As a kid, I loved to read fantasy. It was probably the residual effect of being so obsessed with Lord of the Rings. Of course, Tolkien is the mountaintop and after that, it’s hard to find something to measure up. For kids, there is one fantasy series that I recommend first ever time.
Lloyd Alexander’s The Chronicles of Prydain was one of my favorite series growing up. The books follow the story of Taran, a young boy living on a farm and working as an assistant pig keeper. Taran is the quintessential hero before he becomes a hero. He dreams of doing great deeds, fighting with swords, and going on quests. He gets his chance when evil starts to take shape in the kingdom of Prydain. The Horned King is amassing an army to fight Prince Gwydion, the ruler of the realm. While the Horned King rides through the forest, his presence frightens Taran’s pig, Hen Wen, who takes off running. Taran runs off to find Hen Wen, only to run into prince Gwydion himself.
Taran and Gwydion join forces to find Hen Wen, warn the good guys about the bad guys, and save the day. Like any good fantasy novel, though, they are not alone. Throughout the novel Taran picks up an odd assortment of followers. A feisty princess rescues him from a dungeon, a Gollum/animal sort of thing named Gurgi, a bard given into exaggeration, and a grumpy member of the fair folk. This gang is a little haphazard at first, but that is a lot of its charm. And over the course of the novel they learn to work together.
I love all the characters in this book. Taran is a great hero for young boys because he has big dreams and he learns a lot on his adventure, including how to lead and appreciate the simple things he used to take for granted. Eilonwy is the original feisty princess. She is strong without undermining Taran’s character and shows girls that they can be brave and smart and still girly. Taran’s other companions are fun and lively.
I also love how these books, the first one The Book of Three in particular, follows the hero’s journey. It also has elements of magic and the fantasy clear-cut divide of good and evil. It’s not a textbook fantasy novel, though. It’s original, in many ways because it was the first good, successful fantasy novels for children. It was a very important book to me when I was growing up, and I think a lot of bookworms from my generation feel that way about these books. They’re a great introduction to fantasy for kids, and great stories. I definitely recommend them to any kid—or adult—who enjoys fantasy novels.