Paperback, 190 pages
Published May 16th 2006 by Square Fish
(I read a different version than is pictured here)
“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 Book of Three by Llord Alexander is present on the reading list that Professor Judith Saltman hands out to new students in the Masters of Arts in Children’s Literature program at UBC. This list contains the names of nearly all the books that have done a lot to define what children’s literature is. I never got around to reading this when I should have because I was too busy reading other books so when I was asked to give this chance for the blog tour, I thought, “why not?” I plunged into the novel and almost immediately (and even though I usually find it difficult to relate to male protagonists) I was immersed into the story and engaged by Taran. I actually really like Taran’s name; it feels like music on my lips.
The novel falls in the high fantasy genre with a secondary world that is not at all related to the human world as we know it apart from being populated by human beings. Taran lives on a small estate in Prydain which is, as Lloyd Alexander insists in his foreword, not Wales but with certain undeniable similarities to Wales. Taran has grand dreams about being a hero and fighting the enemy. However, all his efforts to move out of his humble station as an Assistant Pig-Keeper is thwarted by Dallben, the master of Caer Dallben, the estate on which Taran lives. When a strange enemy causes panic amongst the animals Taran is slightly responsible for and leads to the escape of the future-telling pig he is completely responsible for, Taran has no choice but to live his safe, but limiting, home to find this very important pig.
On the 50th anniversary of this book, one can’t help but question whether modern readers will still be able to relate to and engage with the story of Taran and his journey to his place in the world. Obviously the answer is yes. What resonated most with me was Taran’s desire to be more than what he is. His unwillingness to accept his station in life as all that he can be spoke to me. When Taran sets off on his journey, he meets a lot of people and learns a lot of lessons that lead to him re-evaluating his priorities. The similarities this novel has with The Lord of the Rings is striking and it makes me wonder how much of the same foundational folklore both texts use.
Here’s a list of sorts of characters present in both Tolkien’s texts and The Book of Three:
Medwyn, a wizard character with a great love for animals and nature bears a great deal of resemblance to Beorn.
Gurgi may as well be Gollum.
Doli could be Gimli.
Gwydion is obviously another name for Aragorn.
Taran himself could be Frodo.
The point is, I found The Book of Three to be more approachable than The Lord of the Rings (sorry!). It has a fast pace and it contains Eilonwy, a female character that The Lord of the Rings is very much lacking. I loved how sassy and fun she is. Her character presents an interesting foil to Taran’s rather strait-laced personality. She adds colour and spice to the narrative that would have been lacking had she been absent. I even liked the pig though I’m not sure she is worth all the trouble she caused. The novel is a perfect introduction to fantasy for younger readers. It is very accessible and a LOT of fun.
If I did have trouble with anything, it would be how we are told Taran is this noble and heroic person and maybe it’s because I’m an older reader and a cynic, but I wasn’t convinced. I felt that the insistence on Taran’s heroic and noble nature was a big heavyhanded and I could have done without it. However, when all is said and done, I enjoyed this novel. Why hasn’t it been made into a movie yet? What is Peter Jackson doing? Hasn’t anyone sent him a copy of the book yet?
More blogs participating in the tour:
Monday September 22
Tuesday September 23
Wednesday September 24
Thursday September 25
Friday September 26
Monday September 29
Tuesday September 30
The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia
Wednesday October 1
Thursday October 2
Friday October 3
I’ve loved the Prydain series since I was really little – I’m so glad you’ve encountered it now for the first time! Eilonwy was always my favorite, and was a real role model for me as a child. For that reason, I always loved the third in the series best, because it focused more on her.
I’m also dying to know what else is on Professor Saltman’s list. Do you think she’d be willing to let you share it?
I have asked her and pending her approval, I shall post it! And book 3 has the most focus on Eilonwy? I certainly did not know that. Huuuh. I shall be reading it soon!
It’s a curious focus because the entire book is about her, yet she also is absent for much of it. I’m never sure what to make of that (especially not now as a more aware feminist analyst). In any case, don’t skip The Black Cauldron, which really is part II of The Book of Three. (And hence why, as commented below, Disney’s movie conflates the two books into one movie.)
One of my husband’s very very awesome professors wrote an origin story for one of the Prydain characters, and I adore the idea that such a fantastic and highly-regarded academic wrote what amounts to unusually high-quality fanfiction. :-)
Haha, that is very awesome! Speaks to how consuming the fan culture is in all of us not barring who we are and what we do.
It hasn’t been made into a movie yet because it the Black Cauldron practically destroyed Disney’s animation studio. They still have the rights to it, though. Every so often one sees Eilonwy on the list of Lost Disney Princesses.
The film struggled to find its grounding by trying to squish the Book of Three and the Black Cauldron into the same narrative and Gwydion’s absence from the film caused it to lose some of the most important central themes of both adventures: worthiness must not simply be aspired to, but earned, and one’s character makes one a hero, not their blade.
Also, yay for a book tour! I need to glom on!
Oh my. Yes, my eyebrows climbed when you said that Gwydion is absent. He may have little page time but the man is a central figure in the book. He is everything Taran aspires to be and that’s…*foams at the mouth* Ugh. Disney. And of course they’ll hold on to the rights. Have you read Clive Barker’s Abarat series? They had the rights to it and then things fell apart. I’m glad they did because I hate to think how badly they’d have mucked that one up.
Yeah. He’s SOOO important, especially to the Boy’s Journey/coming of age aspect, because he’s Taran’s father figure and idol in many ways. He is who Taran wants to be, for the wrong reasons at first, but the right reasons in the end. He’s the man who the boy measures himself against. The ability to use the magic sword is the litmus test.
Also, I hated that they stuck with snivelling pitiful book 1 Gurgi instead of brave archer/adventurer book 2 Gurgi. Made him into a weird tiny dog thing instead of a hairy beast-man. The movie turned one character’s heroic heel-face-turn into a pity-party for Gurgi that comes across as some sort of anvillicious anti-bullying message.
I haven’t read Abarat, but given what Disney tends to do with adaptations of classic works, I wouldn’t be surprised if they screwed things up.
You definitely should (read the book with the illustrations, that is). But I liked Gurgi a lot. I haven’t read the sequels yet but I’m looking forward to them now.
I’ll keep an eye out for it. As for the Prydain books, they keep getting better and better.
Hi Nafiza! This is one of my fave classics for sure, for many of the reasons you listed! This cover is lovely.
There is an old animated movie named after the second book called, The Black Cauldron. I think that it loosely follows The Rule of Three and The Black Cauldron plotlines. It’s a bit campy, but it is a lot of fun.
The book is so pretty too. Gold foil and rough-edged pages. I might have caressed it creepily. I’ll see if I can find the movie after I finish reading the series. I don’t like Taran as much as I like Eilonwy though. She is super fun.
Taran isn’t really very likable until late in the 4th book, which is kind of the point. Rereading as an adult, he’s a mirror that shows that most boys really have their priorities screwed up and part of growing up is realizing that.
I totally get that. Eilonwy is super spunky – when I was a kid it was actually her that annoyed me because she often undermined Taran who I was obviously very loyal to, him being the MC and all. Reading it as an adult I too find him a little… blasé? So, now I enjoy Eilonwy and also HenWen quite a bit.
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This has definitely been bumped up my “to-read” list now. Will have to hunt down a copy :)