The epic structure of the final volume gets a little unwieldy and I have some problems with the ending, but The High King has some of my favorite moments in the entire series (oh, the harp) and its cumulative emotional impact is powerful.

Everything else I have to say is utterly and completely spoilery. )

The High King (The Chronicles of Prydain)
This is one of my favorites of the series. (The other is The Black Cauldron.) I like the concept a lot, and it’s very well-executed. The structure, which seems to be episodic but isn’t quite, is marvelously done, and many of the individual episodes work as perfect little short stories.

Two episodes, the one with Craddoc and Taran’s first encounter with Dorath, are emotionally brutal in a way that’s a bit different from anything else in the series: Taran fails, and knows he failed, and there are real consequences. They’re necessary for the story, but not exactly fun to read. Dorath is so much more convincing as a villain than Arawn, but then again, few of us meet Dark Lords, while we’ve probably all been scarred by encounters with sociopaths. As for Craddoc, those chapters make me cringe in an entirely different way - truly Taran’s dark night of the soul.

Sadly, I do not like Llonio. He reminds me of various hippies I have known. This is no doubt my problem and not Alexander’s. God knows the book needed something light after Craddoc.

Read more... )
This and The Book of Three were always my least favorites of the series. In this case, I can see why.

Eilonwy is sent off to learn to be a lady (baaarf – to be fair, Eilonwy has basically the same reaction), and is seen off to the castle by Taran, Gurgi, and her feckless escort, Prince Rhun. Fflewddur Fflam is rather randomly also at the castle. So is Gwydion, not randomly and disguised as a shoemaker. (Hi, Mabinogion!)

In a plan which makes no sense whatsoever unless Gwydion has morphed into his trickster Mabinogion character and is fucking with everyone for the fun of it, Gwydion explains that Eilonwy is in grave danger, but Taran is not allowed to inform anyone of this, including Fflewddur and Eilonwy herself. Why she can’t know and so be able to take sensible precautions rather than, as happens, thinking Taran has gone insane and eventually going off with the guy no one bothered to warn her was the enemy, is never explained.

There are some funny bits and some plot set-ups for later books, but overall this book has big problems. Though I do note that it’s made completely explicit here that not only does Achren think Gwydion is hot, she wants him as her consort. That went completely over my head when I was ten, possibly because I didn’t know what “consort” meant. (I should also note Alexander's great restraint in NOT adding an additional l to the chapter "The Lair of Llyan.")

It seems like Alexander was thinking of this one as being Eilonwy-centric, but she’s more of a plot device than she is a character or plot-mover, and is off-stage for most of it. In fact she does less in this book than in any other except for Taran Wanderer, in which she does not appear. I wish he’d gone ahead and given her a real solo adventure as a counterpoint to Taran Wanderer, because this does not remotely cut it as an Eilonwy story. Even her climactic heroic action is seen from another’s point of view, and occurs while she’s hypnotized and not really aware of what she’s doing. Very disappointing.

The only reason I’m irritated rather than irate is that I can read Eilonwy as a prototype for Westmark’s Mickle, who is a somewhat similar character type who does get her own story, her own agency, and is quite genuinely heroic.

Definitely the weakest book in the series. Luckily the next one is one of my favorites.

The Castle of Llyr (The Chronicles of Prydain)
Title: A Light in Dark Places
Fandom: Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain
Words: 550
Rated: G
Spoilers: None as such, but it takes place after The Castle of Llyr.
Synopsis: Eilonwy does more than just learn to be a lady while she’s away at Mona.

For [personal profile] rilina, who resembles the title.

“Newts,” explained Eilonwy. )
Inspired by my recent reading of the Mabinogion, I have launched into a re-read of Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain novels, which were vaguely inspired by it. I invite you all to re-read (or read) with me.

I first read these in the ashram library when I was about ten, but out of order, beginning with The Black Cauldron (book two) and continuing with The High King (the final book), as those were the only ones there. The first works quite well as a first book; the last worked surprisingly well by force of story, though I missed much of the emotional impact as characters whom I had not previously met kept wandering in and getting killed. As a result, when I finally managed to obtain the other books, I knew what happened but not why.

When I finally got to The Book of Three, I was disappointed: after the heroism and tragedy of later books, its light comedy seemed odd and slight. Taran, the impetuous kid Assistant Pig-Keeper for the enchanter Dallben’s oracular pig, wants to be a hero. When the pig runs off, Taran pursues her and runs into the warrior Gwydion son of Don (who is very noble and not at all like the amoral trickster of the same name in the Mabinogion), a chatty but rather sensible girl named Eilonwy, a creature named Gurgi who is vaguely Gollum-like but much less sinister, and a bard, Fflewddur Fflam, who is stuck with a magical harp whose strings break every time he exaggerates.

At age ten, much of the comedy not involving Fflewddur or Gurgi sailed over my head. When Taran encounters the noble hero Gwydion, I identified so completely with Taran that I was indignant at Gwydion for being mean to him. Reading that scene as an adult, it’s actually pretty funny to watch a figure out of grand mythology suddenly saddled with a suicidally heroic child whose life Gwydion is forced to save about three times in fifteen minutes due to Taran’s tendency to leap into counterproductive action.

Also, as a ten-year-old, I was confused as to why the evil queen Achren captured Gwydion and then didn’t kill him, as would have been sensible. As a thirty-six-year-old, I realized that Gwydion is hot and that is why. So many books make so much more sense if you read them with an understanding that sexual desire is a possible motivation.

This first book was nowhere near as much to my taste when I was ten as the more somber sequel, but I appreciated it more now. It’s funny, it moves fast, the comic characters are great, and it sets up all sorts of things which will have fantastic pay-offs later. All the same, I can see why I didn’t re-read it until now.
rachelmanija: (Autumn: small leaves)
( Jan. 1st, 2007 11:46 am)
My pinch hit was Blood and Ink, for Lloyd Alexander's Westmark trilogy.

WARNING: Do not read this story unless you’ve read all three of the Westmark books. It will not make any sense otherwise, and will spoil the books.

Do read the books; they are remarkable. They are in print and quite short, and also fast-paced; you could read all three over a weekend.

They begin as cheerful, witty Ruritanian adventure, with lost princesses and con artists and tyrants—and revolutionaries seeking a republic. And then, without any jarring shift in tone, they unobtrusively slide into a very understated meditation on the price of revolution, the horrors of war, and how far a person can go into madness and still come back. And all this without ever losing an essential sense of wit, compassion, and grace.

Alexander is most famous for his Welsh mythology-based Prydain chronicles, which I also love, but I think the Westmark trilogy is his best work. The first book, Westmark, seems slight when you first read it, but I urge you to persevere; it’s a lot less slight in retrospect, and the second book, The Kestrel, is both my favorite of Alexander’s novels and one of the best war novels I’ve ever read. The third book, The Beggar Queen, brings the series to a satisfying close.

This was an incredibly difficult story to write, beginning when I nabbed the pinch-hit and saw that I knew the recipient, [ profile] vee_fic. I found that quite intimidating, because I would feel personally sad if I didn’t write the story she deserved.

Massive spoilers for the trilogy and also my story below the cut, beware.

Read more... )


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