A note from the writer: There are some spoilers here and there – just a fair warning to the reader. On the other hand, it might actually entice you to read the series.
“The chronicle of Prydain is a fantasy. Such things never happen in real life. Or do they? 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.”
– Lloyd Alexander
Prydain is a land not only of men but of various other folks that fair alongside of men. Like any other world, it has its own share of good and evil. Once, there was Achren, an evil enchantress who had power over Prydain. She gave much power to her champion Arawn who in turn, betrayed her and sought to gain more power than what she ever had. Evil almost reigned over the land because of him as he became the Lord of Annuvin, the Land of the Dead. He spawned the Cauldron-Born, creatures who have been raised from the dead but have forgotten that they have ever lived. Their goal is only to kill whatever stands in their way and serves as Arawn’s strongest guards in his kingdom for their power wanes the farther they are from Annuvin. He too, tortured and raised Gwythaints, large bird creatures that served as his spies – his eyes and ears. Lastly, he tempted other men to swear allegiance to him and together, they struck out kingdoms, taking their greatest treasures which contained power and killing whoever stands in their way.
However, hope is never lost. The people of the Summer Country went to Prydain and built their kingdom there – Caer Dathyl located north in the Eagle Mountains. They were the sons of the Lady Don and Belin, King of the Sun, and they were the ones who had helped the men of Prydain against Arawn. Their descendants are Math, the High King, and Prince Gwydion, his war leader. They and their men serve as the current leaders and greatest heroes of Prydain.
Now, Arawn has moved once again and the land is in peril. Arawn has a new champion, the Horned King, and he has set off for Caer Dathyl with an army who has also sworn allegiance to the Lord of the Dead.
All this is known to Taran, a young Assistant Pig-Keeper who lives in Caer Dallben. He dreams of becoming a hero, of becoming more than what he is already. He wants to leave the boring walls of his home and go off into the vast world in search of adventure. However, he soon realizes that the glory he seeks is not only as glorious as it seems. Upon losing himself in the forest in search of the oracular pig Hen Wen which was tasked under his care, he meets Prince Gwydion himself and thus, begins the lad’s own adventure that will teach him many things.
He encounters many – both friends and foes. Apart from Coll, who also lives in Caer Dallben with him and Dallben, he becomes friends with Eilonwy, a young intelligent girl; Fflewddur Fllam, a brave bard; Gurgi, a creature both animal and man; and Doli, a grumpy yet honourable dwarf. With their help, he was able to accomplish the task he set himself to do. Aid also came from different places – such as from Medwyn, a mysterious old man who understands every creature in Prydain and Eiddileg, the King of the Fair Folk who despite his grumblings also helped the travellers in the end – and from the most unexpected ones – such as a Gwythaint whom Taran helped have its wounds healed. He too got to encounter Achren, the Horned King, the Cauldron-Born, and the evil versions of Gwythaints.
From his long arduous journey, Taran learned that to be a hero is not as easy as he thinks, nor as beautiful as how he hears it in stories. As a young man, he was suddenly given the responsibility to make the choices and to be responsible for the consequences of his actions. It was the first time he had to face that much responsibility and he realized that being back at Caer Dallben would have been much simpler and easier than what he had to face at the moment. Despite having friends to help him and give council to him, he was always left with the final decision which was respected by the entire party.
Throughout the days that passed, Taran can be seen to have grown if only for a bit. He had matured and made some right choices but he also made bad ones. The honourable thing is that he admitted to his mistakes and always sought for a solution knowing that it was he who caused their party to be in some of the dilemmas they had to face. Apart from this, his wrong choices though seemingly a mistake on the outside, always turned out to have been of benefit which will be revealed later on as the story progresses. Perhaps it was all part of a much bigger plan that was set out for him – a plan that would change him and help him grow up. For there were times when his friends thought he had made the wrong decision and he too thought this himself. Yet later on, he discovers that what he did actually bore fruit and would later help him and his friends.
To why the first book was entitled The Book of Three was due to Dallben, the master of Taran’s home which is Caer Dallben. Old yet full of wisdom, he held the book safely as it contained secrets only he could gain access to. Despite not having its contents revealed, it seemed to imply that the book also contained stories about the history of Prydain which set the background from where the entire story could begin.
As the first book comes to an end, a smile escapes my lips with the satisfaction of having read a good book. A children’s book perhaps, but even the older ones have much to learn from the young ones. Perhaps a lot of people will indeed be able to relate to Taran and the choices he had to make. It was part of growing up and of becoming the person who he was really meant to be – though this fact still eludes him. Like him, we too experience this. We dream despite not knowing. We fail at times but we never give up. We remain hopeful just like that Assistant Pig-Keeper whom we now have come to know.