by Lloyd Alexander, James Langton (Narrator)
Series: Chronicles of Prydain, #1Unabridged Audiobook, 4 hrs, 56 min.
Listening Library, 2004
Read: March 6 – 9, 2017
I’m pretty sure that I’ve mentioned once or twice before here that The Chronicles of Prydain were the books that got me into fantasy. The Chronicles of Narnia made me a fan of Narnia, but really didn’t carry over to anything outside of Narnia (at least until I got older and tried Mere Christianity). But Prydain got me appreciating the tropes, conventions and characters that’d get me into Brooks, Weis & Hickman, Eddings, etc., etc. Listening to the audiobooks seemed like a nice way to revisit the series.
Taran, the Assistant Pig Keeper to Hen Wen (an oracular pig), dreams of glory to be found with a sword on the battlefield. His charge is frightened by something and escapes from her pen — Taran chases after her, leaving the only part of Prydain he’s ever known behind in the process. This hunt for the pig takes him to the far reaches of Prydain, where he encounters the son of the High King, Gwydion; Princess Eilonwy — about his age, and a fantastic foil and friend for Taran; Fflewddurr Fflam, an unofficial bard; Gurgi — some sort of simple-minded Sasquatch-like being; and others. Taran also encounters the forces of evil — the Horned King; Archen the enchantress; and other minions of the Dark Lord Arawn.
The themes of true nobility, heroism and what it means to be a man are prevalent (and Alexander maybe gets a little didactic here) — nothing I object to, just it seems a little thick by contemporary standards. Taran learns (for the first time) that there’s as much honor to be found in doing your everyday work well as there is on the battlefield. It probably feels a little old-fashioned to many, but there’s value here. Taran begins to mature here, but it takes (as I recall) all but the last 30 pages of the fifth book for it all to come together for him.
There’s a little audio recording of Alexander before the book kicks off as an introduction — that was pretty cool. Langton’s narration was okay — the narration was okay, maybe a little slow. His interpretation of Taran and Gwydion didn’t do much for me (and actually made me realize how clunkily Alexander wrote their dialogue), but they slowly grew on me. I really couldn’t find anything to like about Gurgi (one of my favorite characters ever). But I really liked everything else — his Eilonwy and Fflewddurr were perfect and a lot of fun. He deserves kudos for his Hen Wen alone, really.
This isn’t the greatest writing you’ll encounter — for the age group or genre. But it’s effective, there’s so much to appreciate here (and not just for nostalgia’s sake). I remain a big fan of the series, and do appreciate the audiobook.