“I am not proud of myself,” Taran went on. “I may never be again. If I do find pride, I’ll not find it in what I was or what I am, but what I may become. Not in my birth, but in myself.”– Taran Wanderer, Lloyd Alexander
Every time I read this book (and I have read it probably over forty times since I was seven) I find something new that I love about it. As a kid, I thought it was boring and sometimes even skipped it when reading the series. As an adult, it’s my favorite in the Prydain series.
Taran Wanderer is by Lloyd Alexander and it is the fourth book in the Prydain series, and the only one that wasn’t honored with ALA accolades. I’ve always found it a little sad that this book, so different from the rest of the series, was so overlooked by the librarian awards that determine so much of the children’s literature world. It’s much quieter and less linear than the other books. They each focus on a quest adventure and while this one does as well, the quest is abandoned and picked back up again a few times throughout the story.
Taran is a foundling farm boy and wants to know his parentage both because such things are very important in his society (where most people introduce themselves as “son of” or “daughter of” someone) and because he is hoping it will give him the noble blood he believes is necessary for wooing his sweetheart, Princess Eilonwy (daughter of Angharad, daughter of Regat…). Unfortunately, finding your parentage is both difficult and ultimately meaningless. Taran has to learn who he is and that his worth is embodied in that, not in the name and rank of his unknown parents.
Throughout the book, Taran meets a number of characters who each provide him with their philosophy on life and teach him new skills. Of course, my favorite of these is Llonio, but there are others who matter just as much. By the end of the journey, Taran is wearing a cloak of his own weaving, a sword of his own forging, and drinking from a pot of his own sculpting and has made more friends and allies than he could have imaged.
I think what makes this book harder for so many people is that it is so quiet. It’s a fantasy book, but the fantasy elements mean less in this book than any of the previous ones or the final one. This book is completely focused on the value of an entirely mundane man and as a result, is largely focused on the introspection of his journey to discover that. I think this is also why I love it so much as an adult. Taran is more real and relateable in this book than any of the others, where he is largely serving as the hero the adventure can revolve around. This book questions that very identity *as* a hero and even more fundamentally what it means to be human.
I have always wondered if Lloyd Alexander is revealing more about himself as well as his character in this book than in any other. I highly recommend it, but it will definitely mean the most if read with the rest of the series it is part of!
- The Prydain Fan Wiki
- The Chronicles of Prydain on Wikipedia
- Prydain Fan Fiction at An Archive of Our Own and FanFiction.net
- Lloyd Alexander on Wikipedia
- Biography of works by Lloyd Alexander