Posted by: Lizzie Ross | May 14, 2010

Classic Friday: Prydain

The Prydain Chronicles, Lloyd Alexander (1964-1973), Guild America Books, 5 vols + prequel.

If you’re a young assistant pig-keeper on a poor farm, there’s not much scope for adventure, especially when the wizard who employs you won’t let you read the book of magic spells. But Taran, the asst. pig-keeper as well as the hero of this series, doesn’t have to wait long for adventure to find him. Within just a few pages, his safe home is under attack and he must set out to find aid.

Alexander puts us into a pre-modern world of wizards, oracular pigs (actually, only one), swords of mystical powers, and spells that bring the dead back to life. Those dead are so dangerous that, if you destroy one, its strength moves into the others making them even more difficult to vanquish.

The companions on Taran’s quest include the feisty daughter of a sorceress, a creature reminiscent of Tolkien’s Gollum, farmers, blacksmiths, knights, a reclusive wizard who is a cross between Merlin and St. Francis of Assisi, and a trio of seers who could be the Fates of Greek legend or the witches from Macbeth.

These books perfectly exemplify the traditional quest structure that Joseph Campbell laid out in The Hero with a Thousand Faces: Call to adventure, Refusal of the call, Supernatural aid, etc. Once you know this structure, you see it everywhere, from ancient myth to modern animation (and not just anime–even The Triplets of Belleville contains aspects of this structure; you don’t have to be young and male to be the hero on a quest).

The fifth volume, The High King, won the Newbery Award in 1969, and I agree that it’s the strongest book of the series. But Taran Wanderer is full of surprises and struck me as the most interesting. Here, Alexander moves furthest from Campbell’s predictable structure.

Alexander died just three years ago (17 May 2007). Because of his military service during WWII, he’s buried at Arlington Cemetery. There may be other fantasy writers who have received the same honor, but I don’t know who they are.

The Book of Three, The Black Cauldron, The Castle of Llyr, Taran Wanderer, The High King, The Foundling and Other Tales of Prydain


  1. Fantasy novels are nice to read as they really make our minds think of the setting and the backdrop of the story. I would want to imagine the swords that the characters used. It would be very interesting to have those swords in the story somewhere in my house for me to imagine it more clearly.

  2. […] migrated post, which I wrote in 2010, is about Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain series, the last book of which won the Newbery Award. I […]

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