I really enjoyed reading this series and wished someone had insisted I read the whole thing as a child. When I first began reading The Book of Three a few months ago I couldn't help thinking......this is familiar. Unlikely hero of uncertain parentage who has never strayed far from home is suddenly way over his head and on a quest of daring and dangerous proportions. Old Enchanter who is wise but not forthcoming with pertinent information. Noble Prince who rides around disguised as a common traveler. Odd little creature way too attached to food who can not speak in proper sentences. Mysterious shadowy Lord of Death who has citadel from which he sends flying scary things and manufactured soldiers that can not die. Grumpy little dwarf with axe and heart of gold. Obviously, there is a lot in these books that is similar to Tolkien. I am pretty sure that is because Lloyd Alexander and J.R.R. Tolkien were using some of the same mythology to build their worlds. There are differences too and by the time I finished all five I could see why two of them were given the honor of bearing those shiny Newbery medallions.
Taran is Assistant Pig Keeper at Caer Dallben. His duties involve caring for the oracular pig, Hen Wen. He has no idea who his parents are and has been raised by the enchanter Dallben, keeper of the mysterious Book of Three, and Coll, who tends the farm. Taran longs to be a hero and have adventures. When Hen Wen runs off one day in fear Taran follows her, vowing to return her. Soon after leaving home he meets Prince Gwydion (who rescues Taran from his own foolishness many many times) and learns of the rising threat of Arawn, the Death Lord. During the first book Taran meets the companions that will have the largest impact on his life and future: Gurgi (the faithful hairy always hungry creature), Fflewddur Fflam (the wannabe bard and sometimes king), Doli (grumpy dwarf), and Eilonwy (beautiful golden haired Princess of
The course of the five novels follow Taran's journey from boy to man and it is a remarkable story. His character arc is what made the story engrossing for me. He goes from wanting to be hero to simply wanting to be Taran. And in simply being Taran finds that a hero is what he is. This is a complicated and painful process. He gains much wisdom and patience, all of which will be required in his future (particularly the patience as Eilonwy will probably always be trying his). Watching his relationship with Eilonwy as it grew and changed was just good fun. I have to say that I really like Eilonwy (and not just because I have fond memories of pretending to be her). Her character is rather grating in the first part of the series. She is opinionated and not afraid to let her opinion be known. She is headstrong, stubborn, prefers swords to crowns and sleeping outside to feather beds. Her character became less obnoxious as the series progressed and I don't if it is because she changed or because Taran's perception of her changed, and therefore mine as the reader did as well.
These books make a great introduction into the world of sword and sorcery fantasy for children. And there is a lot of wisdom in the books that would benefit any age reader. So, if like me, you missed out on these as a kid I recommend reading them now. They are worth it. And you should definitely give them to your own kids.