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Book Review: The Foundling and Other Tales of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander

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If I am to highlight one series of books, which I’ve read like a gazillion times over as a kid, I’m definitely pointing out The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander. As some may well remember, the series follows the adventures of Taran Assistant Pig-Keeper and Princess Eilonwy, as they grow up together in the magical lands of Prydain.

Alexander’s fantasy draws heavily on Welsh myth – it’s pretty much apparent from the names of characters and places, and it’s also been noted by the author himself. Some would compare his writings to Tolkien’s epic LOTR too, which seems to have influenced Alexander’s work. 

Either way, this classic series has a unique voice in the genre of high fantasy, thanks to its original writing style and the lively, up-beat characters. The storytelling is light, straight-forward and — more often than not — funny. Princess Eilonwy, for instance, is a strong-minded, fast-talking heroine – one of the only few I’ve encountered in the pre-Buffy era (which later on provided us with plenty of pop-culture-inclined powerful females).

Enough with the past dwellings though. It turns out that Alexander had published another storybook, called The Foundling and Other Tales of Prydain, encompassing eight short stories that prequel the events described in the series itself. I’ve somehow managed to completely miss out this book, and only came upon it lately.

These short stories detail past events that were briefly mentioned in the series. It also describes additional adventures of familiar characters (but not Taran and Eilonwy, since they were not born yet) and how certain magical artifacts ended up in their owners’ hands.

The stories are gracefully written in fable form – mythical style, with kind-spirited morals revealed in the end. These fables are so well-crafted with their legendary flavor, one could actually swear they were thickened and retold by the wandering bards of Prydain itself.

“The Foundling”  – the first story of the book – tells the history of Dallben, the most powerful enchanter in Prydain, and how he came to have his Book of Three (the book that contains all knowledge of the past, present and future, basically all there is to know, ever).

When the three fates-witches of the marshes of Morva found baby Dallben drifting in a basket, the one called Orogoch considered eating him at first; nevertheless the three hags end up nurturing him quite lovingly. When he accidently tastes a potion and becomes as knowledgeable as the three adopting hags, Dallben is bound to leave. He’s offered the book as a parting gift, though we later learn — sadly — that even the fates’ favorable foundling will pay full and dearly for such a valuable gift.

In next stories we’ll meet Doli, the dwarf who cannot turn invisible like the rest of his kin, Princess Angharad (Eilonwy’s mother, when young) who rebelliously chooses to marry true to her heart rather than in accordance to her heritage.

We’ll also encounter Fflewddur Fflam — the brave yet epically clumsy king of a miniature and peaceful realm. Fflewddur renounces his kingship to become a wandering bard, carrying around his truthful harp – the one that snaps when he beautifies the facts (something he does tend to do quite often). 

Only in the last tale do we get to meet Coll and his white pig Hen Wen. Already middle-aged, Coll, who once was a great warrior, is now a peaceful farmer. When Hen Wen is kidnapped by Arawn the Lord of Death, he journeys to rescue her, with significant help from his newly made animal friends.

In the end of the last story, Coll meets Dallben, already extremely old, thus placing us in the familiar starting point of the chronicles series.

I was pleased with the book’s cover depicting the three fates-witches and their newly found foundling in a basket. I thought to myself, how I love Prydain, and how this is one perfect little book.

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