The third book in Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain, The Castle of Llyr finds Taran and Eilonwy about to set off on a journey. It seems that Eilonwy is to be taught how to be a proper princess and eventually be married off. Taran is conflicted, which by the previous book seems to be his wont. We meet some new characters and familiar characters make their return.
One of the things I like about this book is how Alexander flips the script on Taran’s relationship with a potential romantic rival. In The Black Cauldron, the young prince Ellidyr is everything wrong with the Nobility. He’s brash, self-absorbed, cruel, and consumed with status. This time around, the prince Rhun is sweet and friendly and painfully aware of his own uselessness and ineptitude. Like Ellidyr, he desperately wants to be loved and respected. Unlike Ellidyr, Rhun doesn’t expect love and respect based on his blood. He wants to earn it. Yet this prince is also getting in the way of Taran’s budding romantic interest, not to mention his duty. Taran’s duty and sense of responsibility has carried him through and made him a less snotty character than he was in The Book of Three, and makes his choices more interesting.
By this book, the story is more complicated, the issues more foggy, and the discussion of right and wrong more nuanced than in The Book of Three. I don’t know if it was intentional, or if it was simply the case of an author improving his craft, but I’m reminded of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books in the way each book becomes more complex, the characters become more interesting, and even the themes of the book becomes less gentle and kid-focused, as they go on.
With The Castle of Llyr, Alexander gives his characters plenty of moments to shine. Though Taran is the thread that carries us through the story, it sometimes feels as if he steps back into the shadows so that the other characters can have their dramatic and exciting moments. It’s like a narrative way of showing that Taran is becoming a leader, putting his people ahead of himself, making it possible for them to be better.
So far, each book has been better than the last. Here’s hoping that continues. This puts me about half way through the series. On to the next.