by Lloyd Alexander
First sentence: “Taran wanted to make a sword; but Coll, charged with the practical side of his education, decided on horseshoes.”
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This is one of the titles I remember having fond memories of as a kid. I don’t really remember the act of reading it, though I know I must have: I remember talking about it with friends, especially after the Disney monstrosity of a movie came out. (We were purists, if you can’t tell…) I know I’ve reread the story before this, but I don’t have any record of it, so it’s good that I was asked to reread it again (and write up a lengthy review…)
Taran is just an Assistant Pig Keeper at Caer Dallben, charged with taking care of the oracle pig, Hen Wen. He longs for adventure, and then one day, quite unexpectedly, he gets it: the Horned King and his minions (in service of the Big Baddie, Arawn — yes, that does remind me of Lord of the Rings, thanks for asking) make Hen Wen uneasy and she escapes her pen. Taran, because he’s just impulsive that way, takes off after her, falling in with Prince Gwydion for a bit before they get separated and Taran is on his own.
But he’s not alone: he collects a rag-tag band of friends:the half-animal, always hungry Gurgi; the headstrong Eilowny; the ever-exaggerating bard Fflewddeur Fflam (who will always be “flewder flam” instead of “fleoothur flam”); and the grumpy dwarf Doli. Together they find their way back to Gwydion, fight the Horned King (though Taran rightly asserts in the end that he didn’t do anything worthy of being called a hero), and realize there’s no place like home.
On the one hand, the book is really simplistic: boy leaves, boy has adventures, boy comes home a Wiser and Better person. And yet, I found it to be incredibly compelling. Perhaps it was because I loved it as a kid, but I don’t think that’s entirely it. I think it’s because Alexander is a master storyteller, and he knows how to create characters that we can relate to and root for, ones that are flawed even in a black-and-white world.
And that is really the best kind of middle grade book. And yes, I am going to make the time to read the rest now.