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My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This continues my rereading of the Prydain Chronicles, and I’m still having as much fun as ever, plus enjoying the audio versions. What’s interesting is seeing which details are familiar and which come as a surprise. In this book, Taran and Eilonwy really start to feel like teenagers, although the action of the book is still at a level that younger readers can grasp and appreciate. There are more complex themes at play (and if I remember correctly, this continues in the final two books as well) but these themes are not employed at the expense of the humor and adventure. The characters are sometimes predictable in their behavior, but they manage to grow and change at the same time. I’ve had lots of requests for audio recommendations lately (we’re heading into car-trip season) and I’ll have to remember to press this series into someone’s hands if they manage to stay on the shelf long enough – I think they’d work well with a variety of ages.
While the plot stands on its own, the characters and world of the books are best appreciated if you start with The Book of Three. (Remember when fantasy series didn’t leave you hanging off an enormous cliff at the end of each installment? Okay, I exaggerate.) The plot concerns part of the ongoing effort to defeat Arawn, but as with the first book, this is really just a backdrop for exploring what it means to be a hero and how you interact with the people around you. That makes it sound thoughtful and dull, but the story is lively and funny, with a few bittersweet moments and some excellent characters. There’s plenty of action, but the characters aren’t thoughtless. The old gang from The Book of Three reunites, and my favorite scene might be their encounter with the three witches, Orddu, Orwen, and Orgoch.
As with the first book, this one is narrated by James Langton, who does an excellent job at differentiating between characters’ voices (you always know who’s talking) and giving the story both a sense of thoughtfulness and momentum at the same time. I’ll definitely be listening to the rest of the series.
I just finished up listening to Arthur Slade’s The Hunchback Assignments on audio (review to come), and now I’ve started listening to Lloyd Alexander’s The Book of Three, the first book in the Prydain chronicles. Now I finally know how to pronounce all those Welsh names! All the pronunciation guides in the world couldn’t make anything stick in my mind, but listening to the entire series on audio will hopefully do the trick.
I can’t believe I haven’t reread the Prydain books before now. Oh, I’m sure I read them several times as a kid – enough that my sister and I had some joke about them that I can’t quite remember (or rather, I can’t remember why it seemed so funny at the time). But I’ve never reread them as an adult. But when The Book of Three popped up as #82 on Fuse #8′s Top 100 Children’s Novels poll, and a commenter mentioned the audiobooks, I jumped right on it.
And if you’re not eagerly reading the results of the poll each morning as Betsy posts them, what on earth is wrong with you? Actually, I probably shouldn’t be reading them because my already crazy to-read list is getting even crazier, between the ones I’ve never read (The Wolves of Willoughby Chase) and the ones I want to reread (Beverly Cleary, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Sydney Taylor, Lloyd Alexander, Zilpha Keatley Snyder, and on and on). Thank goodness for audiobooks, which let me reread without taking time away from reading newer books. Now I just need to start repeating those Welsh names like a mantra…pri-DAIN pri-DAIN pri-DAIN.