We live in a time when anyone can find the best books ever written. New releases, classics, and everything in between can be located in print, digital, and audio formats. For those who like to read with their kids, it’s an amazing time.
With regret, I say what every reading parent knows: there’s a lot of junk out there when it comes to children’s books. I’m not going to mention those which have the obvious junk—material that no one should read, let alone children. However, there are still many books which have no objectionable material, but are little more than literary junk food. They’re enjoyable, but a diet of nothing but empty calories doesn’t build anything in the mind. I won’t talk about them either.
To both spend time with my children and give them literary food to build their minds, I recently read to them THE CHRONICLES OF PRYDAIN. For them, it was the second reading, but they were too young to remember the first. This time, they were begging for me to read more each night. The stories of Taran and the companions, Fflewddur Fflam, Gurgi, and Eilonwy not only filled their imaginations with adventure but taught them how dragons can be slain (paraphrasing of G.K. Chesterton).
In this series, I will explore some of those life lessons in the great work of children’s literature known as PRYDAIN.
I don’t know how many times I’ve read THE CHRONICLES OF PRYDAIN. It’s one of my top three fantasy series (NARNIA and THE DRAGONLANCE CHRONICLES finish out the three). A reader might ask what those three very different collections have in common to appeal to me so deeply. Well, they are all fantasy stories with magical creatures and high adventure. It’s a sad state today that so many books do so little adventuring. Adventuring must challenge the protagonist. Many books are simply wish fulfillment of the author. The main character is a stand in for the author and goes on the adventures the author never could and overcomes all challenges easily. See, the first two parts are perfectly fine. It’s the final part that makes a book nothing but junk food. If the character is not challenged to go beyond themselves and find inner greatness, the task they fulfilled is not great.
Sometimes the lack of challenge comes not from the main character being an authorial insert but the author wanting to be gentlemanly to his characters. That isn’t adventure! If the characters aren’t challenged, then they haven’t won anything great. Lloyd Alexander does excellent adventure stories with deep life lessons in THE CHRONICLES, but he fails miserably to deliver the same in the Vesper Holly books. Every time the characters get in a pickle, Vesper is going to find a way to walk right out of it. You can imagine my disappointment.
I can sympathize with what Mr. Alexander is trying to do. Being a gentleman, he doesn’t want to put Vesper Holly in grave danger. The problem is, she’s going on archaeological quests in the vein of Indiana Jones. The style of story requires grave danger and the hero having to reach deep inside to overcome the obstacles. Vesper never reaches down like that. The solutions all fall into her lap. Maybe that changes after book 2, but the lack of adventure killed the series for me. If you read Vesper and enjoyed it, great! Have fun! The series wasn’t for us,
But let’s focus on the positive here. For those who have not read THE CHRONICLES OF PRYDAIN, shame on you. Go find them (the current editions have some of the best fantasy covers I’ve ever seen). In this post, I’ll just cover an overview of the series. We’ll dig into each book later.
The series is a coming of age story in five parts. Our hero, Taran of Caer Dallben, desperately wants to know who his parents are. He’s a foundling, and that is all he knows about his ancestry. He’s brash, headstrong, full of life, and longing for more. He dreams big, even though the young boy’s job is to take care of a white pig and weed the garden. The bean poles in the garden are spears from a retired soldier.
Taran dreams of more than the farmer’s life. He longs for adventure. In the course of the series, he will make lifelong friends, prove his valor, fall in love, and grow up. He will learn great life lessons that all would do well to heed. The series is a coming of age tale where the hero passes from childhood to adulthood, losing the naivete of childhood.
Join me as we follow Taran of Caer Dalben in his quest to become a hero. Along the way, he will become so much more.