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LLOYD ALEXANDER has been writing professionally for ten years and his books have garnered numerous awards, including a Newbery Honor for The Black Cauldron and the Newbery Medal for The High King. Lloyd Alexander lives with his wife in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania.
Taran, Assistant Pig-Keeper to a famous oracular sow, sets out on a hazardous mission to save Prydain from the forces of evil.
"The author draw his figures with the ... touches of irritability, doltishness and contrariness that leavens with high good humor the high fantasy."
—Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
Book of Three
This chronicle of the Land of Prydain is not a retelling or retranslation of Welsh mythology. Prydain is not Wales—not entirely, at least. The inspiration for it comes from that magnificent land and its legends; but, essentially, Prydain is a country existing only in the imagination.
A few of its inhabitants are drawn from the ancient tales. Gwydion, for example, is a "real" legendary figure. Arawn, the dread Lord of Annuvin, comes from the Mabinogion, the classic collection of Welsh legends, though in Prydain he is considerably more villainous. And there is an authentic mythological basis for Arawn's cauldron, Hen Wen the oracular pig, the old enchanter Dallben, and others. However, Taran the Assistant Pig-Keeper, like Eilonwy of the red-gold hair, was born in my own Prydain.
The geography of Prydain is peculiar to itself. Any resemblance between it and Wales is perhaps not coincidental—but not to be used as a guide for tourists. It is a small land, yet it has room enough for gallantry and humor; and even an Assistant Pig-Keeper there may cherish certain dreams.
The chronicle of Prydain is a fantasy. Such things never happenin real life. Or do they? Most of us are called on to perform tasks far beyond what we can do. Our capabilities seldom match our aspirations, and we are often woefully unprepared. To this extent, we are all Assistant Pig-Keepers at heart.
The Assistant Pig-Keeper
Taran wanted to make a sword; but Coll, charged with the practical side of his education, decided on horseshoes. And so it had been horseshoes all morning long. Taran's arms ached, soot blackened his face. At last he dropped the hammer and turned to Coll, who was watching him critically.
"Why?" Taran cried. "Why must it be horseshoes? As if we had any horses!"
Coll was stout and round and his great bald head glowed bright pink. "Lucky for the horses," was all he said, glancing at Taran's handiwork.
"I could do better at making a sword," Taran protested. "I know I could." And before Coll could answer, he snatched the tongs, flung a strip of red-hot iron to the anvil, and began hammering away as fast as he could.
"Wait, wait!" cried Coll, "that is not the way to go after it!"
Heedless of Coll, unable even to hear him above the din, Taran pounded harder than ever. Sparks sprayed the air. But the more he pounded, the more the metal twisted and buckled, until, finally, the iron sprang from the tongs and fell to the ground. Taran staredin dismay. With the tongs, he picked up the bent iron and examined it.
"Not quite the blade for a hero," Coll remarked.
"It's ruined," Taran glumly agreed. "It looks like a sick snake," he added ruefully.
"As I tried telling you," said Coll, "you had it all wrong. You must hold the tongs—so. When you strike, the strength must flow from your shoulder and your wrist be loose. You can hear it when you do it right. There is a kind of music in it. Besides," he added, "this is not the metal for weapons."
Coll returned the crooked, half-formed blade to the furnace, where it lost its shape entirely.
"I wish I might have my own sword," Taran sighed, "and you would teach me sword-fighting."
"Wisht!" cried Coll. "Why should you want to know that? We have no battles at Caer Dallben."
"We have no horses, either," objected Taran, "but we're making horseshoes."
"Get on with you," said Coll, unmoved. "That is for practice."
"And so would this be," Taran urged. "Come, teach me the sword-fighting. You must know the art."
Coll's shining head glowed even brighter. A trace of a smile appeared on his face, as though he were savoring something pleasant. "True," he said quietly, "I have held a sword once or twice in my day."
"Teach me now," pleaded Taran. He seized a poker and brandished it, slashing at the air and dancing back and forth over the hard-packed earthen floor. "See," he called, "I know most of it already."
"Hold your hand," chuckled Coll. "If you were to come against me like that, with all your posing and bouncing, I should have you chopped into bits by this time." He hesitated a moment. "Look you," he said quickly, "at least you should know there is a right way and a wrong way to go about it."
He picked up another poker. "Here now," he ordered, with a sooty wink, "stand like a man."
Taran brought up his poker. While Coll shouted instructions, they set to parrying and thrusting, with much banging, clanking, and commotion. For a moment Taran was sure he had the better of Coll, but the old man spun away with amazing lightness of foot. Now it was Taran who strove desperately to ward off Coll's blows.
Abruptly, Coll stopped. So did Taran, his poker poised in mid-air. In the doorway of the forge stood the tall, bent figure of Dallben.
Dallben, master of Caer Dallben, was three hundred and seventy-nine years old. His beard covered so much of his face he seemed always to be peering over a gray cloud. On the little farm, while Taran and Coll saw to the plowing, sowing, weeding, reaping, and all the other tasks of husbandry, Dallben undertook the meditating, an occupation so exhausting he could accomplish it only by lying down and closing his eyes. He meditated an hour and a half following breakfast and again later in the day. The clatter from the forge had roused him from his morning meditation; his robe hung askew over his bony knees.
"Stop that nonsense directly," said Dallben. "I am surprised at you," he added, frowning at Coll. "There is serious work to be done."
"It wasn't Coll," Taran interrupted. "It was I who asked to learn swordplay."
"I did not say I was surprised at you," remarked Dallben. "But perhaps I am, after all. I think you had best come with me."
Taran followed the ancient man out of the forge, across the chicken run, and into the white, thatched cottage. There, in Dallben's chamber, moldering tomes overflowed the sagging shelves and spilled onto the floor amid heaps of iron cook-pots, studded belts, harps with or without strings, and other oddments.
Taran took his place on the wooden bench, as he always did when Dallben was in a mood for giving lessons or reprimands.
"I fully understand," said Dallben, settling himself behind his table, "in the use of weapons, as in everything else, there is a certain skill. But wiser heads than yours will determine when you should learn it."
"I'm sorry," Taran began, "I should not have ..."
"I am not angry," Dallben said, raising a hand. "Only a little sad. Time flies quickly; things always happen sooner than one expects. And yet," he murmured, almost to himself, "it troubles me. I fear the Horned King may have some part in this."
"The Horned King?" asked Taran.
"We shall speak of him later," said Dallben. He drew a ponderous, leather-bound volume toward him, The Book of Three, from which he occasionally read to Taran and which, the boy believed, held in its pages everything anyone could possibly want to know.
"As I have explained to you before," Dallben went on, "—and you have very likely forgotten—Prydain is a land of many cantrevs—of small kingdoms—and many kings. And, of course, their war-leaders who command the warriors."
"But there is the High King above them all," said Taran, "Math Son of Mathonwy. His war-leader is the mightiest hero in Prydain.You told me of him. Prince Gwydion! Yes," Taran went on eagerly, "I know ..."
"There are other things you do not know," Dallben said, "for the obvious reason that I have not told you. For the moment I am less concerned with the realms of the living than with the Land of the Dead, with Annuvin."
Taran shuddered at the word. Even Dallben had spoken it in a whisper.
"And with King Arawn, Lord of Annuvin," Dallben said. "Know this," he continued quickly, "Annuvin is more than a land of death. It is a treasure-house, not only of gold and jewels but of all things of advantage to men. Long ago, the race of men owned these treasures. By craft and deceit, Arawn stole them, one by one, for his own evil uses. Some few of the treasures have been wrested from him though most lie hidden deep in Annuvin, where Arawn guards them jealously."
"But Arawn did not become ruler of Prydain," Taran said.
"You may be thankful he did not," said Dallben. "He would have ruled had it not been for the Children of Don, the sons of the Lady Don and her consort Belin, King of the Sun. Long ago they voyaged to Prydain from the Summer Country and found the land rich and fair, though the race of men had little for themselves. The Sons of Don built their stronghold at Caer Dathyl, far north in the Eagle Mountains. From there, they helped regain at least a portion of what Arawn had stolen, and stood as guardians against the lurking threat of Annuvin."
"I hate to think what would have happened if the Sons of Don hadn't come," Taran said. "It was a good destiny that brought them."
"I am not always sure," said Dallben, with a wry smile. "The menof Prydain came to rely on the strength of the House of Don as a child clings to its mother. They do so even today. Math, the High King, is descended from the House of Don. So is Prince Gwydion. But that is all by the way. Prydain has been at peace—as much as men can be peaceful—until now.
"What you do not know," Dallben said, "is this: it has reached my ears that a new and mighty war lord has risen, as powerful as Gwydion; some say more powerful. But he is a man of evil for whom death is a black joy. He sports with death as you might sport with a dog."
"Who is he?" cried Taran.
Dallben shook his head. "No man knows his name, nor has any man seen his face. He wears an antlered mask, and for this reason he is called the Horned King. His purposes I do not know. I suspect the hand of Arawn, but in what manner I cannot tell. I tell you now for your own protection," Dallben added. "From what I saw this morning, your head is full of nonsense about feats of arms. Whatever notions you may have, I advise you to forget them immediately. There is unknown danger abroad. You are barely on the threshold of manhood, and I have a certain responsibility to see that you reach it, preferably with a whole skin. So, you are not to leave Caer Dallben under any circumstances, not even past the orchard, and certainly not into the forest—not for the time being."
"For the time being!" Taran burst out. "I think it will always be for the time being, and it will be vegetables and horseshoes all my life!"
"Tut," said Dallben, "there are worse things. Do you set yourself to be a glorious hero? Do you believe it is all flashing swords and galloping about on horses? As for being glorious ..."
"What of Prince Gwydion?" cried Taran. "Yes! I wish I might be like him!"
"I fear," Dallben said, "that is entirely out of the question."
"But why?" Taran sprang to his feet. "I know if I had the chance ..."
"Why?" Dallben interrupted. "In some cases," he said, "we learn more by looking for the answer to a question and not finding it than we do from learning the answer itself. This is one of those cases. I could tell you why, but at the moment it would only be more confusing. If you grow up with any kind of sense—which you sometimes make me doubt—you will very likely reach your own conclusions.
"They will probably be wrong," he added. "However, since they will be yours, you will feel a little more satisfied with them."
Taran sank back and sat, gloomy and silent, on the bench. Dallben had already begun meditating again. His chin gradually came to rest on his collarbone; his beard floated around his ears like a fog bank; and he began snoring peacefully.
The spring scent of apple blossom drifted through the open window. Beyond Dallben's chamber, Taran glimpsed the pale green fringe of forest. The fields, ready to cultivate, would soon turn golden with summer. The Book of Three lay closed on the table. Taran had never been allowed to read the volume for himself; now he was sure it held more than Dallben chose to tell him. In the sun-filled room, with Dallben still meditating and showing no sign of stopping, Taran rose and moved through the shimmering beams. From the forest came the monotonous tick of a beetle.
His hands reached for the cover. Taran gasped in pain and snatched them away. They smarted as if each of his fingers hadbeen stung by hornets. He jumped back, stumbled against the bench, and dropped to the floor, where he put his fingers woefully into his mouth.
Dallben's eyes blinked open. He peered at Taran and yawned slowly. "You had better see Coll about a lotion for those hands," he advised. "Otherwise, I shouldn't be surprised if they blistered."
Fingers smarting, the shamefaced Taran hurried from the cottage and found Coll near the vegetable garden.
"You have been at The Book of Three," Coll said. "That is not hard to guess. Now you know better. Well, that is one of the three foundations of learning: see much, study much, suffer much." He led Taran to the stable where medicines for the livestock were kept, and poured a concoction over Taran's fingers.
"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. 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. You shall help me take care of Hen Wen: see her trough is full, carry her water, and give her a good scrubbing every other day."
"That's what I do now," Taran said bitterly.
"All the better," said Coll, "for it makes things that much easier. If you want to be something with a name attached to it, I can't think of anything closer to hand. And it is not every lad who can be assistant keeper to an oracular pig. Indeed, she is the only oracular pig in Prydain, and the most valuable."
"Valuable to Dallben," Taran said. "She never tells me anything."
"Did you think she would?" replied Coll. "With Hen Wen, you must know how to ask—here, what was that?" Coll shaded his eyes with his hand. A black, buzzing cloud streaked from the orchard, and bore on so rapidly and passed so close to Coll's head that he had to leap out of the way.
"The bees!" Taran shouted. "They're swarming."
"It is not their time," cried Coll. "There is something amiss." The cloud rose high toward the sun. An instant later Taran heard a loud clucking and squawking from the chicken run. He turned to see the five hens and the rooster beating their wings. Before it occurred to him they were attempting to fly, they, too, were aloft.
Taran and Coll raced to the chicken run, too late to catch the fowls. With the rooster leading, the chickens flapped awkwardly through the air and disappeared over the brow of a hill.
From the stable the pair of oxen bellowed and rolled their eyes in terror.
Dallben's head poked out of the window. He looked irritated. "It has become absolutely impossible for any kind of meditation whatsoever," he said, with a severe glance at Taran. "I have warned you once ..."
"Something frightened the animals," Taran protested. "First the bees, then the chickens flew off ..."
Dallben's face turned grave. "I have been given no knowledge of this," he said to Coll. "We must ask Hen Wen about it immediately, and we shall need the letter sticks. Quickly, help me find them."
Coll moved hastily to the cottage door. "Watch Hen Wen closely," he ordered Taran. "Do not let her out of your sight."
Coll disappeared inside the cottage to search for Hen Wen's letter sticks, the long rods of ash wood carved with spells. Taran was both frightened and excited. Dallben, he knew, would consult Hen Wen only on a matter of greatest urgency. Within Taran's memory, it had never happened before. He hurried to the pen.
Hen Wen usually slept until noon. Then, trotting daintily, despite her size, she would move to a shady corner of her enclosure and settle comfortably for the rest of the day. The white pig was continually grunting and chuckling to herself, and whenever she saw Taran, she would raise her wide, cheeky face so that he could scratch under her chin. But this time, she paid no attention to him. Wheezing and whistling, Hen Wen was digging furiously in the soft earth at the far side of the pen, burrowing so rapidly she would soon be out.
Taran shouted at her, but the clods continued flying at a great rate. He swung himself over the fence. The oracular pig stopped and glanced around. As Taran approached the hole, already sizable, Hen Wen hurried to the opposite side of the pen and started a new excavation.
Taran was strong and long-legged, but, to his dismay, he saw that Hen Wen moved faster than he. As soon as he chased her from the second hole, she turned quickly on her short legs and made for the first. Both, by now, were big enough for her head and shoulders.
Taran frantically began scraping earth back into the burrow. Hen Wen dug faster than a badger, her hind legs planted firmly, her front legs plowing ahead. Taran despaired of stopping her. Hescrambled back over the rails and jumped to the spot where Hen Wen was about to emerge, planning to seize her and hang on until Dallben and Coll arrived. He underestimated Hen Wen's speed and strength.
In an explosion of dirt and pebbles, the pig burst from under the fence, heaving Taran into the air. He landed with the wind knocked out of him. Hen Wen raced across the field and into the woods.
Taran followed. Ahead, the forest rose up dark and threatening. He took a breath and plunged after her.
Copyright © 1964 by Lloyd Alexander. Renewed 1992.Map copyright © 1964 by Evaline Ness Pronunciation Guide copyright © 1999 by Henry Holt and Company
1. Why does Taran wish for a more exciting life? What does Dallben mean when he says, "In some cases we learn more by looking for the answer to a question and not finding it than we do from learning the answer itself"?
2. What does Gwydion mean when he says to Taran, "It is not the trappings that make the prince, nor, indeed, the sword that makes the warrior"? Which characters in the story do you think this describes?
3. Why does Taran abandon his search for Hen Wen to go to Caer Dathyl? What does he learn on this journey about himself?
4. Discuss the importance of Medwyn's valley. Why does Medwyn offer Taran the chance to stay? Why does Taran decide to leave the valley? What wisdom does he learn from Medwyn?
5. When Taran returns to Caer Dallben, what has changed for him and how do you think these changes will affect him in the future?
Posted September 26, 2008
At first I wasn't even going to read this book, but I was persuaded otherwise. And now I'm glad I was! It was great from the first sentence to the end. Anyone who likes adventure should read this.
6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 6, 2006
An assistant pig-keeper? Where is the adventure in that? This may be a question running through your head as you read the summary on the back of 'The Book of Three,' but you'd be surprised to learn that the assistant pig-keeper himself agrees with you and doesn't stay so for long. Taran, a truly unique youth, has the heart of 20 grown men and the height of half of one, but that matters little when this pig-keeper sets out on the adventure of a life time. Funny, heart warming, and original, this book would make ANY 'Harry Potter' fan put down 'Half-Blood Prince' and pick up 'The Chronicles of Prydain' series.
6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 30, 2012
This was my favorite middle school book as a child, and I still do love it. I taught it this year to my 7th graders, who enjoyed it as well. It's great for studying dynamic characterization.
4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 23, 2010
I find it hard to believe that this book is the great novel that everyone makes it out to be. I read it in one sitting, and could only think to myself when I was finished that a majority of this book was missing... There is almost little to no detail about anything, and if there is it seems totally irrelevant to the story. Lots of people compare this series of books to Narnia or LOTR, but I really can't see the connection. I guess I expected more from what most of the reviews out there said about this. Maybe if I read the other four books it will actually feel like a whole story?
3 out of 6 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 13, 2012
I first read this book in 2010, since then I have loved this and the rest of Lloyd Alexander's novels. The Book of Three is one of the rare books dealing with Celtic (Welsh) myths. This book and its accompanying four novels deserve to stand alongside Narnia and Harry Potter.
2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 3, 2006
This book i read in 5th grade and i loved it! i read it again and again! it was such a breath taking adventure through so many different places. the characters were amazing and lovable. i loved the entire book, not a sour moment whatsoever. Read this book! you won't regret it!!! =D
1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 25, 2000
Where as I didn't like it, others have. It is a story of fantasy and ficton. I did not care for it. We had to read it in school. If you like dragons and knights in shinning armor, go for it!
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Posted November 17, 2013
This book is awsome!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 29, 2013
This is the first book of the Prydain Chronicles, which follows an orphan boy named Taran and his journey to not only find out about his parentage but fight the forces of evil which plague the world around him. While the main storyline revolves around Taran and his band of friends fighting evil, the books also focus on the nature of friendships, of love, and sacrifice. Very thought provoking books, and they are still a joy to read even thirty plus years after I put them down the first time.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 11, 2013
*The Chronicles of Prydain* is a five-book high fantasy series by Lloyd Alexander. Since it's initial release, it has become a classic of children's literature. As it is well-loved by some of my friends, I decided to start reading it, beginning, of course, with the first novel, *The Book of Three*.
The story opens with a young man named Taran, who is an Assistant Pig-Keeper at Caer Dallben, in the fictional world of Prydain. Young Taran thirsts for adventure, and he may regret it. One day, literally out of the blue, the “oracular pig” Hen-Wen (who prophesies and gives information that she knows) digs a hole and escapes her enclosure. She is trying to escape the bad guys who want to kill her before she can be used against them. And there are bad guys, as we shall soon see. Hen-Wen escapes, so the boy goes after her.
He comes across an army led by the fearsome Horned King. This evil and powerful warrior is the chief military commander of the forces of Annuvin, the realm governed by Arawn, an evil god based upon the god of death from Welsh mythology. Please note that much of the series is very loosely based on Welsh myths and epics.
Anyways, Taran is injured fleeing these forces, and is discovered by Gwydion, Prince of Prydain, heir to the house of Don, whose ancestors originally defeated Arawn. He seeks to warn his house at Caer Dathyl of the coming invasion. Taran ends up having to join Gwydion on his quest, but soon must take the quest upon himself when Gwydion appears to have perished.
Our young hero is joined on this journey by Princess Eilonwy, who can perform magic and is knowledgeable about many things, but is a snobbish motor-mouth; the bard Fflewddur Fflam, a one-time king who decided to become a bard instead; and Gurgi, a cowardly and strange half-man/half-beast creature who improves after Taran treats him with kindness and respect.
Their quest is one of danger and a mix of really bad and really good choices on Taran's part. In the end, though Taran feels everyone else did well but him, the other characters disagree. He lead the quest ably, kept everyone together, and did the right thing in a hard time. He did well, in other words.
The only real criticism I have of this tale was in the pacing. It takes a bit for the story to get exciting. The early pages are a tad boring, and only at the point where they are captured by Achren does the tale become the exciting adventure that will hold the reader's attention. To be fair, that is the only real critique I can say about the story. Yes, Taran is a little bit featureless compared to other characters, but that is because he is the audience surrogate. I understand we learn more about him as the series goes on, but this early, he is left somewhat vague.
As a character, Eilonwy fascinates me. I am only half-joking when I say that the Japanese must be fans of Lloyd Alexander, as the "tsundere" character archetype that is so popular in Japanese anime and manga is perfectly encapsulated by Eilonwy. Go ahead, look up the the term, then read the book, and tell me I'm wrong. What makes this fascinating instead of annoying is that Alexander kept her likable, instead of irritating. Many authors can not do that, even in Japan where the concept and term are a part of popular culture.
*The Book of Three* is an excellent adventure that will keep you engaged and cheering for the good guys, as well as groaning and laughing at their faults. It was well-worth my time to read.
Posted August 24, 2013
I first read this book way back in sixth grade as an assignment. At the time, I had never read fantasy, and really had no urge to do so. But I gave the book a chance because I loved my teacher. I'm so glad I did- this series has remained one of my favorites.
The Book of Three introduces us to the young Taran, who is itching to be a hero. Through a series of setbacks and errors, he gathers a little band of misfits- Eilonwy, Gurgi and Fflewddur Fflam. It sets the stage for the rest of the series while remaining a good stand alone book.
Posted June 28, 2013
Read this.Thought it was AMAZING! Very thrilling and amazing. I would highly recomend this for anybody who loves thrilling adventure. This book is full of strange, funny and scary charactors. THIS BOOK IS A MUST READ?Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
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Posted May 1, 2013
I have read these books, and wished to read them again. When I went to read them, all I saw was a blank white page that would not turn.
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