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Habeas Blogus

Book reviews, more for my memory than anything else.

Location: Austin, Texas, United States

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Book of Three, by Lloyd Alexander

Started 6/13, Finished 6/16

This was a bit of a lark. Well, departure is more like it. My wife checked this out from the library to see if Alex would be interested at all, and because she recalled having read something by Alexander in the past.

She couldn't even get 4 pages into it. What she hadn't known when she checked it out was that this book, this series of Prydain books (the second of which became the animated Disney film The Black Cauldron) was both the beginning and end of my fascination with all things fantasy. I consumed these books when I was about 11-12 - probably the ideal age for them. I was almost obsessed. I wanted to live in this world and be confronted by such torments and joys. I reached the tipping point, way back then, where I had just had too much. Like when you eat peanut butter or ramen for three weeks solid because you don't have a penny in the bank. You never want to see any of it again... that's exactly what happened to me. I can't read Lord of the Rings, I can't even get near the long-running D&D novels, and I can't really stand much science fiction.

But since I loved these so much as a kid I thought I'd pick it up and rekindle some of the magic. What the heck, right? It's only about 180 pages. I could read that during the commercial breaks of 30 Rock.

Well, I probably shouldn't have bothered. The writing is okay, not great. A few of the characters are reasonably well-developed. Others annoyed the shit out of me. When I came across an archetype (like Geydion the hero or Eilonwy the princess), I suspect that I was supposed to smile instead of groan. I was intended to recognize the character as such and appreciate that it was easy to tell the good guys from the bad guys. It just wasn't for me. Eilonwy of the beauteously wispy blond hair and oh-so-talkative nature. Gurgi of the crunchings and munchings. Yawn. The only interesting characters were Taran, the main character, and his mentor Dallben (who meditates constantly, "an occupation so exhausting he could accomplish it only by lying down and closing his eyes").

These two characters are interesting because they are the only ones who possess shades of gray amidst the black and white. Here comes a slight spoiler if you care. When Taran complains about his inexplicable survival near the end, Dallben basically tells him "look, you got a little bit lucky. Of course you didn't save the day. Of course you didn't really do anything but watch while the events unfolded around you. But that's just what happens sometimes - you lead them there, and that was your real role."

So, for the hero of the story to be relagated to a witness isn't necessarily interesting--it happens to Harry Potter all the time. But for it to be acknowledged and worked into the moral of the story--that was interesting. That's also something that never would have occurred to my 12-year-old self, and since I read these in a void I never had the benefit of a guiding wisdom to help me understand it. All I cared about was "good guys won, bad guys lost, and there were magic swords and shit".

I'm not sure I'll pick up the rest... it was such an easy read there's no reason not to cover the rest, but on the other hand... eh... the silliness and ill-treatment of the only major female character in the book might be bad enough to set me off. I don't know if I can handle more of it. I'll read it if it falls into my lap like this one did. Maybe.

Books #18 and #19 will be Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, respectively, by JK Rowling



Blogger Jess said...

Funny that, having declared this the 'beginning and end' of your interest in fantasy, your next two (possibly three?) reviews will be not just about fantasy, but kids'/YA fantasy at that. :P

And, jeez, anyone'd think you don't have anyone around to recommend some good stuff to you!

Tue Jul 24, 09:22:00 AM  
Anonymous marta said...

I remembered liking that Black Cauldron movie as a kid and so in a fit of nostalgia (and foolishness) I rented it a few months back. It was dreadful. Why ever did I like it? And I didn't know there were books about this story too, but I'll certainly not pick them up now.

Tue Jul 24, 08:43:00 PM  

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