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

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Musings on life, death, and the immortality of words

We interrupt this regularly scheduled “Taran Wanderer” chapter recap to reflect on the news events of this week – specifically, the deaths of Carrie Fisher (and her mother, Debbie Reynolds, a day later) and Richard Adams, author of my favorite book of all time.

Full-color photographs!
My love for Carrie Fisher began and ended with books – you might say it was bookended by books. In first grade, before I ever saw the movie “Star Wars,” I acquired “The Star Wars Storybook,” which contained a number of stunning photos of Fisher as Princess Leia. I quickly decided she was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen, right up there with my mother and Joy from “The Bugaloos.” Every day at recess, I would twist my pigtails into bun shapes in order to portray Leia, and my boyfriend Sean and I would run around the playground shooting imaginary stormtroopers with blasters fashioned out of notebook paper. Later on, I saw the original movie trilogy, and I loved how strong and brave Leia was – not to mention all those rockin’ hairstyles!

But despite my having discovered her as Leia, Fisher came to mean more to me as an author than an actress. In high school, I read her novels “Postcards from the Edge” and “Surrender the Pink,” and fell in love with her brash, confessional writing style. Reading her books was like having a late-night, no-holds-barred conversation with a close girlfriend – sometimes veering into uncomfortable too-much-information territory, sometimes trying my patience with repetition and circular narration, but on the whole touching a deep and satisfying emotional chord that sounded something like: “She’s just as messed up as I am, and her life is brilliant!” As a teenager, I looked up to Fisher, along with Stevie Nicks and Pamela Des Barres, as extraordinary examples of bold, beautiful women – flawed but fabulous – and I hoped (still do!) to one day have adventures as marvelous as theirs. And as a motherless daughter, I enjoyed/envied Fisher’s portrayal of her loving, if at times smotheringly codependent, relationship with her mother, Debbie Reynolds (whom I knew best as the voice of Charlotte in “Charlotte’s Web,” but who obviously had a long and illustrious movie career and was generally considered Hollywood royalty).

Fisher, the youngest of my trio of idols, was only 60 when she passed away, and my heart hurts as if I knew her personally – because I felt like I did. I had just started reading her latest memoir, “The Princess Diarist,” when I learned of her passing, so her incomparable voice was fresh in my mind, as if we’d just been having one of those late-night chats. If you’re a fan, I definitely recommend reading (or listening to) all three of her memoirs. After I finish “The Princess Diarist,” I also plan to re-read all four of her novels – the first two were my favorites, but it’s been a while since I read “Delusions of Grandma” or “The Best Awful,” so I’ll give them another whirl.

I agree with this cover blurb.
Books are a form of immortality – even though Fisher died so young, since we have her words, she’ll never truly be gone. The same can be said of Richard Adams, who didn’t start writing until he was 52(!) years old. He enjoyed a 40-year career (he was still writing at 90!) that included the amazing books “Traveller” and “The Plague Dogs” along with his personal favorite, “Shardik,” and mine, “Watership Down.” It’s hard to be too torn up about his death, since he passed away peacefully at 96, which is the way most of us would probably like to go, given that we have to go at some point. I’m just so grateful that he gave us the literary gifts that he did before he left us.

It’s the time of year when many people make New Year’s resolutions, and for me, the passing of these monumental figures has strengthened my resolve to get my novel, “The Freedom Dreamers,” out into the world, to achieve a tiny bit of immortality for myself. None of us knows how long we have on this planet. I just hope that before my time comes, I’m able to touch one or two people with my writing the way that Fisher and Adams touched me.

I hope you have a happy and healthy New Year. I’ll be back with more “Taran Wanderer” in 2017!

Monday, December 12, 2016

Taran Wanderer, Chapter 11 – Dorath

The following morning, Doli leaves to take Angharad’s jewel to King Eiddileg, while the rest of the companions head in the direction of the Lake of Llunet. Taran sensibly guesses that the lake, having the same name as the Mirror, may lead him to the end of his quest. They travel all day, Fflewddur still trying to shake off the long-term traumatic effects of having been a rabbit for, like, five minutes. That evening, they smell food cooking. Apparently tired of eating lembas and jerky, they follow the aroma to a glade, where they encounter two armed guards, and another dozen men gathered around a campfire where “collops of meat” are roasting. Now, not to be critical, but the OED defines “collops” as “slices of meat,” so I think the “of meat” is redundant here – they couldn’t be collops if they weren’t meat. But I’m sure Alexander is intentionally providing context clues to help his young (and young-at-heart) readers understand the word.

The leader of the group is described as a “heavy-faced” man with “yellowish” hair. (I picture him looking like Kid Rock.) He refers to himself as Dorath and greets the companions as “lordships.” Taran says he is no lord but an Assistant Pig-Keeper – oh, Taran, seriously? Do you never learn? How many surly thugs have you told your title in these books, and how has it gone for you so far? – and Dorath mocks him (of course!), calling him “Lord Swineherd.” Then he invites the companions to share the collops, and asks Taran, “Where do you come from? Where do you go?” Where do you come from, Cotton Eye Joe? Taran answers truthfully that he is headed to the Lake of Llunet to seek his parents. Dorath doesn’t believe him, and thinks that they are seeking treasure. Taran bristles at being called a liar. There’s a tense moment where it seems like Dorath and Taran are going to duel, but then Fflewddur breaks the tension by playing a tune on his harp.

Dorath insults Fflewddur’s harp playing and orders the companions to spend the night, “and in the morning my Company will guide you to the Lake of Llunet.” Taran says no thanks, as they plan to travel through the night, but Dorath won’t take no for an answer. He says he can protect them from the many dangers along the way, in exchange for a small part of the treasure they find. His men make it clear that this is an offer Taran can’t refuse. Fflewddur sagely observes that the danger they need protection from is Dorath himself. Taran considers blowing the battle horn for help, but doesn’t want to waste it. He and Fflewddur decide to wait until early morning, when presumably all the men will be asleep, and then try to make a break for it. I guess he hasn’t considered the possibility that the guards would work in shifts to keep watch. At first light, they slip off to untether the horses and Llyan. Taran’s gamble seems to have paid off, as the guards are asleep – but then Dorath emerges from the shadow of a tree and blocks his way. D’oh!

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Taran Wanderer, Chapter 9 – The Hand of Morda – and Chapter 10 –The Broken Spell

As Morda taunts Taran, debating over what sort of animal he will change him into, Taran feels something gnawing at the ropes that bind his wrists. It’s Gurgi, in mouse form! (Morda put Kaw and Fflewddur in cages, but not Gurgi, which was not very smart of him.) Taran tries to buy some time by pleading with the wizard to let him choose his new form. He asks Morda to turn him into a pig, which would remind him of his happy days at Caer Dallben. Morda pretends to consider it, then exults that Taran has revealed his fondest wish, thus guaranteeing that’s the one thing he’ll never be. Jerk. Taran says – as Gurgi finishes chewing through his bonds – in that case, he’ll keep his own shape, thank you! He jumps up, draws his sword and stabs Morda right in the heart: yikes! But Morda, unharmed, just laughs creepily. He says he would have taken Taran’s sword if he thought it could harm him. His life isn’t in his body; it’s hidden far away, somewhere safe. So he has a Horcrux! And that’s when Taran notices Morda is missing the pinky finger on one hand.

He's like the six-fingered man from The Princess Bride.
Except with two fewer fingers.
Morda finally settles on a shape to transform Taran into: a worm. But as he tries to cast the spell, nothing happens. “As if I struggled against myself,” he says in disbelief. Taran, putting two and two together, slowly reveals the bone fragment in his pocket. Yes, indeed, it’s Morda’s little finger! He put all his life into it and sliced it off, then hid it away so he could be immortal. Terrified, the wizard begs Taran to give him the bone, and to take the gem of Angharad in return. Taran says the gem is not Morda’s to bargain with, but he nonetheless won’t kill him, since his evil is not for Taran to judge. He commands Morda to restore his companions and come with them to Caer Dallben, where Dallben will bring him to justice. At that, Morda swings the necklace like a whip, and the gem slashes Taran’s face. Taran, blinded by blood, drops the bone, and Morda grabs him by the throat. Taran is thisclose to being strangled to death when Llyan comes to the rescue! She bursts through the door and grapples with Morda. Taran retrieves the bone and tries to break it. It resists. The chapter ends ...

... but it’s the shortest cliffhanger ever, because by the second paragraph of the next chapter, Taran succeeds in snapping the bone in two! It crumbles, and so does Morda. The companions are instantly changed back to themselves – including Doli, who was carried in by Llyan – and there’s some comic relief as Fflewddur tries to get out of his wicker basket and get his nose to stop twitching. Kaw brings Angharad’s jewel to Taran. Doli recognizes it as a Fair Folk treasure, given to Princess Regat on her wedding day, and handed down to her daughter. Taran briefly wonders if he can use it to bargain with Orddu for the truth about his parentage. But then he realizes the honorable thing to do is to give it to Doli, and he does.

They leave Morda’s hut, and Taran asks Doli about the Mirror of Llunet. Doli hasn’t heard of it, but he knows of a “Lake of Llunet in the Llawgadarn Mountains.” Then, noticing Taran’s horn, he asks where it came from, and Taran says it was a parting gift from Eilonwy. Doli says it’s a Fair Folk horn, with one magical summons left in it. He whistles “three long notes of a pitch and sequence strange to Taran.” (I like to think that it’s “Hot Cross Buns.”) He tells Taran if he ever needs help, to sound those exact notes on the horn and help will come. He warns him not to waste it: “Someday, your life may hang on that call.”