The Chronicles of Prydain

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The Chronicles of Prydain
The Chronicles of Prydain (book cover collage).jpg
Front covers, unknown edition
AuthorLloyd Alexander
IllustratorEvaline Ness (maps)
CountryUnited States
GenreHigh fantasy, Children's literature
PublisherHolt, Rinehart and Winston
Media typePrint
No. of books5
Followed byThe Foundling and Other Tales of Prydain (1973)
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The Chronicles of Prydain
The Chronicles of Prydain (book cover collage).jpg
Front covers, unknown edition
AuthorLloyd Alexander
IllustratorEvaline Ness (maps)
CountryUnited States
GenreHigh fantasy, Children's literature
PublisherHolt, Rinehart and Winston
Media typePrint
No. of books5
Followed byThe Foundling and Other Tales of Prydain (1973)

The Chronicles of Prydain is a series of five children's fantasy novels by Lloyd Alexander.[1] Henry Holt published one annually from 1964 to 1968, the second earning a 1966 Newbery Honor and the last winning the 1969 Newbery Medal.[2]

The Internet Speculative Fiction Database catalogs all Prydain publications, Alexander's fiction and one reference companion, as the Prydain series.[1] A nearly complete omnibus edition of the fiction was published in 1991 as The Prydain Chronicles.[3]

The five novels follow one protagonist Taran from youth to maturity, most overtly in the fourth book, Taran Wanderer.[4] Taran has the title Assistant Pig-Keeper at Caer Dallben but initially dreams of being a grand hero. His most important companions in adventure are Princess Eilonwy, a girl his age; Fflewddur Fflam, a wandering bard and minor king; Gurgi, a wild hominid between animal and man; and Doli, a dwarf.

Inspiration and development[edit]

Thematically the novels draw upon Welsh mythology, particularly the Mabinogion.[5] The novels are not, however, retellings of those myths, a point Alexander himself makes in an author's note for The Book of Three: stories have been conflated, and characters have been changed in both role and motive, so a student of Welsh culture should be prepared as Arawn becomes the books' dark arch enemy and Gwydion's negative traits are replaced with unclouded heroism.

Appropriately, the author's note also reveals the geography is ultimately derived from Wales, though Alexander notes that Prydain is separate from Wales both in physical geography and history.

"Always interested in mythology", Alexander received army combat intelligence training in Wales during World War II. That exposed him to its castles, scenery, and language, which became "part of the raw material for the Prydain books". Originally he "planned to write one or two – three at the very most".[6][7]

At one point[clarification needed] they planned a trilogy with titles The Battle of the Trees, The Lion with the Steady Hand, and Little Gwion.[8] In Welsh mythology the former features the sons of Don led by Gwydion against the forces of Arawn, and the legend of Gwion concerns the bard Taliesin as a boy. Later, a four-volume series would conclude with The High King. The editor felt that something was missing between third and fourth volumes, so Taran Wanderer was written one month after The Castle of Llyr was published, making it a five-volume series.[8]

The stories that are now collected in The Foundling and Other Tales of Prydain actually were published in three different volumes: two picture books and one short story collection. Most of these act as backstories which fill in gaps for minor characters, but others are just short stories that stand apart from the books.


Prydain's geography, culture, and names are based on ancient Wales, especially the tales of the Mabinogion. Prydain is a magical land engaged in a series of battles with its neighbor, Annuvin, the Land of Death. It is the setting for four of the five books in the series.

Once ruled over by the evil Queen Achren, Prydain was liberated by the Sons of Don, who established a new kingdom at Caer Dathyl. The High King rules over all the land, seconded by his war leader, with many subject kings ruling the various territories of Prydain, called cantrevs. Only the Free Commots, a land of craftsmen who answer only to the High King, are outside any subject king's jurisdiction.

Significant locations in Prydain include Caer Dallben, the farm homestead of the enchanter Dallben, Caer Colur, the ancestral home of the House of Llyr, Spiral Castle, Achren's fortress, and the Marshes of Morva, a haunted swamp that is home to the witches Orddu, Orwen and Orgoch.

Underneath and within Prydain is the kingdom of the Fair Folk, a diminutive supernatural race that mostly keeps to its own affairs. The Fair Folk have no love for the Death-Lord Arawn however and occasionally aid the humans of Prydain against him.

In addition to the races of men and Fair Folk, Prydain is home to the Sons of Don and their descendants (who are ostensibly related to the gods of Welsh mythology, though this is never overtly stated in the series). Other varieties of creatures such as the undead Cauldron-Born, the monstrous birdlike Gwythaints, and oddities such as the furry, human-like Gurgi (whose race is undetermined) also reside in Prydain.


Having garnered a Newbery Medal and a Newbery Honor, Prydain is widely recognized as a valuable contribution to children's literature. Decades after their publication The Chronicles of Prydain hold their own in sales and readership and may be comparable to children's fantasy series such as The Chronicles of Narnia.[citation needed]

Ruth Hill Viguers writes in A Critical History of Children's Literature, "Like most good fantasies, the books are related to humanity; the characters have failings but also the potential for greatness."[9]


Characters are grouped first by the one of five Chronicles where they first appear, then by appearance in short stories only.

The Book of Three
The Black Cauldron
The Castle of Llyr
Taran Wanderer
The High King

Prydain publications[edit]

The Chronicles of Prydain[edit]

1. The Book of Three (1964)

Taran and companions race to defeat an army raised by the Horned King, a warlord of Arawn Death-Lord.

2. The Black Cauldron (1965) — a 1966 Newbery Honor book[2]

Taran and companions struggle to capture a magical cauldron that generates Arawn's zombie army, known as the "Cauldron-Born".

3. The Castle of Llyr (1966)

Taran escorts Eilonwy to a royal court for her education. There she is kidnapped and he leads a band to rescue her.

4. Taran Wanderer (1967)

Taran searches for his identity, nominally his parentage.

5. The High King (1968) — winner of the 1969 Newbery Medal[2]

Taran and companions join Prydain's great effort to defeat Arawn once and for all.

Short stories[edit]

Alexander published eight Prydain short stores, all set before the events of the five novels.

Coll and His White Pig (1965) and The Truthful Harp (1967) are 32-page picture books illustrated by Evaline Ness.[15][16] They feature as younger adults two of Taran's human companions in The Chronicles, Coll son of Collfrewr and Fflewddur Fflam.

A 1973 collection, The Foundling and Other Tales of Prydain comprises six new stories of the same length, illustrated by Margot Zemach, and the High King map by Ness.[1] It was dedicated to "Friends of Prydain, who promised to read more if I would write more".[17] The author cited "many readers of all ages" and explained that "popular demand makes a splendid pretext" for return to Prydain but not for covering the same ground. All six stories explore prehistory, "before the birth of Taran Assistant Pig-Keeper",[18] at least fifteen years before the novels.

In 1999, Holt published an expanded edition of The Foundling[19] collecting all eight stories (text only), the High King map, and a new "Prydain Pronunciation Guide" with entries for 49 proper names.[20]

Contents of The Foundling, expanded edition

The Pronunciation Guide is also included in 1999 and later editions of the five novels.[1]


The Prydain Chronicles (1991, Guild America Books; Science Fiction Book Club)[clarification needed] comprises the five novels and the six later short stories.[3] That is, all Prydain fiction except the two picture-book stories. Each novel includes a map by Evaline Ness (original illustrator of the picture books and covers of the novels) and each story includes the illustrations by Margot Zemach for the original Foundling and Other Tales.


In 1989, Greenwood Publishing Group published The Prydain Companion: A Reference Guide to Lloyd Alexander's Prydain Chronicles by children's literature scholar Michael O. Tunnell. Henry Holt, the original publisher of the Prydain books, republished The Prydain Companion in 2003. The book's title is a reference to the fact that the Chronicles' narration often refers to any present combination of the main characters as "the companions." The Prydain Companion includes a biographical sketch of Alexander and two sections by Alexander, the "Foreword" and "How to Use the Companion". Entries cover major characters, locations, and so on, with insight gained by Tunnell's interviews with Alexander as well as research into the Mabinogion and The White Goddess. One marketing capsule is "An informative resource for formal studies of the Prydain Chronicles, as well as an excellent opportunity to delve into the fantastic workings of Prydain."[22]



Walt Disney Productions released a Prydain animated film in 1985. The Black Cauldron is based primarily on the first two novels with elements from the others. It cost $40 million and was poorly received by audiences, failing to recoup the investment. Critics found the film "pretty, but confusing and overly somber" due to its dark nature,[citation needed] though Roger Ebert gave it a positive review.[23] In retrospect studio head Jeffrey Katzenberg was dismayed by the product and the animators felt that it lacked "the humor, pathos, and the fantasy which had been so strong in Lloyd Alexander's work. The story had been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and it was heartbreaking to see such wonderful material wasted."[24]

Of the film, Lloyd Alexander remarked: "First, I have to say, there is no resemblance between the movie and the book. Having said that, the movie in itself, purely as a movie, I found to be very enjoyable."[6]


Early in the 2000s, Listening Library (Random House) produced an unabridged reading by James Langton of the five main volumes, with author's notes read by Lloyd Alexander himself. The audiobooks were published on compact audio cassette and compact disc, and were also released for download from 2004 to 2005.[25] No audiobook adaption of The Foundling and Other Tales of Prydain has yet been produced.


  1. ^ Expanded edition, title leaf: lists copyrights 1965, 1967, 1973 Lloyd Alexander; 1999 copyrights only Henry Holt, compilation and pronunciation guide. Inspection supports the implication that dedication and author's note date from 1973.
  2. ^ Expanded edition, About the author: This short two-page sketch ends at Alexander following The Chronicles with the first Foundling collection in 1973.


  1. ^ a b c d Prydain series listing at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (ISFDB). Retrieved 2011-12-29. Select a title to see its linked publication history and general information. Select a particular edition (title) for more data at that level, such as a front cover image or linked contents.
     Some contents details have been ascertained by examination.
  2. ^ a b c "Newbery Medal & Honor Books, 1922–Present". Association for Library Service to Children. American Library Association. Retrieved 2011-01-11. 
  3. ^ a b The Prydain Chronicles (1991 omnibus) publication contents at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database. Retrieved 2011-12-29.
  4. ^ Alexander, Lloyd (1999). "Author's note". Taran Wanderer. New York: Henry Holt and Company. ISBN 0-8050-6134-7
  5. ^ Alexander, Lloyd (1999). "Author's note". The Book of Three. New York: Henry Holt and Company. ISBN 0-8050-6132-0
  6. ^ a b c Lloyd Alexander Interview Transcript (1999). Interview with Scholastic students. Scholastic Inc. Retrieved 2011-12-17.
  7. ^ About the author (1973). The Foundling and Other Tales of Prydain, Henry Holt and Company, first edition, page [88].
  8. ^ a b Lloyd Alexander: A Bio-Bibliography by Jacobs and Tunnel [clarification needed]
  9. ^ Viguers, Ruth Hill; Cornelia Meigs (ed.) (1969). A Critical History of Children's Literature. Macmillan USA. p. 462. ISBN 0-02-583900-4. 
  10. ^ Alexander, Lloyd. The Book of Three
  11. ^ Alexander, Lloyd (1964). The Book of Three. 
  12. ^ Alexander, Lloyd (1965). The Black Cauldron. 
  13. ^ Alexander, Lloyd, The Black Cauldron, Holt, 1965. p 53
  14. ^ Alexander, Lloyd, The Castle of Llyr, Holt, 1966. p. 15
  15. ^ Coll and his white pig (catalog report). MinuteMan Library Network. Retrieved 2011-12-18.
  16. ^ The truthful harp (catalog report). MinuteMan Library Network. Retrieved 2011-12-18.
  17. ^ Expanded edition, Dedication (original).
  18. ^ Expanded edition, Author's Note (original).
  19. ^ Alexander, Lloyd (1999). The Foundling and Other Tales of Prydain. Revised and expanded edition. New York: Henry Holt and Company. ISBN 0-8050-6130-4.
  20. ^ Expanded edition (1999).
  21. ^ a b Expanded edition, title leaf.
  22. ^ "The Prydain Companion ..." (retail product display). Retrieved 2011-12-16.
  23. ^ [1] Review by Roger Ebert. July 24, 1985. Retrieved 2012-02-03
  24. ^ Johnston, Ollie; Frank Thomas (1993). The Disney Villain. New York: Hyperion Books. p. 173. ISBN 1-56282-792-8
  25. ^ prydain (search report). Random House Audio. Retrieved 2011-12-16.

External links[edit]

Lloyd Alexander at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database