Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Book of Three

In my continuing series of entries about kids books I no doubt should have read before but somehow never did, I give you Lloyd Alexander's The Book of Three.

One of the perils of growing up reading in a small town peopled largely by non-readers is that there's no one to tell you about stuff like this. I had never heard of Alexander until Disney's The Black Cauldron, which was released the year after I graduated high school and which held no interest for me.

I never went back to see what I missed—I was too busy reading stuff for classes and, if memory serves, buckets of horror stories. Clearly, I was too grown up to read kids books (I'll pause here for all of my friends and every teacher I ever had to stop laughing).

Even though I heard these books mentioned as “classics” when I worked in bookstores, somehow they just never caught my attention. Which is a terrible shame, because as much as I enjoyed reading the book today, as a kid, I would have been over the moon.

Alexander's take off of Welsh mythology is staggeringly good: adventurous, scary, sad, and funny. It's everything I ever looked for in a book as a kid, and the formula works quite well for me still today. Sure, some of the tropes (lowborn boy with big ambition, kids who are more than they seem, ultimate good versus ultimate evil, magical weapons that only work for their rightful owners) are now so overused they don't carry the same weight. But if everything else is good enough: the story, the characters, the way the story is told, then the book sings, regardless of how familiar you might be with those tropes.

If you like tales of knights, magicians, good, evil, and hidden power, check out this opening chapter in the adventures of Taran of Caer Dalben, Assistant Pig Keeper of a most unusual pig named Hen Wen.


Jess said...

Alexander is one of those authors who I just automatically assume *everyone's* read. Very surprised you haven't until now--but you just got to enjoy them for the first time, which I can no longer do.

Peggy Hailey said...

I know! By all rights, I should have devoured these books at around age 8, yet here I sit. And while I do, indeed, get to enjoy them for the first time, the reading magic is never quite the same as it is when you're a kid.