The Chronicles of Prydain

The Chronicles of Prydain
The Chronicles of Prydain
TCOP.jpg
Author Lloyd Alexander
Country United States
Language English
Genre High fantasy
Publisher Henry Holt
Media type Print
Followed by The Foundling and Other Tales from Prydain (1973)

The Chronicles of Prydain (sometimes given as The Prydain Chronicles) is a five-volume series of children's fantasy novels by author Lloyd Alexander. First published from 1964–1968, the stories detail the adventures of a young man named Taran, who is awarded the honor of Assistant Pig-Keeper but dreams of being a grand hero, and his companions Princess Eilonwy, Fflewddur Fflam the wandering bard and king, a feral yet gentle creature called Gurgi, and a dwarf named Doli. Since a recurring facet of the series is the progression from youth to maturity, particularly prominent in Taran Wanderer,[1] the series could be considered a bildungsroman.

In the early 2000s, an unabridged audiobook production of the series was produced by Listening Library, a division of Random House, narrated by James Langton, with author's notes read by Lloyd Alexander himself.

The Black Cauldron, an animated film based on the books, was released by The Walt Disney Company in 1985.[2]

Contents

Inspiration and development

Thematically the novels draw upon Welsh mythology, particularly the Mabinogion.[3] The novels are not, however, retellings of those myths — a point Alexander himself makes in an author's note for The Book of Three — stories have been conflated, and characters have been changed in both role and motive, so a student of Welsh culture should be prepared as Arawn becomes the books' dark archenemy and Gwydion's negative traits are replaced with unclouded heroism.

Appropriately, the author's note also reveals the geography is ultimately derived from Wales, though Alexander notes that Prydain is separate from Wales both in physical geography and history.

The series was originally conceived as a trilogy, with the original titles being: "The Battle of Trees," "The Lion with the Steady Hand," and "Little Gwion." It was then changed to a series of 4 books, with "The High King of Prydain" being the 4th volume. However, the editor felt that something was missing in between 3rd and 4th volumes, so "Taran Wanderer" was written one month after "The Castle of Llyr" was published.[4]

The stories that are now collected in The Foundling and Other Tales from Prydain actually were published in three different volumes: two picture books and one short story collection. They act as backstories which fill in gaps for minor characters.

The Chronicles of Prydain

An assistant pig-keeper, Taran, and his companions race to defeat the warlord of Arawn.

Taran and the companions struggle to destroy an evil enchanted cauldron.

Eilonwy is kidnapped and Taran leads a band to rescue her.

Taran, with his companion Gurgi, begins a bittersweet search for his parentage.

Taran and the companions join the rest of Prydain in a final struggle to defeat Arawn.

Characters

Characters are categorized under the novel in which they are first introduced.

The Book of Three

The Black Cauldron

The Black Crochan is the formal name of the Black Cauldron, an iron kettle which is a significant plot device in Lloyd Alexander's fantasy novel series The Chronicles of Prydain.

The original purpose of the Cauldron is never made entirely clear, but it is known that once it was the property of the three enchantresses, Orddu, Orwen and Orgoch. As they explain to Taran, the protagonist of the series, they were the ones who gave it to Arawn Death-Lord, when he was a young man. At what price he purchased the kettle from them, the reader never learns.

Once he has the kettle in his possession, Arawn uses it to make an army of deathless warriors known as the Cauldron-Born. He takes the bodies of dead warriors from their graves and throws them into the cauldron, which reanimates them. Not being truly alive, they cannot be killed by ordinary means, and they are forced to blindly obey their master.

In the novel named for the Cauldron, Taran and his companions form a great alliance to find and destroy the Cauldron once and for all. They discover that the enchantresses have taken it back from Arawn, and after some negotiations, the friends are able to purchase it in exchange for a brooch which had belonged to their fallen comrade, Adaon. As part of the bargain, the enchantresses explain how to destroy the Cauldron—a living man must sacrifice his own life and throw himself into the Cauldron.

Ellidyr, Prince of Pen-Llarcau and one of the allies in the quest, takes a mortal wound during the final battle. Realizing this is his only chance to redeem himself for all the wrongs he has done the companions, and knowing that his life is already forfeit, he flings himself inside the kettle and causes it to shatter. This selfless act does not destroy the Cauldron-Born who already exist, but at least Arawn is unable to add to their number.

In the fifth book in the series, The High King, Taran inadvertently discovers that there is one thing which can destroy the Cauldron-Born forever—the magical sword Dyrnwyn. He plunges it into the heart of the warrior bearing down upon him and, in so doing, kills not only his own adversary but all of the other Cauldron-Born in one fell swoop.

Like many other elements of the Prydain Chronicles, the Black Crochan is based on elements of Welsh mythology, specifically events recounted in The Mabinogion.

The Castle of Llyr

  • Prince Rhun, a well-meaning but inept young man
  • Glew, a self-centered giant
  • King Rhuddlum, Rhun's father
  • Queen Teleria, Rhun's mother
  • Llyan, a horse-sized cat
  • Magg, Chief Steward to King Rhuddlum and assistant to Achren

Following previous events, the theme of maturity continues. This chapter follows The Companions as they set out to discover Eilonwy's origins. It is soon discovered the red-gold haired beauty is the last in a long line of Sorceresses. Achren, having survived the events of "The Book of Three" places her servant, Magg, into service within the royal house when she hears that the lost Princess of Llyr, the self same Eilonwy, is to return home...to marry the youthful, exuberant and yet inept Prince Rhun. One night, Magg carries out his Mistress' bidding and kidnaps the Princess, bringing her to the former Queen. Taran and Prince Rhun set forward, along with other familiar faces, such as the lovable bard/king Fflam, to seek out the Princess and rescue her, even if it means her marriage to the Prince.

Taran Wanderer

  • Aeddan, a farmer
  • Lord Goryon
  • Lord Gast, his rival
  • Morda, a sorcerer
  • Dorath, a bandit
  • Gloff, a bandit
  • Craddoc, a Shepherd, who seems to be Taran's father
  • Llonio, Son of Llonwen, a gatherer
  • Annlaw Clay-Shaper, an expert potter
  • Hevydd the Smith, an expert metalsmith
  • Dwyvach the Weaver-Woman, an expert weaver
  • Drudwas, Son of Pebyr
  • Llassar, Son of Drudwas, a struggling farmer

The High King

Setting

Prydain's geography, culture, and names are based on ancient Wales, especially the tales of the Mabinogion. Prydain is a magical land engaged in a series of battles with its neighbor, Annuvin, the Land of Death. It is the setting for four of the five books in the series.

Once ruled over by the evil Queen Achren, Prydain was liberated by the Sons of Don, who established a new government at Caer Dathyl. The High King rules over all the land, seconded by his war leader, with many subject kings ruling the various territories of Prydain. Only the Free Commots, a land of craftsmen who answer only to the High King, are outside any subject king's jurisdiction.

Significant locations in Prydain include Caer Dallben, the farm homestead of the enchanter Dallben, Caer Colur, the ancestral home of the House of Llyr, Spiral Castle, Achren's fortress, and the Marshes of Morva, a haunted swamp that is home to the witches Orddu, Orwen and Orgoch.

Underneath and within Prydrain is the kingdom of the Fair Folk, a diminutive supernatural race that mostly keeps to its own affairs. The Fair Folk have no love for the Death-Lord Arawn however and occasionally aid the humans of Prydain against him.

In addition to the races of men and Fair Folk, Prydain is home to the Sons of Don and their descendants (who are ostensibly related to the gods of Welsh mythology, though this is never overtly stated in the series). Other varieties of creatures such as the undead Cauldron-Born, the monstrous birdlike Gwythaints, and oddities such as the furry, human-like Gurgi (whose race is undetermined) also reside in Prydain.

Reception

Having garnered both a Newbery Medal (for The High King) and a Newbery Honor (for The Black Cauldron), the chronicles are recognized as a valuable contribution to the canon of classic children's literature. For many years since their publication The Chronicles of Prydain have held their own in sales and readership and may be comparable to other famous children's fantasy series such as The Chronicles of Narnia. Ruth Hill Viguers writes in A Critical History of Children's Literature that, “Like most good fantasies, the books are related to humanity; the characters have failings but also the potentialities for greatness.”[6]

Supplementary works

The Foundling and Other Tales of Prydain is a collection of six short stories (newer copies including eight) by Lloyd Alexander. Although first published in 1973, after the five novels that comprise the Chronicles of Prydain, these short stories take place before the events of the books that preceded them. The stories were written by Alexander due to the overwhelming demand for more stories from fans of the books at the time.

Children's literature scholar Michael O. Tunnell published a reference guide/compendium on the Prydain Chronicles entitiled The Prydain Companion in 2003. The encyclopedia lists and analyzes the major characters, locations, etc., as well as insight gained by Tunnell's interviews with author Alexander.[7]

Film adaption

In 1985, Walt Disney Productions released The Black Cauldron, an animated film based primarily on the first two books, but also on the series as a whole. The film cost $40 million and was poorly received by audiences, failing to recoup its costs. Critics found the film "pretty, but confusing and overly somber" due to its dark nature, although Roger Ebert gave it a positive review. Upon reviewing the completed project, studio head Jeffrey Katzenberg was dismayed by the product and the animators ultimately felt it was lacking "the humor, pathos, and the fantasy which had been so strong in Lloyd Alexander's work. The story had been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and it was heartbreaking to see such wonderful material wasted."[8]

Alexander's reaction to the movie was twofold, stating, "First, I have to say, there is no resemblance between the movie and the book. Having said that, the movie in itself, purely as a movie, I found to be very enjoyable." [2]

The movie rights to the Prydain series remain in the hands of the Disney Corporation. However, as of February 2011, no plans for a revival of the series have been announced.

Notes

  1. ^ Alexander, Lloyd (1999). "Author's note". Taran Wanderer. New York: Henry Holt and Company. ISBN 0-8050-6134-7
  2. ^ a b Scholastic Inc. [1] Retrieved April 17, 2009. "...I have to say, there is no resemblance between the movie and the book."
  3. ^ Alexander, Lloyd (1999). "Author's note". The Book of Three. New York: Henry Holt and Company. ISBN 0-8050-6132-0
  4. ^ Lloyd Alexander: A Bio-Bibliography by Jacobs and Tunnel
  5. ^ a b "Newbery Medal & Honor Books, 1922-Present". Association for Library Service to Children. http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/alsc/awardsgrants/bookmedia/newberymedal/newberyhonors/newberymedal.cfm#60s. Retrieved 11 January 2011. 
  6. ^ Viguers, Ruth Hill; Cornelia Meigs (ed.) (1969). A Critical History of Children's Literature. Macmillan Publishing co.. p. 462. ISBN 0-02-583900-4. 
  7. ^ Barnes & Noble listing
  8. ^ Johnston, Ollie and Frank Thomas, The Disney Villain, Hyperion, New York, 1993. Page 173. ISBN 1-56282-792-8

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