Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander

Book Jacket

Blending rich elements of Welsh legend and universal mythology, Lloyd Alexander creates the imaginary kingdom of Prydain to tell a tale of enchantment, both good and evil, and of the Assistant Pig-Keeper who wants to become a hero.

In an enthralling chronicle, Taran, Assistant Pig-Keeper to a famous oracular sow, sets out on a hazardous mission to save Prydain from the forces of evil.  He meets adventures in which humor and high valor are blended in a way that will keep readers of many ages completely absorbed--for this is fantasy that is rooted in reality and truth.

For, as Mr. Alexander says in his introductory note: "Most of us are called on to perform tasks far beyond what we believe 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.


A 5th grader in my last book club recommended that I read The Book of Three.  It's an old school fantasy in which a young kid is swept into events bigger than he can imagine, which is pretty much the setting for all of my favorite books ever. Since a couple of my favorite author/bloggers claim Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain as influential to their reading lives, I figured this was a safe bet for an entertaining read.

I have to admit I was a little disappointed.  I don't think I've ever said this about a book before, but I felt like this one became too epic too quickly.  Before I could get my head into Alexander's world of Prydain, Taran (the boy protagonist) is following runaway pigs, facing evil villians with pretty faces, and castles are crumbling.  It all felt too contrived.  Of course the kid who dreams of glory will immediately run into the man he idolizes, who will naturally take him under his wing even though the kid is mostly useless.  The ending was similarly quick and too neatly wrapped up.  The bad guy was defeated before I really had a chance to fear him.

And on a completely personal preference, I just don't like when books give characters unpronouncable names.  I don't care if it looks cool--fantasy doesn't necessitate ridiculousness.  Sure, sure, Alexander was channeling the Welsh, and maybe they had names like Eilonwy or Arawn, but it's too many Ws for my taste.

I did, however, love Eilonwy.  Her stream of consciousness conversations with herself are hilarious.  She's very slightly unhinged, which is perfect for the neice of an evil enchantress who joins the good fight just to spite her aunt. 

Although I never really liked Taran, which is not great since he is the main character, I did appreciate what Alexander did with his character.  Taran is known throughout the book as an Assistant Pig-Keeper, but despite his low-status job, he is determined to do his part in a quest that is much bigger than anything he could have prepared for.  It's been better done in other books (I'm looking at you, Frodo) but the idea is still inspiring.

I will probably read the rest of the series at some point in the future, so I guess it was decent.  However, it was definitely not a page turner.

Three out of five stars.

Release Date:  1964
Reading Level:  Grade 3+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  YPL ALE

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