The Internet Speculative Fiction Database catalogs all Prydain publications, Alexander's fiction and one reference companion, as the Prydain series. A nearly complete omnibus edition of the fiction was published in 1991 as The Prydain Chronicles.
The five novels follow one protagonistTaran from youth to maturity, most overtly in the fourth book, Taran Wanderer. 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.
Thematically the novels draw upon Welshmythology, particularly the Mabinogion. 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".
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. 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.
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.
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.
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."
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
Taran is a young man in late adolescence, who lives with the enchanter Dallben and the aged warrior Coll. He is charged with taking care of the oracular pig Hen Wen and throughout the series is known under the title of Assistant Pig-Keeper. He is also the wielder of the magic sword, Dyrnwyn.
Princess Eilonwy is a friend of Taran. When she is being formal, she calls herself "Princess Eilonwy, daughter of Angharad, daughter of Regat of the Royal House of Llyr" in reference to her mother and grandmother respectively. Her father, Geraint, was a commoner. The women in her line are formidable enchantresses. She has inherited this characteristic, most readily visible in her manipulation of a magical item she calls her bauble, a small golden sphere that can glow with magical light when activated by her willpower.
Fflewddur Fflam, son of Godo, is a cantrev lord of Prydain. He is referred to as a King, but it is made clear that he is a very minor king of a tiny kingdom at best, much less important than the High King who rules Prydain. His kingdom is described as being dreary and dull. As a result, he often leaves it to go wandering as an unofficial bard. Though he returns from time to time to rule, he once mentions that he gets the feeling that the people of his country get along just fine even if he's not there.
Gurgi is described as being some sort of cross between man and beast, having long arms, covered with fur and leaves, and ever hungry but really "just a sort of a, kind of a thing". His manner of speech is filled with rhymed pairs of words ("crunchings and munchings", "Smackings and Wackings", "sneakings and peekings"), and redundant phrases ("see with lookings!"); he refers to himself in the third person. Gurgi is humble and loyal toward his human companions, at first submitting even to Taran as a "noble lord". According to Alexander, nearly all of the proper names in Prydain are from Welsh myth or history, perhaps all except Eilonwy and Taran.
Doli is one of the "fair folk", a nation of faeries, and other magical beings who live in an extensive underground kingdom that spans the entire country of Prydain. Doli is described as a short, stocky dwarf who carries a number of weapons including a battleaxe. He is adept in many skills including hunting, fighting, as well as magical skills such as turning invisible.
Hen Wen is a white sow. She is an oracular pig with the ability to prophesy about future events and reveal hidden information. Originally she belonged to Coll, but most of her maintenance was delegated to Taran when he received the title of Assistant Pig-Keeper in The Book of Three.
Dallben is described as an ancient man with a long white beard. He lives on the farm known as Caer Dallben, where he acts as protector of Coll's oracular pig, Hen Wen. He also is the guardian and mentor of Taran, the protagonist of the Prydain Chronicles. When first introduced in The Book of Three, he was already 379 years old. Besides the lessons he teaches Taran and protecting the oracular pig Hen Wen, Dallben's main activity on the farm is meditating. Those who know him recognize him as the most powerful enchanter in Prydain, and while his displays of power are quite potent they are used sparingly.
Gwydion, son of Don, the High Prince of Prydain
Coll occupies his time with farming, though prior to that he was a warrior. He was the original owner of the oracular pig Hen Wen, established the farm that became known as Caer Dallben when the enchanter Dallben took up residence there, and served as a guardian to Taran. His personality is rather amiable and modest, and in appearance he is short and burly. But his most striking feature is his bald head, which blushes whenever he is happy about something
The Horned King is Arawn's champion and the War Leader of Annuvin. The Horned King is described as a huge man wearing armor (except for his arms, which are naked and stained crimson), a red cape and an antlered skull mask. The antlers are presumably where he gets his name.
Math son of Mathonwy is the High King of Prydain. He rules above all lesser kings in Prydain. Math is patriarch of the Royal House of Don, comprising descendants of the Lady Don and her consort, Belin, the Sun king. Math rules with a just hand, and through his leadership Arawn, Death-Lord is at least partly held in check. He dwells in the stronghold Caer Dathyl, north of the Eagle Mountains.
Arawn Death-Lord, also known as the Death-Lord, the War-Leader and Lord Arawn, is the main antagonist of the series. Arawn was once a mortal man with magical powers, one of which was to change his shape, who was tutored by the evil Queen Achren, ruler of Prydain. When Achren was overthrown, Arawn, who had grown very powerful, took the Iron Crown of Annuvin and became its king. Achren became a servant beneath him but always plotted his downfall. He later came into possession of the Black Cauldron with which he created a powerful undead army known as the Cauldron-Born. He then attempted to conquer Prydain, the fictional country where the events of the story take place. He was thwarted in this endeavour by the Sons of Don, a race of warriors from the Summer Country who stood between him and world domination ever since.
Achren is the former Queen of Prydain, who ruled many years as a harsh and vengeful tyrant, both as ruler and then as the Death-lord Arawn's consort. She originally ruled from her citadel in Annuvin, near Mount Dragon, and later moved to the fastness of Spiral Castle after Arawn gained power. She secretly despises the Death-lord, who stole from her the crown of Annuvin. She is also taken with Gwydion; even though he does not reciprocate her feelings, she remains largely loyal to him after losing her powers.
Kaw is a crow and was originally the pet of Gwystyl, a Fair Folk officer. He is subsequently given to the series' hero, Taran. Kaw can talk, although only in one-word sentences, and his role in the story is to give information, to spy out the land while flying and sometimes to retrieve lost objects from difficult places. He has a mischievous temperament, often playing tricks on his human friends and talking more freely than he should.
Ellidyr is described as a prince, the son of a king who had nothing left to leave his son but "his name and his sword." He is deeply sensitive about his poverty, and covers this with arrogance, treating all whom he does not see as social equals with disdain and contempt. Adaon, with the aid of a magic talisman, sees this as a "black beast," sitting on Ellidyr's shoulders and tormenting him.
Gwystyl is one of the Fair Folk. He is described as resembling "a bundle of sticks with cobwebs floating at the top." He appears sickly, with sparse, long and stringy hair. He wears a mournful expression and with his anxious eyes, seems constantly on the verge of tears. His personality is no cheerier; he constantly complains and snivels, is a pessimist, and appears cowardly. Gwystyl lives in a hidden underground waypost near the border of Annuvin, the dominion of the villain of the series. He has a pet crow, named Kaw.
Orddu, Orwen, and Orgoch are three witches who live alone in the Marshes of Morva. Although their identities are apparently fluid and interchangeable, each persona has a distinctive appearance: Orwen wears a necklace of milky stones, Orddu's hair is adorned with many ornaments, and Orgoch's face is shadowed by a black cowl. They were the original owners of the Black Cauldron and lent it to Arawn, who used it to create zombie-like warriors, the Cauldron-Born. Later, they reclaimed it but were willing to relinquish it again in exchange for a magical price.
Adaon is featured solely in the second book, The Black Cauldron, although he is mentioned in the third and fifth books. He is the son of the Chief BardTaliesin. He is a gifted minstrel, a strong-hearted warrior, and a capable healer. His most precious possessions are his packets of healing herbs; his bay mare Lluagor; and a distinctive brooch which was a gift from Arianllyn, his betrothed.
The Castle of Llyr
Prince Rhun is the only son of King Rhuddlum and Queen Teleria, who rule over the Isle of Mona. By birthright, he is the heir apparent to the throne. He is first introduced in The Castle of Llyr when the Princess Eilonwy is sent by the enchanter Dallben to live at the castle and gain a "proper" upbringing. He is described as having a round, pleasant face like his father and straw-colored hair like his mother.
Glew was formerly a very small man. In his younger days he tried unsuccessfully to enter a number of careers including slaying dragons or being a wandering bard. He found none of them to his liking, mostly due to his own sniveling disposition. Finally, he decided the only answer was to turn to sorcery, and he attempted to buy a book of spells from the enchanter Morda. Glew got the book home and concluded that he had been cheated because the book appeared to have nothing but blank pages. Actually, there was writing in the book, but it was only visible using the light from Eilonwy's bauble.
King Rhuddlum, Rhun's father
Queen Teleria, Rhun's mother
Llyan is described as a large female cat, roughly larger than a horse, with orange fur. Her size does not diminish her natural agility or speed, however. Taran, Gurgi, Fflewddur Fflam and Prince Rhun encounter her in an old cottage on the Isle of Mona.
Magg (or Chief Steward Magg) has become a reasonably respected man on the Isle of Mona. However, he is also quite vain and power hungry. He wears flashy clothes: "He wore one of the finest cloaksTaran had ever seen, its rich embroidery almost surpassing King Rhuddlum's garment." Magg is tagged for a villain when he is described as "spider-like" in his movements and he soon embodies the traits of a traitor concerned only with his own comfort and glory. As the stories progress, he becomes more and more obsessed with obtaining power and even seems to descend into madness. He is prone to gleefully call himself "King Magg" and "Magg the Magnificent", and eventually, "Magg Death-Lord" at seeming times of triumph. Unlike so many characters in Alexander's works, he does not show balanced sides but is always a villain.
Aeddan, a farmer
Lord Goryon, a vassal of King Smoit
Lord Gast, his rival
Morda, a sorcerer
Dorath, a bandit
Gloff, a bandit
Craddoc, a shepherd, who seems to be Taran's father
Taran and companions join Prydain's great effort to defeat Arawn once and for all.
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. 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. It was dedicated to "Friends of Prydain, who promised to read more if I would write more". 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", at least fifteen years before the novels.
In 1999, Holt published an expanded edition of The Foundling collecting all eight stories (text only), the High King map, and a new "Prydain Pronunciation Guide" with entries for 49 proper names.
The Pronunciation Guide is also included in 1999 and later editions of the five novels.
The Prydain Chronicles (1991, Guild America Books; Science Fiction Book Club)[clarification needed] comprises the five novels and the six later short stories. 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."
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, though Roger Ebert gave it a positive review. 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."
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."
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. No audiobook adaption of The Foundling and Other Tales of Prydain has yet been produced.
^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.
^Expanded edition, About the author: This short two-page sketch ends at Alexander following The Chronicles with the first Foundling collection in 1973.
^ abcdPrydain 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.