“We learn more by looking for the answer to a question and not finding it than we do from learning the answer itself.”
Shelf Rating: Top Shelf
There’s an old saying, “Classics never die.” There are some stories that resonate with you more than others. You may recognize these stories as the memory that materializes when you experience a certain feeling or stand in a certain place. When they do visit, you may experience that same longing, heartache, and joy that you felt when you immersed yourself among the people and roads the story took you through.
I had the privilege this week of sitting down with a classic children’s fantasy. The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander is a wholesome adventure story about a boy and his 3 friends who embark on an epic journey to find a pig with an important message and warn people about the danger that lurks from an evil king. This is the first book in the 5-book series called The Chronicles of Prydain. Published in 1964, this book was inspired by Welsh mythology. Lloyd Alexander fought in WWII and he had experienced the sight and sounds of Welsh language, castles, and beautiful scenery. He used those experiences and translated them into the backdrop of this book’s setting. The main character is a coming of age boy named Taran. Living at Caer Dallben, Taran is under the charge of ancient enchanter Dallben and farmer Coll. Taran lives and works there as Assistant Pig-Keeper to Hen Wen, the oracular pig. Taran longs for adventure and heroism beyond the stall but when Dallben catches him learning how to sword fight he charges him to never leave Caer Dallben. It is in that moment that Taran learns the impending danger of the Horned King. When Hen Wen escapes and runs into the forest, Taran runs into a fierce and heroic prince. This begins the adventure that will have him toe to toe with the evil that will decide the fate of the land of Prydain. Taran is the main character throughout the book, but we do meet other interesting characters along the way. Prince Gwydion is the first character we meet. Then, Taran meets a spunky princess named Eilonwy whom he becomes acquainted with while trapped in a dungeon. After they escape, we meet Fflewddur Fflam, a bard with a harp. He follows them on Taran and Eilonwy’s adventure. As this story was written originally for children, it was very clean of any violence or scary figures. The Horned King description was as scary as it got (and could easily be skipped as it is not at all significant to the story.) There is a tad bit of romantic feels between Taran and Eilonwy but it is very much under the radar. So much so, in fact, you would be hard pressed to find anything until the very end. With that said, there is no physical contact between the characters.
“Once you have courage to look upon evil, seeing it for what it is and naming it by its true name, it is powerless against you, and you can destroy it.”
I’ve always believed there is a certain magic to older books. They hold their own light in the mass world of books that are in a constant stream of being published. Sometimes the magic that is held in an old story is simply to remind us that we still love the old-fashioned storytelling. This story operates much like the old fairy tales we know and love. I would argue to say this is one of them, although not as well known. I noticed this story shifts fairly quickly. Sometimes Alexander doesn’t explain all that goes on in the adventure if it isn’t important, but skips off to the next scene. Usually I am not a big fan of that, but in this story, I didn’t mind. Reading this book made me a bit nostalgic, actually. I have always treasured folk tales and old stories. This story had that feel to it. For instance, many folk tales leave out a lot of details but instead tell you only what is pertinent to the plot. Lloyd did some of that, but there was still plenty to envision. It was very interesting to find that Lloyd Alexander had a lot of influence from Welsh folk tales. In fact, the fierce prince, named Gwydion, is an actual figure in Welsh mythology; as well as Arawn, the villain in the story. There are also many other parts to the story that were gleamed from them, the pig, the cauldron, for an example, are pulled from Welsh legends. These tales played a large role in his inspiration. Although, the story in itself was unique in its own right. Taran is a young boy, a pig keeper. From the very beginning we see that adventurous spark in him. In the first few pages he has pent up frustration over hand making horseshoes. The very first page has him belting out, “As if we have any horses!” Which sets off the story’s conflict with Taran and his guardians. Soon after that we are led on a wild pig chase to find Hen Wen, a pig who happens to know something very important about the danger that is lurking by the Horned King. The characters are very lively and fun, though rather flat. There is not a whole lot of development in their personalities or character. But as this is a children’s fantasy book, I wasn’t trying to find deep issues among the characters. The story is told in third person limited. The narrator offered perception on Taran while limiting our understanding of the other characters. This helped to give insight into Taran’s thinking and feelings and kept me informed about the story from an outsider’s perspective. Being first in the series this book is still limited in all of the answers. We don’t get a whole lot of information about this ‘Book of Three’. We also don’t learn a lot about Eilonwy and her magical abilities, though she does have them. I do hope to find out more about the characters and these other mysteries in the rest of the series.
Overall, The Book of Three is teeming with imagination and adventure. It holds possibilities for great discussions about good and evil. I think this is a great read for young kids, or even adults who like fantasy and adventure stories. I would gladly put this book at top shelf.
Grab the book here!