Book Review: Taran Wanderer

Taran Wanderer (The Chronicles of Prydain #4)Taran Wanderer by Lloyd Alexander
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of my favorite series growing up was The Chronicles of Prydain, by Lloyd Alexander. I never got into any of his other books, but I loved reading about Taran the Assistant Pig-Keeper and his adventures, and I reread the series many times. The Book of Three, Black Cauldron, Castle of Llyr, Taran Wanderer, and The High King. I loved them all, but my least favorite was Taran Wanderer. Even years later, I remembered the book being sluggish and not nearly as engaging as the other novels. Not enough cool things happened, as I recalled. Interestingly, my friend Dan Wells had listed Wanderer as his favorite of the books.

I’ve been rereading the series now, and I finally got to Taran Wanderer again. Dan was right. That isn’t to say my twelve-year-old self was wrong. There’s not nearly as many “cool things” at work in the book as there are in Book of Three or Black Cauldron. It’s a voyage of discovery for the main character, and that kind of sailed past me completely when I was reading it the first time.

I’m older now, however. Maybe a bit more mature. And I can appreciate what Alexander was up to with the novel. Up until that point in the series, Taran was all about adventure and glory. He dreamed of being someone important, without really understanding anything about how the world works. It was easier for him to just live in his fantasies. To transition from that character into the Taran of The High King takes real work and effort. It had to be earned, and so Taran embarks on that journey.

I loved seeing the character through new eyes. Studying how Alexander broke him down and had him realistically change his outlook on life bit by bit. Too often it’s easy to just read a book and know you like it without thinking *why* you like it. When I was twelve, I certainly didn’t. But there’s always an underlying reason. Something the author is up to that makes the book or series work for you. I call it the engine. What drives the book and makes it hum.

Sometimes the engine is nothing more than “what happens next.” The plot is built so well you just want to keep turning pages. Sometimes it’s the beauty of the language itself. It can be the characters, or the world building. History or horror. Even today, it’s rare for me to be satisfied with a book that runs pretty much solely on “journey of discovery.” But Taran Wanderer pulls it off perfectly.

If you haven’t read this series, I really recommend it. It still stands up well today. And far from being the weakest of the five books, Taran Wanderer is a favorite.

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