Publisher: Dell Publishing Co., 1964
Book Blurb: Taran, the Assistant Pig-Keeper, longs to be a hero. He begins his journey with a strange assortment of companions on a dangerous mission to save his beloved land, Prydain. Packed with action, humor, romance, and gallantry, Taran’s adventures chronicle his beloved Prydain and his battle with the forces of evil.
My Opinion: I first read The Book of Three in junior high school. I may have read another one of the series, but I honestly do not remember. I decided that it was time I revisited the series.
While reading The Book of Three, I came to a realization. Short books have a really tough time of it. What normally takes hundreds of pages to convey in a high fantasy story needs to be done in a short time. It is a fine line. Either there isn’t enough story and the book is boring, or there is so much story, the reader feels overwhelmed. And when there is too much going on, the text tends to be denser than in even the thickest fantasy novels I have read. (Wheel of Time, I am looking at you!)
The Book of Three tries really hard, but it comes down on the side of too much happening in a short period of time. The heroes, and therefore the reader, have very little time to breathe and get their bearings before something more is happening. Thankfully, it didn’t seem to suffer from the dense text affliction as well. So there was that, at least.
The other plight of short books and plot, and one that The Book of Three did not escape, unfortunately, is that a lot of the “juicy bits” tend to get glossed over. It could also be because this is a juvenile book, and Lloyd Alexander didn’t want to get too much into the maiming and the killing, but it seemed like the ending was very anti-climactic after everything that the merry band of adventurers went through. Through the whole book I kept thinking there was so much more story there, just itching to be told. However, instead of getting to explore these possibilities, I am stuck with a 219 page book and a mild sense of dissatisfaction.
Lloyd Alexander does a great job of writing flawed characters, if not exactly likeable ones. I found the character of Taran to be infuriating, because he was always doing the exact wrong thing. This seems to be the polar opposite of Mary-Sue-ism, but it is no less aggravating. You can’t have a character running off and doing absolutely everything wrong. They have to have something redeemable in them. We see glimmers of it in both Taran and Eilonwy, but not enough to make me really grasp on and hope everything wound up OK in the end.
I feel like Eilonwy was meant to be outspoken and strong, and maybe at the time of publication, she was. But at the time of reading The Book of Three, Eilonwy comes across as a nagging, somewhat petulant girl who is always putting Taran down, deserved or not. I really think my favorite character is Fflam, because he at least acknowledges his flaws and has a humorous way of displaying them.
Bottom Line: The story that is present is well written, and as a juvenile book, The Book of Three would probably delight. However, beware reading this with the critical eye of an adult, as you may find flaws.
(Book image courtesy of Goodreads)