Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1964 217 pages
The Chronicles of Prydain #1
Taran resides at Caer Dallben, taking care of livestock and learning to make horseshoes. He longs for adventure and danger, much as he has read about in The Book of Three. His dissatisfaction is rewarded with a promotion to "Assistant Pig Keeper". After his charge, a rambunctious pig named Hen Wen, who possesses more powers than she is letting on, disappears into the forbidden forest, Taran has no choice but to follow. It is here that he first encounters the dreaded Horned King and his minions. A welcome surprise is finding the legionary hero and crowned prince Gwydion and the two new companions travel together to the castle of an evil sorceress. At the castle Taran is imprisoned, only to be saved by the sorceress's niece, a confusing and fearless girl. The two youths travel through the land of Prydain back to Caer Dallben, collecting more companions along the way, avoiding the Horned King, searching for the magical pig, and finding danger and adventure at every turn. Is the Assistant Pig Keeper up for the task of saving the land of Prydain from evil forces?
High Fantasy at its best, this is the book that set the bar for the genre in children's literature. Considered a classic, many adults grew up loving this series (me included). I recently re-read this book with my bookclub to see if it stands the test of time. None of the kids liked it or were even able to get through it-with the exception of one boy who listened to the audio. The story is written in old English and although the plot is adventurous, the writing feels dense and dry. Based on Welsh folklore, the kids found the names confusing and struggled with keeping the characters straight. I think super-smart kids who love King Arthur legends and The Hobbit would still enjoy this series, though it is clearly not for the average reader. That said, I enjoyed it. It brought me back to my youth, when I devoured the entire series and I appreciated the clear-cut battle between good and evil. Children's fantasy has evolved and is now much more approachable, but it is important to note that we would not have Harry Potter or Percy Jackson without Taran and his pals. On a side note: the character Gurgi (the Jar Jar Binks of the book) is, perhaps, the most annoying character in children's literature. He lightens the heavy mood, but I found myself wishing for his demise. Ironically, he was the only part of the book the kids enjoyed. A perfect book to read on a cold winter's night, patient readers will be rewarded with a classic grand adventure.