Monday 4 February 2013

Review of Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain


Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander (1924-2007) - published between1964-1968:

The Book of Three
The Black Cauldron
The Castle of Llyr
Taran Wanderer
The High King


These books are among my favourite fantasy books. I came across them via a reference in Lin Carter's A look behind the Lord of the Rings and bought the first three volumes in the middle 1970s - only completing the set when the last two volumes were published in the UK in the 1980s. They are among my very favourite of the post-Tolkien fantasies that I have come across (but I don't read very widely in this genre).


In terms of difficulty the books are pitched at about the same level as the first two volumes of the Harry Potter series - age about 8-11 yars old.

I freely acknowledge that there is a certain 'corniness' about the structure of the books, with frequent 'cliffhangers' at the ends of chapters, for instance, and a somewhat low plausibility of action (especially battles - despite the author having seen active service in the US army during the European invasion of WWII); and an element of sentimentality concerning the main characters. this hold them back from the highest level of attainment.

However, these are good hearted books, and there is always a very appealing earnestness and seriousness about them - the author was really doing his best and trying to put his deepest convictions into this series. And they are extremely enjoyable - full of humour, adventure and pathos.


The world of Prydain is loosely based on the 'Mabinogion' legends of ancient Wales - a world of approximately Ancient Briton technology - but of course one where there is magic: enchanters (good and evil) magical swords, cauldrons, foresight, incantations etc; and several races and types of being - dwarves and other fairy 'Fair Folk', undead warriors and so on - including the one and only Gurgi who seems to be a 'missing link' between Orang Utans and humans. In sum, it is a very satisfying subcreation.


I have just finished (at least) my fourth read through of the series (and I have dipped into it at other times) - and I always feel better for having read it.

It is one of those books I like party because the author seems such a good and decent man.

(Most authors are not good and decent men - and I have a special fondness for those who are. Another example of g-ness and decency is Jerome K Jerome as evidenced by his autobiography My Life and Times (1926) which is also one of the best autobiographies I have ever read.)

There is a delightful three segment interview/ visit with Lloyd Alexander recorded in 1994 and currently available on YouTube:


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