The Book of Three
by Lloyd Alexander
Book of Three heralds the introduction of the post-modern series in
America, and is the first in a five book series that takes place in a
magical land known as Prydain. There are crown princes, enchanters,
princesses, a wandering bard, a horned king, and oracular pigs.
This book is for young readers who are voracious readers of series, i.e., Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Harry Potter, and The Lord of the Rings, and would also be great to read aloud to a younger audience.
The Book of Three is the first book of The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander (1924-2007). A contemporary of Tolkien, Alexander’s first installment in the series was published in 1964, ten years after The Fellowship of the Ring. Instead of publishing The Lord of the Rings as a trilogy, it was published in three volumes to keep costs low due to post-war paper shortages. Alongside C.S. Lewis and the Chronicles of Narnia (published at the same time as The Lord of the Rings) these authors introduced the modern “series” that is so ubiquitous today. Lloyd Alexander is the American counterpart to those British authors of fantasy and mythology, living and writing in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, except for his time spent in Europe during World War II, where he served as a member of the U.S. Army Intelligence.
Inspired by the Welsh landscape, Alexander insists that The Chronicles of Prydain is not a retelling of Welsh mythology; rather, “Prydain is a country existing only in the imagination.” As I was re-reading The Book of Three, I found myself laughing at Taran, the hero of the series, who is unsatisfied with his work making horseshoes on a small farm where there are no horses.
“What is the use of studying much when I’m to see nothing at all?” Taran retorted. “I think there is a destiny laid on me that I am not to know anything interesting, or do anything interesting. I’m certainly not to be anything interesting. I’m not anything even at Caer Dallben!”
“Very well,” said Coll, “if that is all that troubles you, I shall make you something. From this moment, you are Taran, Assistant Pig-Keeper.”
Hen Wen is an oracular pig with a mind of her own. When she escapes, Taran must find her, and thus begins his journey. Taran learns many things about being a hero, mostly, that an Assistant Pig-Keeper is just as important as a High King. As Alexander writes, “Our capabilities seldom match our aspirations, and we are often woefully unprepared. To this extent, we are all Assistant Pig-Keepers at heart.”
This article originally appeared in The Clarion Ledger.