Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Taran Wanderer ties the whole series together

I think of the Chronicles of Prydain as the Lord of the Rings for middle schoolers. And I don’t mean that as an insult but as serious praise. Both are heroic fantasies in a functional low-magic setting where there’s high magic in the wings. And both have ‘normal’ folks on the frontline against a greater scope evil.

However, the Chronicles of Prydain are much shorter and more accessible. Basically, they’re easier to read :P

One of the great strengths of the Chronicles is character development. In addition to fighting against the evil that is Arawn, the books are the story of Taran growing from a young idiot to a sadder, wiser adult. And part of the reason when that works is because Lloyd Alexander takes his time. It’s a gradual coming of age story.

It really doesn’t get kicked into high gear until the fourth book, Taran Wanderer. It’s doesn’t fit the structure of the other four books, being episodic as opposed to revolving around one event. However, as distinct as each episode is, they definitely build on each other.

We start off with a fairly jolly adventure with King Smoit (My fantasy casting for him is BRIAN BLESSED) We then have a sword and sorcery adventure against the evil sorcerer Morda. Next is Taran’s heartbreaking experiences in Craddoc’s valley. Finally, Taran ends up in the Free Commots, where he gets some experience in smithing and  weaving and pottery.

In other words, the action and adventure, including one of the more high fantasy sequences in the whole series, is at the front of the book and the mundane world of growing up is at the back. It works because Alexander eases us into it and it’s a process that takes Taran months to live through.

Taran Wanderer is the book which really pushes the Chronicles to the next level in my arrogant opinion. Because it takes the subtext of coming of age and makes it the text without being didactic. (Okay, too didactic)

I sometimes wonder if the Chronicles of Prydain has been left behind in the sands of time. (Probably not since they’re still in print) If they are, I blame the terrible 1985 movie. But they are really good, particularly when you’re in middle school.

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