young. And I fear that it is too late for me now. LOTR, by the way, I read it when I was 14 and I loved it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hahahahaa. I thought the same thing (third time’s the charm) when I finished this and loved it so much.

      Sadly, next Monday I get my comeuppance for all this. A book reviewer’s life is not for the faint of heart or those who get motion sickness easily, hahahahahaa 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Can’t tell you how many times I read this series–can still love it and relive the excitement (and everything that comes along in books 4 and 5) when I revisit it now. But yeah…not a good one for an adult to pick up unless to read to a child.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. It’s interesting here the mention of Tolkien in a book aimed at younger readers, because I remember him saying something on the order of children being just adults of a smaller size, or something similar, meaning that he did not think that “talking down” to them (and therefore “writing down” for them) was correct. I often think that kids are far smarter than we credit them for… 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That would explain a lot about Christopher Tolkien then 😉

      While I think kids take in a lot more, and can handle adult books, they still need stuff that is aimed at them. And I think Prydain fills that perfectly.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Tolkien drew on the languages and mythology of England, Wales, and the Nordic peoples … Bede, the Elder Edda, etc. His Elves are Welsh, his Dwarves are Nordic.

    Lloyd Alexander draws purely on Welsh language, mythology, and history (e.g. the Mabinogion). Prydain is basically ancient/mythological Wales.

    Liked by 1 person

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