The Prydain Project

Thirty years after first devouring Lloyd Alexander's Prydain books, I'm rereading them to see if the magic is still there. If you've arrived at this blog because you loved Prydain as a kid, I hope you’ll enjoy the chance to revisit it along with me. To read the recaps in order, start here: "The Book of Three," Chapter 1

Monday, March 21, 2016

The Castle of Llyr, Chapter 1 – Prince Rhun

The third chronicle of Prydain is, Alexander tells us in the author’s note, as much about Eilonwy as about Taran. He hints at romance growing between the two, as well as a storyline that is more bittersweet than its predecessors. “The nature of fantasy allows happenings which reveal most clearly our own frailties and our own strengths,” he writes. He reminds us that Prydain, while it resembles Wales, is imaginary, despite Mona being the ancient name for the Welsh island of Anglesey. He also teases a new comic presence in “the well-meaning but hapless Prince Rhun,” and a controversial resolution to the fate of “one of the most reprehensible scoundrels in Prydain,” advising patience for those who question it, as there will be “far-reaching consequences.” And with that, let us dive in!

Eilonwy is leaving Caer Dallben, journeying to the Isle of Mona to “learn how a princess should behave,” as Dallben puts it, from the king and queen of Mona, who have offered to take care of her in her family’s stead. Taran, Coll, Gurgi, and Kaw set off with her to the harbor. Taran tries to reverse-psychology himself out of missing Eilonwy, much to Coll’s amusement. They arrive at the river, where a white-sailed craft awaits them, and a blond dude in fancy clothing topples off the dock in his excitement. Dripping wet, he greets them – “Hullo! Hullo!” – and gives a formal welcome to Eilonwy, then cuts off in confusion as he realizes he doesn’t know the others’ names, and has forgotten to give his own (Prince Rhun, natch).

Rhun, Eilonwy, Taran, Gurgi and Kaw board the ship. Coll tells Taran he’ll see him when he returns, and heads with the horses back to Caer Dallben. I’m not sure why it’s necessary for Taran and Gurgi to sail to Mona, but chalk it up to Taran’s wanting to delay being separated from Eilonwy as long as possible. He’s unable to get a quiet moment alone with her, though, due to Rhun’s continual bumbling presence. Taran is all like, no way this joker is a prince. More like a “princeling,” am I right? Eilonwy says she thinks Rhun is nice, which of course makes Taran jealous, and he bitterly bemoans not knowing who his parents are. Because if he was a prince, see, then he’d be Rhun’s equal. Eilonwy says that if an Assistant Pig-Keeper and a prince both do the best they can, she thinks “there’s no difference between them.” Taran’s not buying it.

A storm blows in, and everyone’s miserable, except Rhun. At nightfall, the water calms down and the ship takes anchor in a cove. Eilonwy lights her bauble, to Rhun’s fascination. He takes it to examine it, but the light goes out. He’s dismayed, but Eilonwy reassures him that he didn’t break it. They go to sleep, Eilonwy in the cabin, the others on the deck. Rhun snores loudly (of course), and Taran, when he finally falls asleep, dreams of being home at Caer Dallben with Eilonwy.

Monday, March 7, 2016

What I’m Reading: The Age of Miracles

Karen Thompson Walker's The Age of Miracles starts with a very simple premise: what if the rotation of the Earth slowed slightly so that the days and nights gradually became longer and longer? Walker tells the story through the eyes of an 11-year-old girl, Julia, who lives in California, plays piano and pines for a skateboarding loner named Seth Moreno. It’s told in retrospect, which was a good choice, because the narration isn’t limited to the sentence structure and vocabulary level of a preteen. The adult Julia is able to reflect more profoundly on her experience, and her occasional hints of what’s to come – along the lines of “had I known it would be the last time I would do this…” – build suspense. It’s a page-turning read, and I couldn’t wait to find out where it was headed.

Despite the lack of a satisfying scientific or magical explanation for the phenomenon (see also Bigger Than a Bread Box), the story still satisfies emotionally. And there’s a lot to relate to in the changes that happen in Julia’s life: friendships ending and beginning, strife in her parents’ marriage, and the inevitable losses that accompany growing up, particularly at the age where some girls seem to be growing up much faster than others. But, the most interesting and believable part of the book was how the government responds to the event – by instituting “clock time,” mandating that everyone continue on the 24-hour clock even when that means going to work and school in the pitch dark or sleeping while the sun is high in the sky. (Considering that we once again are about to participate in the semiannual madness that is Daylight Saving Time, I found this to be an entirely likely scenario – its preposterousness completely within character for our society.) Those who opt out of clock time call themselves “real-timers” and retreat to hippie-like communal retreats where they honor their circadian rhythms as much as possible, even as that becomes harder and harder to do. To me, the conflict between clock-timers and real-timers felt like a metaphor for the choice we all must make every day: to live authentically and follow our own best paths through life, or to conform to the standards set by outside forces who seek to keep us all in line.