“The Chronicles of Prydain” by Lloyd Alexander was the first fantasy series I ever read, and it was also my first introduction to Welsh mythology. One book and I was hooked, plain and simple.
Our hero is Taran. While we’re never told his exact age, we assume that as the series begins with “The Book of Three,” he’s around fifteen or so. He’s an orphan and was taken in by a wise old man named Dallben, who has not only given him a home but the position of “Assistant Pig-Keeper.” It may sound prestigious, but it’s really not. Taran would much rather be learning to blacksmith, especially crafting and using swords. But when Hen Wen, the oracular pig, prophecies a looming danger and then escapes her pen to run off into the woods, he learns that being a hero is harder than it looks.
The series continues with “The Black Cauldron,” which was also made into a Disney film. Arawn, the Lord of the Land of Death, has plans to take over the land of Prydain and has raised up an army of the Living Dead to fight for him. The cauldron he used to create his army must be destroyed, but first it must be found. Taran and his friends are given the task of locating and destroying it, each finding a different personal meaning in the mission, and for some, it will mean a great sacrifice. This book was a 1966 Newbury Honor winner.
Princess Eilonwy loves her life at Caer Dallben and spending time with Taran. But in “The Castle of Llyr,” she must go to the Isle of Mona to learn how to be a lady. How insulting! Teaching a princess how to be a lady! But she’s no ordinary princess; she has special powers, and the wicked Queen Achren seeks to take them for herself. Taran must come to Eilonwy’s rescue as she is placed under a spell that will destroy her. This is the first book of the series I read, and it’s my favorite to this day.
In “Taran Wanderer,” Taran has finally gotten his wish. He is no longer the Assistant Pig-Keeper, and he’s not the Head Pig-Keeper, either. He’s a hero, and he’s a hero in love. He wants to ask Eilonwy to marry him, but he doesn’t know if his bloodlines are respectable enough to marry a princess. With his friend Gurgi, he leaves Caer Dallben on a quest to find out who he is, once and for all. A glance in the Mirror of Llunet may hold the key, if he survives the journey to find it.
The concluding book in this series is “The High King.” Prince Gwydion of Prydain must stand up to the Dark Lord Arawn in a fight to save his land. At his side is Taran, his loyalty proven time and again. The battle will not be easy and the risks are greater than Taran has ever faced before. He thought he was ready for anything, but anything soon becomes more terrifying than he could have imagined. This book won the Newbury Medal in 1969.
These books are full of adventure, suspense, humor, and even a little bit of romance. They are gripping and exciting, a perfect choice for your reluctant reader, both boy and girl. Of course, while you’re at it, you might as well read them yourself. I know I plan to read them again, and soon.