If you asked ten-year-old me to rank her favorite fantasy series, I would definitely have put the Chronicles of Narnia at the top. But a very close second would have been the Prydain Chronicles. Not as well-known or iconic as the Narnia series, the Prydain series nevertheless felt as exciting, magical, and original as Narnia, especially for me, a kid who obsessed over knights, dragons, magic, and all things fantasy. The names, the mythology, the magic, the creatures — the Welsh-ness of Prydain made it feel different, a little bit stranger and therefore more wondrous than the typical English-y fantasy. I would later discover just how much Arthurian legend originated in the Welsh tradition, but as a kid, the weird names and Welsh flavor of the Prydain Chronicles made them seem exotic compared to the fantasy and medieval legends I normally read.
Of course, the real beauty of the Prydain Chronicles is in the story and characters. I LOVED Eilonwy and Taran. I LOVED Fluedder Flam. I LOVED the relationship between Taran and Coll, and wonderful Dalben, and yes, even (sometimes annoying) Gurgi. Each of the five books had a unique story that introduced unique and amazing characters. And the villains were creepy and truly dangerous. This was a world in which bad things can and do happen, in which characters can and do die. It was a fantasy world filled with menace and evil in a way the Narnia stories (and even The Hobbit) never were. I must have read and re-read the series at least half a dozen times when I was younger. And I’ve reread them since, as an adult, and still find them to be charming. This, to me, is the mark of a great storyteller.
Looking back on the series now, I’m most fascinated by book 4, Taran Wanderer. As a kid, it wasn’t my favorite. It didn’t have a strong, scary villain. Its quest wasn’t magical enough. It was just Taran going around learning crafts and meeting with ordinary people, trying to find his heritage. Where were the battles? Where was the epic struggle between good and evil? And yet, as an adult, I realize now how bold it was to make the fourth book in this action-adventure fantasy series into a somber, quiet quest for identity and maturity. Now, when I reread the books, I get so much out of Taran Wanderer. It’s a story that continues to resonate.
Is it any wonder that the book I’m writing now is based on Welsh mythology? Is it any wonder that my imagination is steeped in the world of Gwydion and the Black Cauldron and the kingdom of Llyr? It’s funny to me that the Prydain Chronicles don’t seem very well-known, and yet when I mention them to fellow readers, I find so many people who also grew up reading about Taran and Fluedder and Eilonwy and Doli and Henwen and all the rest. Why the series is not more well-known is a mystery. It’s kind of unbelievable that we haven’t gotten a live-action movie franchise out of them (the less said about the animated Disney movie the better). But then, would we be able to trust a movie studio to do justice to the darker elements, to the themes of humility and sacrifice, to the subtleties of Taran’s journey from pig-keeper to high king? I’m not sure what a studio would do with a book like Taran Wanderer. Probably add a lot of unnecessary action sequences.
One of the things I’m most looking forward to as a parent, is the day I get to introduce my children to The Book of Three. Hopefully, it will stir their imagination as much as it did mine. Two decades after I first read the series, it still stirs my imagination.