That's not to say my mother had no role in my education. Quite the opposite, in fact, as you can see from my post about Harry Potter. Although she helped me in numerous ways over the years, I can easily pinpoint her shining moment. Y'see, when I was in the third grade, my wonderful mother did something that changed the course of my life, so much so that I can't imagine what sort of person I would be today if she hadn't.
Long before my mother encouraged me to write... long before she introduced me to Harry Potter... she gave me a copy of The Book of Three.
I didn't like reading. Not one bit. But surely this strange, wonderful story didn't count as reading. It didn't have any of the prerequisites that had filled my literary experience until then: a wise teacher, a bratty sister, and a precocious third-grader. Instead it had Taran, a lovable Assistant Pig-Keeper who wanted to be a hero, and his charge, the oracular pig, Hen Wen. (I am sure I was not alone in knowing the word oracular before my tenth year. Come on; raise hands!)
And then, despite himself, Taran succeeded in having an adventure! I announced to my family that I loved reading. Who didn't? Reading was great! Deliriously happy, my mother picked up the other four books from the library, and I sat down to read with a vengeance.
Young Taran, an Assistant Pig-Keeper, longs for nothing more than adventure. He resents the days he spends with his wise guardians, Coll and Dallben, in tranquil splendor on a farm. But when Taran loses his charge, the oracular pig, Hen Wen, his chase for her leads him far from his kind, gentle life and into the miseries of high adventure. Accompanied by a princess, a bard, a monster, and the most famous hero of them all, Taran's quest becomes more than just a hunt for a pig. He must wage a battle against evil and, in doing so, discover what makes a hero, what makes an Assistant Pig-Keeper, and what makes a man.
There are many children's fantasy series in the world, and I have read a decent sliver of them. If you squint and tilt your head, they all go the same way. Nobody becomes a Somebody, gets the girl, and is finally lauded for their hidden talent. I don't mean this is a flawed or broken archetype. I'm glad that there are hundreds of books like these out there, because it means I can hold this series up next to them and say, "It's better." You may have heard of this pretty neat author; he wrote a children's series that's an allegory of how we grow to know God. I read his books for the first time this year, and they are amazing. But remember in The High King when Orddu gives Taran the tapestry, and he has to struggle over its meaning? I remember. I remember crying when he finally made his choice. I know many of you will disagree with me, but the Chronicles of Prydain have a deeper meaning to me, as a Christian, than the Chronicles of Narnia.
I recently read this series for the first time in 5+ years, and I am pleased to say that my appreciation and love has only grown. As an 8-year-old, I thought Taran Wanderer was as dry as toast, but now I am floored with its powerful message of self-discovery. Although less action-packed than its fellows, it explores more of human nature than any book I've ever read (or at least can think of right now).
Even after eight years, I still cannot think of a single criticism to make of this series. I'm sure, technically, something could be improved-- an unrealistic character, a heavy-handed message, awkward plotting-- but when I read these books, it is still with the wide eyes of an eight-year-old, swept away with Taran in the breathless delight of adventure.
I remember the day when I read in the papers that Lloyd Alexander had passed away. I would've been nine years old, hardly begun to appreciate the majesty of this children's author. It left me with a debt I could never repay, because in their own way, the Chronicles of Prydain prepared me for the adventure of growing up.
"Most of us are called on to perform tasks far beyond what we believe we can do. Our capabilities seldom match our aspirations, and we are often woefully unprepared. To this extent, we are all Assistant Pig-Keepers at heart."
-- Lloyd Alexander
Reminder: Comment on any of the favorite books posts for a chance to win any book from the list! Entries are capped at one per post; you can earn an extra by mentioning that Hannah from the Writer's Window sent you. The final book on the list is so secret that it receives no hint and will be announced tomorrow!