Welcome back to Fantasy Friday where you will find reviews of classic and new books!
The Book of Three
This first volume of The Chronicles of Prydain draws you in straightaway with likable people and an interesting plot. Frustrated Assistant Pig-Keeper, Taran, longs to learn sword-fighting, but at this point in his life, one of his tutors, Coll, wants him to make horseshoes instead. Luckily, there are no horses who need them at the moment, for he is no expert at fashioning them. Impulsively, he grabs a piece of metal to wield into a sword, which promptly breaks for he has no idea how to make one. He burns his fingers as he touches a forbidden book of magic. None of this gives any hint of the hero he becomes in Prydain’s battle against the Horned King.
I really liked this heroic quest of Taran and his friends, including the bard who loves to enhance the truth, the wise and noble Gwydion, and the loyal Gurgi, who is in some ways Sméagol’s twin, though fortunately not Gollum’s. Taran is a delight to be with. He learns much on his perilous journey with Gwydion and his other companions who destiny calls to him. Not the least is how to exercise pity and compassion, even to one who would be a great enemy, and the rewards that come from this. There are many other parallels to Middle-earth and to Celtic/Welsh mythology in the series, but it is also its own wonderful story. Recommended to all who enjoy a great yarn!
The Black Cauldron
This second volume starts with Taran, Assistant Pig-keeper and Hero, harshly dealt with by a visiting prince with a big ego and no sense. A surprise visit by Taran’s noble friend, Gwydion, on the other hand, thrills the young man. So does the reason for the man’s visit: a secret council to decide how to defeat the evil Arawn, who rises in might once more. Many others come to Taran’s homestead, whether knowingly for the council or ignorant of the true reason they are present. Old friends like the king-bard Fflewddur and the dwarf Doli join new acquaintances such as Adaon, son of the Chief Bard, Taliesin.Two kings from neighboring realms also come.
At the council, Gwydion brings the dread news of how Arawan has increased the size of his deathless armies. Not only has he stolen corpses and returned them to life to serve him, but he has kidnapped the living as well. Gwydion proposes the audacious plan to enter the enemy’s land and destroy the magic cauldron where Arawn breeds his warriors.
The next morning, Gwydion heads away with hand-picked companions, after he secures their free-will assent to accompany him to Arawn’s Dark Gate. Unfortunately, or fortunately, this includes the jerk of a prince Taran ran afoul of the beginning of the book. Ellidyr excels at getting on Taran’s last nerve, but he also saves the young man’s life on more than one occasion.
Gwydion’s plan to steal the black cauldron goes off without a hitch until they arrive where the cauldron was supposed to be and discovers someone else already stole it. More bad news follows. Besides the revived corpses who cannot be killed, Arawn’s forces include the living, who can be slain, but each death strengthens those who survive.
Taran comes up with Plan B, which not everyone agrees is the best choice. But his companions who were with him on the adventure in the first book follow him into this new peril. The hostile Ellidyr comes along as well but later separates from the group.
Taran begins to second guess himself almost straightaway, but Adaon addresses the young man’s concerns. “There is a destiny laid on us to do what we must do, though it is not always given to us to see it.” Adaon foresees Taran will come to know grief on his journey, but he also gains wisdom and the courage to make the sacrifices he must to help ensure the success of his quest.
This is a wonderful book about a young boy’s path to become a man and a hero. As he grows in moral strength, pity and compassion, he finds the path to adulthood fraught with perils and grief. Yet wise Gwydion tells them there is just as much love and joy as there is pain. I love to be back with the king-bard, Gwydion and Gurgi, not to mention Taran. Great to find another kindred spirit. Now onto the next book!
The Castle of Llyr
The third volume begins with the hot-headed sword-maiden Eilonwy sent off to the royal house on the Isle of Mona to learn how to be a princess and a lady, two things she has zero interest in. Taran and Gurgi accompany her on the sea voyage with Prince Rhun, a clumsy young man Taran dislikes from the first. Eilonwy thinks her friend is just jealous.
The unexpected appearance of Fflewddur Fflam thrills Taran and Gurgi, as does a shoemaker, who is Gwydion in disguise. Gwydion warns Taran he and Eilonwy are in peril. An old enemy thought dead threatens them anew: Achren, the evil enchantress who the princess had apprenticed under as a child, yet remained uncorrupted by. The man admits he fears this threat as much as the greater evil of Arawn. Gwydion swears Taran to secrecy and then disappears.
After a feast to welcome Taran and his companions, the young man seeks out Gwydion. He happens to see the Chief Steward sneak out too and travel to the harbor where he signals a ship at anchor. Gwydion reveals the dread news their enemy is abroad it.
Taran and Gurgi take turns standing guard at Eilonwy’s chamber, but still the evil Steward kidnaps the princess after Prince Rhun waylays Taran. During the search that follows, the king asks Taran to watch over Rhun, who he wishes Eilonwy to marry. This does not sit well with Taran, but he does as the king wishes.
Rhun goes off on his own one night. Taran finds him the next morning in an abandoned hut. Abandoned that is, expect for the oversize mountain lion who comes to call while they are inside. This and other desperate perils assail Taran and his friends in their search for Eilonwy, who is in ever deeper danger than they.
This fourth volume begins with a restless Taran asking his guardian and foster father, Dallben, who his parents were. As the man says, he does not know, Taran begs leave to depart and find out. His faithful companion, Gurgi, accompanies, even though the news they will travel first to a marshland and visit three enchantresses does not sit well with him at all. But Taran hopes they can give him the information he so earnestly seeks.
The young man begins to regret his decision before they even arrive, but he does not turn back. Once the three women demand a price paid for their information about his parents, Taran says he already gave them the thing he most valued in exchange for the Black Cauldron. This time he promises to give whatever he will come to value the highest in the future for them to claim whenever they chose. Fortunately, they refuse, but they offer another source which may hold the secret to his identity.
During this latest and most personal of Taran’s quests, he encounters old and new friends, new enemies and perils just as terrible as any he already experienced. But his wisdom grows in equal measure.
What a powerful book! The best one so far – still one to go! I love Taran and the growth he has. My favorite quote is from Hevydd, the blacksmith: “Life’s a forge, say I! Face the pounding; don’t fear the proving; and you’ll stand well against any hammer and anvil!”
The High King
Wow, wow, and wow! I thought the fourth book was the best, but that was before I read this stirring conclusion to the series! It begins with a joyful homecoming for Taran and Gurgi, which includes a reunion with Eilonwy, who has had more than enough of education about how to become a princess.
The sight of Fflewddur as he brings in a gravely wounded Gwydion cuts Taran’s gladness short. His noble friend is nigh to death from an attack by the evil Huntsmen of Annuvin.Fflewddur recounts how the assault came as they responded to Taran’s cry for aid. But Taran did not cry and was not beset by many enemies as the king-bard said he saw. The revelation the dark lord Arwan masterminded the deception stuns them all, as does the truth Gwydion’s magical blade is now in the hands of the enemy.
After Gwydion makes an astonishing recovery, he and his beloved companions make for a castle en route to the man’s final destination, the dark realm of Arwan himself, to retrieve his sword. But no sooner do they arrive at the friendly holding than they discover no old friend welcomes them but an old enemy. They escape but at a high price.
Gwydion decides to abandon his quest for his sword and raise an army against the one Arwan will soon send into the field against them. He charges his companions with the task to rouse all the free people and join him at his fortress.
Another great ally, Medwyn, sets his animal friends to gather their fellow creatures against the enemy. He gives a grim forecast if all free men and animals give anything but their utmost to defeat the dark lord and his allies: they will fall under the bitter domination of their enemy with joy and freedom snuffed out.
Many answer the call to arms, but not all are the allies they should be. The battle for Prydain begins anew, and it is terrible to behold: awful and awe-ful. “Amid the black pines the voice of the chief Bard rose in deep sorrow, yet it was sorrow without despair; and while the notes of the harp were heavy laden with mourning they held, as well, the clear strains of life and hope” (130).
What a wonderful book and series, strewn with true heroes and wisdom for them and readers to absorb and live out! Loved it!!
Have you read this series? What did you think?