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I loved mythology and fantasy as a child.  I suppose that was inevitable, considering that my mom, as a nine-year-old, attended the world premiere of the Wizard of Oz.  More to the point, I was lost in a haze of my own thoughts almost all of the time.  My parents were not neglectful, but were certainly uninterested in us children.  My brother bullied me constantly, and my sister ignored me.

 By the time I was ten years old, I had read the Greek Myths, all of the Oz books, the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, the Narnia series, Grimm's Fairy Tales, etc., etc. etc.. So it was natural that, when I heard about Lloyd Alexander's The Chronicles of Prydain, I would run to read them.  And so I did.  As much as I loved the whole series, it was Taran Wanderer which struck me the hardest.

More below the orange waves:

To make a long story short, Taran Wanderer details the journey of an assistant pig-keeper, as he tries to find out who he really is.  Along the way, he meets many people, faces mortality, struggles against magic, and learns to accept himself.  The title of the first chapter sets up the whole narrative:  Who Am I?

As Taran wandered and tarried, I was caught up in his journey.  At the age of ten, I was asking myself, for the first time, that very same question.  I had been introduced to archaeology that year, and had heard Louis Leakey speaking at the local community college that year.  So, for the first time, I had a tangible ambition for my life.  But who was I really?  I wondered.

At times like this in life, it helps to have a mentor.  Mine was a teacher named Mrs. Duncan.  It was through her I learned of the Maya, ended up sifting dirt at a burial site, took innumerable field trips to explore nature, religion and art, and, most importantly, embraced the reader that I already was.  I don't know who I might have become without her influence, but I do know that my love for learning began with Mrs. Duncan.  To this day, I remain curious, driven ever to expand my knowledge and remain open to ideas.

Taran Wanderer was different than the first three books in the Prydain series.  They were more "epic" or "heroic".  This book was an inner journey, which led me to seek myself as I follow Taran through his travels.  One quote still resonates today:

Llonio said life was a net for luck; to Hevydd the Smith life was a forge; and to Dwyvach the Weaver-Woman a loom. They spoke truly, for it is all of these. But you,' Taran said, his eyes meeting the potter's, 'you have shown me life is one thing more. It is clay to be shaped, as raw clay on a potter's wheel.
I had not, up to that point of my life, thought about what the future held, or how I would influence it.  After reading Taran Wanderer, I became open to a world of possibilities.  A world that saw me embrace a career unheard of in my family, become the first person in my family in five generations to go East, and, in general, to live with courage, accepting who I was.  Now, all of that was filtered through a Pandora's Box of family dysfunction, addiction and all that mess, but that's a story for another time.  Today, I leave you with Hope.

Originally posted to Readers and Book Lovers on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 05:00 AM PDT.

Also republished by DKOMA.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I read the Prydain books as a child (9+ / 0-)

    and really enjoyed them.  However I must admit that I don't remember very much of the specifics any more.  Thanks for a really nice diary.

    "We are normal and we want our freedom" - Bonzos

    by matching mole on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 05:21:22 AM PDT

  •  I read one of the Prydain books long ago. (9+ / 0-)

    Today I'll hunt out the whole series.

    Thanks, aravir!!

    If you do not believe that there is an ongoing war on women, then you aren't paying attention. h/t The Pootie Potentate

    by glorificus on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 05:59:32 AM PDT

  •  Prydain (9+ / 0-)

    I didn't actually get to read the Prydain series until I was well into my '20s, when I chanced upon the complete set in a used book store and snatched them up.  Luckily, these are among the books C.S. Lewis was talking about when he said that if a book for a seven-year old is really good, it will still be enjoyable when the reader is seventy.

    Taran Wanderer was my least favorite of the series, because it lacked the fun of Eilonwy, and Fflewddur Fflam, and because of the pain Taran had to endure.  But having endured that pain and come through the other side, I felt Taran was a better and stronger person and ready to actually be the hero he aspired to being in the previous books.  It's not a rollicking book, but a meaty and a thoughtful one.

    Good diary.  I took the liberty of linking to it in my Sci-Fi/Fantasy Index.

    "All the World's a Stage and Everyone's a Critic." -- Mervyn Alquist

    by quarkstomper on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 06:16:10 AM PDT

    •  I get what you are saying about TW (7+ / 0-)

      At the time that I was reading the series, The High King had just won the Newberry Prize.  The aforementioned teacher invited us to read all of the Newberry Prize-winning books.  If we did so, she had our name etched on a brass plaque which hung in our classroom, and offered to buy us any one book we desired.  I chose The High King.

      So, at the time, that was my favorite of the series.  It is only in retrospect that I have come to understand that, for me, reading Taran Wanderer was more important.

      Ancora Impara--Michelangelo

      by aravir on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 06:21:40 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I loved this series.... (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    hazey, aravir, Aunt Pat, Limelite, Fiona West

    And read them over and over again as a child.

    All the suffering of this world arises from a wrong attitude.The world is neither good or bad. It is only the relation to our ego that makes it seem the one or the other - Lama Anagorika Govinda

    by kishik on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 06:25:17 AM PDT

  •  Loved that series! (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    aravir, Ahianne, Limelite, Fiona West, Brecht

    It's been a long time since I read them -- I need to add them to my collection of kids' books.  

    I think you've got it pegged -- while The High King is exciting and very satisfying, it can't happen without Taran Wanderer --  for him to become what he is by the end of the series, he has to go through that searching period, a quest to find out who he is.  Particularly poignant for him as so many people he knows have their identities shaped by their families and where they're from -- but he doesn't know who his parents were, or where he comes from.  

    Now I want to re-read it....  

  •  I'd forgotten that quote (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    aravir, Ahianne, Limelite, Fiona West, Brecht

    But I remember loving that book so much.  It was the first fantasy to fire my imagination after LOTR, and I love it to this day.

  •  That book still haunts me. (6+ / 0-)

    I read it around the same time, age 12 or so.  I remember being punched in the cafeteria and reading that book until 3 am hoping that I would be so sick from exhaustion I wouldn't have to go back to school the next day.

    (spoilers)
    The scene that still haunts me is when Taran decides he wants to make pots for the rest of his life.  He'd tried so many other ways of life, but pottery was his one true calling and he was willing to devote himself to it completely.  
    And then his mentory tells him that he'll never have the talent for it, no matter how hard he works, I became physically enraged with the book.  I was like "NO! THATS WRONG! YOU CAN DO ANYTHING YOU WANT IN LIFE IF YOU WORK AT IT!" I couldn't understand why they would put something like that in the story.  It might as well have been an advertisement for the white nationalist movement.

    Well, 20 years later, that passage has come back to me again and again every time I've tried to do something artistic or creative.  I haven't always failed, but I've learned to accept my limitations.  I will never have the steady hand or discerning eye of a visual artist.  I will never be a dancer.  

    I can't say I love the book for pointing this horrible truth out for me exactly, but I have to say it's one of the few books I remember that didn't lie to children.  Lies are easy, the truth is hard, but it sticks with you.

    •  That aspect of the book is what I remember most (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      quarkstomper

      powerfully, too.  It was so bitterly ironic.  Taran had many abilities and talents.  He could have been a fisher and sailor, working with wind and waves.  He could have been a smith.  The weaver really wanted him to stay and be a weaver.  But when he found the thing he really loved -- he couldn't be that.  It didn't make me rage, but it made me very, very sad.

      Yet it's a gift when someone writes about that kind of experience -- one of life's hard lessons -- in a way that young people can really feel it and take it in.  The book was unyielding, yet not at all dismissive.  THere's no derision of Taran, not the slightest, for trying to MAKE himself be what he's not.  There's a kind of tenderness.  As there should be.  Taran failed in his attempt.  But his striving was not a failing.

      Taran's period of hard labor, of doing work he doesn't love and doesn't want to stay with, because he believes it's his duty, is also important in defining him.

      Taran Wanderer takes the Prydain series beyond being yet another (well-written) heroic fantasy series.  As Quarkstomper said, it's not a rollicking book.  But it's a deep one.  Later, Taran becomes High King, the person in a position to bring different groups together for a battle that needs to be fought.  It's a huge challenge, and a great honor, but it doesnt' define him in the way it would have in many heroic fantasies.  He's already found out, in some deep ways, who he is.

      So the series ends with Alexander's trademark mix of heroism, humor, grimness, loyalty, and solid wins for the good guys. It's an excellent series.  He's writen other good books for young people as well, one or two of which even have (gasp) non-white protagonists!  A man of many talents is Mr. Alexander.

      --------------- --------------- --------------- "Every part of you belongs to you." -- from a story of Virginia under the Personhood law. Read it here.

      by Fiona West on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 01:33:11 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Where'd you get the name "aravir?" Is that a (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Limelite, Brecht

    shout-out to some sort of fantasy or mythology?

    "Mistress of the Topaz" is now available in paperback! Link here: http://www.double-dragon-ebooks.com/single.php?ISBN=1-55404-900-8

    by Kimball Cross on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 09:24:26 AM PDT

    •  It's out of the Lord of the Rings appendix (5+ / 0-)

      Aravir was one of the Lords of the Dunedain.  He was the father of Aragorn I, and an ancestor of Aragorn II, who is a major character in the Lord of the Rings.  He has the distinction of having been one of the few Ranger Lords to have died a natural death.

      I chose the name for my Dungeons and Dragons persona when I was a freshman in college.  Given its Latin meaning ("altar-man"), it seemed a fitting moniker for a paladin, or holy knight, which my character was.  And I was a huge Lord of the Rings fan.

      Dungeons and Dragons was a major part of that year for me.  So much so that it was the largest non-chemical factor in my almost flunking out of college.  My roommate Jim Lonergan introduced me to the game.  He and I and others played virtually from Friday night through Sunday night.  I got so involved that I ended up with a daughter, who became a palidaness, and who ended up being killed, an event which grieved me greatly.

      I don't miss those days, but I certainly won't forget them either.

      Ancora Impara--Michelangelo

      by aravir on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 09:41:49 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Okay, here's a somewhat OT question. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    quarkstomper, matching mole

    "Books that Changed My Life" seems to be a series. How do you write for that series?  Do you just put on the tag, or submit to a group moderator, or what?  Is this one of the series that has schedules and such?

    --------------- --------------- --------------- "Every part of you belongs to you." -- from a story of Virginia under the Personhood law. Read it here.

    by Fiona West on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 01:45:54 PM PDT

  •  What an enjoyable diary! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    quarkstomper

    I've never read the Prydain books--never even heard of them until I read this diary--but I did read the Narnia series, the Greek myths, and several of the others you mentioned.  Like you, as a child I was always lost in a world of books.  I lived in a country that barely had electricity, let alone TV, and the radio only had a couple of programs a day in English.

    I do think all this early reading helps a child's imagination to grow.  Daydreaming is a valuable activity, one too often belittled.  Because my childhood was so free-form, I didn't object when my younger son dropped out of Cub Scouts and soccer at age seven because he was "too busy."  

    Now that you've told us about this series, I'll look for it.  I'm collecting books to read to my little granddaughter when she's old enough.  I think she'll be ready very soon.

    Thank you for sharing this look into your inner life.  Most interesting.

    "Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich."--Napoleon

    by Diana in NoVa on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 07:17:36 PM PDT

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