The Prydain Chronicles is a children's fantasy book series written by Lloyd Alexander. Originally published in a 5-year span (1964-1968), the series was heavily inspired by Welsh mythology and legends. Though the setting is more Arthurian than Welsh, the influence comes from The Mabinogion, a set of Welsh myths and stories. There are 5 books in the series:
In addition, Alexander also published The Foundling and Other Tales of Prydain in 1973, a collection of six short stories about the world of Prydain, mostly serving as a prequel. The six stories are:
- "The Foundling"
- "The Stone"
- "The True Enchanter"
- "The Rascal Crow"
- "The Sword"
- "The Smith, the Weaver, and the Harper"
There were also two children's illustrated books on the series, The Truthful Harp and Coll and his White Pig, both illustrated by Evaline Ness. Finally, Disney produced an animated film in 1985 combining The Book of Three and The Black Cauldron under the latter name. A home video was released in late 1998. I won't waste much more time on these, as they are widely regarded to... umm, suck.
While the series is clearly intended for children, you will get much more out of it if you are a little older. Much like The Lord of the Rings, the world of Prydain is as much about discovering yourself and learning how to live your life as about the clichéd good versus evil battle. The story revolves around Taran, an Assistant Pig-Keeper to the powerful wizard Dallben. This is a coming-of-age story that shows the progress of Taran from a lowly peon to the king of Prydain.
"The chronicle of Prydain is a fantasy. Such things never happen in real life. Or do they? Most of us are called on to perform tasks far beyond what we believe we can do. Our capabilities seldom match our aspirations, and we are often woefully unprepared. To this extent, we are all Assistant Pig-Keepers at heart."
Spoiler Warning: I will now discuss the plots of each book. You have been forewarned.
The Book of Three: Assistant Pig-Keeper Taran yearns to leave the farm he was raised on and have adventures. Hen Wen, the oracular pig that resides on the Caer Dallben, escapes and he must go find it. Along the way, he meets up with some invaluable companions: Gurgi, the Princess Eilonwy, Doli, and Fflewddur Fflam (among others). The party soon realizes something more evil is afoot, with the evil Horned King, Arawn, trying to capture Hen Wen for his own dastardly purposes.
The Black Cauldron: This time, Taran aids in a mission to destroy the Black Cauldron, from which Arawn creates his deathless legions. This is Taran's first opportunity to wear a sword The Cauldron is found and lost many times in the story, exchanging hands frequently. Near the end, Taran is faced with the choice of personal glory or the good of all Prydain.
The Castle of Llyr: Princess Eilonwy is taken to the island of Mona to be educated as a proper princess. Taran and Gurgi accompany Eilonwy. Our protagonist has mixed feelings about Eilonwy's heritage, especially after he discovers she is promised to Prince Rhun. Unknown to the companions, Achren, an evil enchantress, seeks Eilonwy because she too is a sorceress. Archen kidnaps Eilonwy and Taran and his friends must rescue her from a dire fate, facing difficult enemies and even more difficult revelations along the way.
Taran Wanderer: No longer Assistant Pig-Keeper, Taran now goes by thes name Taran Wanderer. In hopes of ennobling himself in the eyes of Eilonwy, Taran goes to find his true heritage - who his parents are. The three hags in the Marshes of Morva tell him, "The finding takes no more than the looking." These words will ring true through the rest of the book.
The High King: When the most powerful weapon in the land, the sword of Dyrnwyn, falls into the hands of Arawn, Taran and his friends mount a final assault against the villain. Along the way, some of Taran's most faithful companions fall, Taran finally learns the truth about his parentage, and in a sweeping finale against Arawn and Archen, Taran makes the most difficult choice of his life and Alexander reminds us that all that ends does not have to end perfectly.
It is easy to draw parallels between Tolkien's Middle Earth and Alexander's Prydain, but it would be unfair to say that Alexander borrowed or stole from Tolkien; rather, each was influenced by similar sources and styles. On a personal note, I would recommend reading these books at least once no matter what age you are - and if you have children, I would introduce it to them too.