Our first chapter book read-aloud of 2014 is one Sherry recommended for us in her annual reader advisory post, and it’s one I’ve had on my radar and on my Classics Club list for a while. The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander, which is based partially on Welsh mythology, is the story of Taran the Assistant Pig-Keeper who goes on a quest to find the oracular pig, Hen-Wen. On his journey he is joined by several unlikely companions, including a mouthy enchantress-in-training who rescues him when he is captured by the evil Achren; a hyperbolic king-turned-bard named Fflewddur Fflam; and a wolfhoundish creature named Gurgi who’s most interested in “crunchings and munchings.” Together they search for Hen Wen and seek to warn the Sons of Don of impending evil.
Although I added this book to my list several years ago, it’s not a book I’d normally gravitate towards (especially were I to judge it by its cover). I’m not really a fantasy person, despite the fact that I love all things Narnia and I finally did manage to read and enjoy The Hobbit a few years ago. The Book of Three is an easy book to enjoy, though, even for those of us not well-versed in the tropes and symbols of fantasy. First, there are a limited number of characters, so even though they have names which are at first unpronounceable (hint: check the back of the book for a pronunciation guide), there aren’t so many that they’re easily confused. Second, it’s a work of juvenile fiction, so it’s not so long that the plot meanders or we forget where we’ve been and where we’re going. What we have, then, is a book in which good and evil are very carefully delineated, and Taran’s whole quest is easy to take in. I love that one of the predominant themes–courage in the face of overwhelming odds–is so easy to discern. This is from the author’s note at the beginning of the story:
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 many dreams.
The chronicle of Prydain is a fantasy. Such things never hapen in 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.
To me, that’s an irresistible introduction.
We all loved this book. It’s suspenseful and humorous and just an all around great story. The characterization is wonderful. My girls never wanted me to stop with just one chapter. We give this one a Highly, Highly Recommended and can’t wait to read the next book in The Chronicles of Prydain. (Henry Holt, 1964)