by Lloyd Alexander
The fourth book of The Prydain Chronicles
begins pretty much where The Castle of Llyr
left off. Taran has returned to Caer Dallben from escorting the Princess Eilonwy to her finishing-school on the Isle of Mona. After a spell helping Coll weed the garden and tend the oracular pig Hen Wen, Taran asks the enchanter Dallben for leave to go off in search of himself. To begin with, that means finding out who his parents were, if possible, because whether he turns out to be of noble birth or not, he wants to know before he risks asking Eilonwy to marry him.
It proves to be a long and melancholy journey, enlivened by the company of faithful Gurgi and, at times, the outrageous Fflewddur Fflam and his feline steed Llyan. The monotony is occasionally broken by perilous confrontations with evil such as the deadly wizard Morda and the despicable bandit Dorath. The three enchantresses from The Black Cauldron also take another bow.
There is a time when Taran believes he has found his father, a tragic episode that leads to Taran's deepest shame. In his despair he decides to give up his original quest and try to find himself, only now in the sense of identifying his true calling in life. In this he is no more successful than the other, though he fast befriends a blacksmith, a junk collector, a weaver, a master potter, and a shepherd boy. Finally he makes his way to a remote, supposedly magic mirror (a pool of water in a mountain cave) where he learns what he needs to know about himself.
It is a strange journey and a moving discovery, an important step in the development of Taran the Assistant Pig-Keeper. And the fact that this novel, least stand-alone of the five, leads seamlessly into Book 5 (The High King, winner of the 1968 Newbery Medal) suggests to me that this pentology is really a single story, told in the form of five novels, much the way the three novels of Lord of the Rings form a single tale. The similarities between The Prydain Chronicles and LotR do not even nearly end there.
Recommended Age: 10+
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