Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Review - The Foundling and Other Tales of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander

Stories included:
The Foundling
The Stone
The True Enchanter
The Rascal Crow
The Sword
The Smith, the Weaver, and the Harper
The Truthful Harp
Coll and His White Pig

Full review: The Foundling is a collection of short stories set in the same fictional world as the Chronicles of Prydain, and featuring several of the same characters (or, in some cases, their ancestors). The stories in this book are not strictly necessary, but offer back story and character development for several of the secondary characters. Stories featuring Dallben, Coll, Fflewddur Fflam, Doli, and Kaw as well as Eilonwy's mother appear. A dark story concerning the sword Dwrnwyn, and a fairy tale-like story involving Arawn's theft of human knowledge are also featured.

For the most part, the stories are all quite brief, filling in the gaps of the Chronicles of Prydain with a story structure like folk tales. In The Foundling Alexander borrows from some Irish myth to tell the tale of how Dallben obtained his great knowledge, and also, in a very Celtic turn of events, the price that is exacted from him in return. The Stone is a little morality tale in which a farmer earns a favor from Doli and demands in payment a stone that will prevent him from aging. As is typical in tales like these, the enchanted boon turns out to be a decidedly mixed blessing.

One of the few stories that doesn't feature any of the characters from the Chronicles, The True Enchanter instead features Angharad, Eilonwy's mother. A headstrong young woman, Angharad is informed by her mother that she must marry an enchanter, and despite her reluctance begins to entertain suitors. In succession, Gildas, Grimgower, and Geraint try to win her hand - the first by conjuring darkness and snow, the second by summoning monsters, and the last by telling stories of nature and beauty. In the end, Angharad gets her way and true magic and love wins out. The Rascal Crow features Medwyn, a character who played a minor role in the Chronicles, but focuses on Kadwyr, an arrogant crow who refuses to heed Medwyn's warnings about Arwan's designs upon he and the other animals of the forest, spurning the offers of assistance proffered by Medwyn's other charges. Because this is a morality tale, this comes back to haunt Kadwyr, but because this is a humorous tale, he doesn't learn the lesson one would expect.

The darkest tale in the collection, The Sword provides background concerning the king that constructed the Spiral Castle and owned the magical blade Dyrnwyn and how his body came to be where Taran found it in The Book of Three. It is a story of hubris and injustice followed by madness and death. The Smith, the Weaver, and the Harper is another dark tale that details how Arawn deceived men and stole the tools that held the secrets of their crafts by playing upon their greed. The tale ends on a note of hope as the power of men to find beauty and resist the power of the Dark Lord is demonstrated.

The final two stories in the collection connect directly to the Chronicles. In the first, The Truthful Harp, we learn how Fflewddur Fflam gave up his kingdom, took up a life as a wandering bard, and obtained his magical harp. As happens so often in Alexander's tales, Fflewddur dreams of being heralded for famous deeds and doesn't realize which of his actions truly have value until he learns wisdom. The last story in the collection is Coll and His White Pig, which tells the tale of how Coll rescued Hen Wen from the clutches of Arawn. Although Coll is declared to be a stout warrior in the story, it is not the strength of his arm that wins him his pig back, but rather his kindness and generosity, plus a little bit of luck, which results in his obtaining help from some unlikely new friends.

While this collection is not as good as the series it supports, all of the tales are well-told, and each adds a little bit to the overall picture of Prydain. As a person who loved the five book series, the only thing I didn't like about this book is that there weren't more stories to read.

Previous book in the series: The High King

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  1. I think the shorts add a little - like dessert! You know, like a little plate of butter cookies. Makes the meal complete.

  2. @Julia Rachel Barrett: Very true. Like I said, the only thing that I didn't like about this book was that there weren't more stories to read!