Saturday, July 18, 2015

The Book of Three (1965)

The Book of Three is the first book in the Chronicles of Prydain, by Lloyd Alexander. Published in 1965, the book describes the adventures of the assistant pig herder, Taran. That may sound like a useless job, but when the pig is oracular, giving answers to questions that no humans know, taking care of that pig is rather important.

I did not read the Book of Three when I was young. To me, this is a new book, so I’ll split this review into two parts: what my inner kid thought, and what the adult me thought.

My kid part says, yeah, this is cool. We’ve got this kid who goes on an adventure, meetings unusual characters, discovers tombs, leads a band, and brings his mission to a success, if through unusual and twisty and turny means. This book contains everything that this kind of book ought to have. All in all, I would have eaten this book up multiple times as a kid.

As an adult, I found that this book contained everything that this type of book was supposed to have. By all, I mean that the writer must have had a checklist next to him. Generic kid? Check. Annoying girl? Check. Inscrutable adults teaching you inscrutable lessons by making you feel stupid? Check. The hero seems to make no decisions yet still succeeds? Check. The whole lot of them deserving to die, yet somehow come out of everything alive? Check.

To say that the book reeks of Lord of the Rings is no small assertion. Wise wizard who talks inscrutably and sounds like Gandalf? Check. Strange creature that talks like Gollum? Check. Dark Lord marching his secretly raised armies about? Check. Hero from ordinary circumstances? Check. Magic swords? Check.  I can rather hear some editors saying, “We’d really like something like Lord of the Rings with the serial numbers filed off, but for kids. Can you do that?”

I may knock the story, but I don’t knock the writing. For the most part, all the text is clear and the character come across well, except for our everyman hero who we are supposed to identify with. (Those sorts of heroes are supposed to be a bit shallow so that the maximum number of boys will identify with him.)

I give this book five stars because I think that it really works well for its target demographic. Most of my problems with the book come from me NOT being the target demographic.