The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander
(Bantam, 1990, 224 pages)
The Prydain Chronicles was one of my favorite series as a kid. I’ve wanted to reread them for years, so now I’m reading them to my daughter. The stories are based on Welsh mythology and include lots of interesting and beautiful Welsh names. Prydain itself is the medieval Welsh term for Britain, and the novels have a medieval feel, complete with kings, sorcerers, dark lords.
The story centers on Taran, an Assistant Pig-Keeper who dreams of becoming a hero. He finds adventure when he is recruited by Gwydion, the High Prince of Prydain, to help raise an army to defeat the Horned King, the terrifying warlord of the Death-Lord Arawn. In the process, Taran is joined by companions who help him accomplish his task, including the hot-headed princess Eilonwy, the bard Fflewddur Fflam (whose harp strings break every time he exaggerates a story), and the lovable if slightly pathetic beast Gurgi (he’s something between a man and monkey).
These stories are excellent adaptations of mythic material, and Alexander clearly worked from substantial research. But the really unique thing about this series is the humor. A bard who is never allowed to embellish a tale makes for some very funny moments, as do the constant quarrels between Taran and Eilonwy. I remember thinking the books were very funny when I was younger, and my daughter finds Gurgi especially hilarious.