Taran Wanderer


Lloyd Alexander


Science Fiction / Fantasy


Date Reviewed:

November 30, 2022

aran Wanderer is fourth novel in the five-book children's series The Chronicles of Prydain. The protagonist of the series is Taran, an orphan raised by the ancient enchanter Dallben. Taran works at Caer Dallben, where his role is Assistant Pig-Keeper. In earlier volumes in this series, Taran met Princess Eilonwy, and they (and other companions) had many adventures together, battling the evil Arawn. In the third book, The Castle of Llyr, Princess Eilonwy was sent to the Isle of Mona to learn how act like royalty. The King and Queen of Mona revealed that they hoped that their son, the hapless Prince Rhun, would marry Eilonwy. Taran, who has never been able to admit his love for Eilonwy, is suddenly desperate to discover who his parents were - is there a slight chance that Taran has royal blood, and thus he would be eligible to marry a princess? If Dallben knows Taran's parentage, he is not telling Taran.

At the start of Taran Wanderer, Taran declares that he will set forth and search Prydain for clues of his origin. Loyal Gurgi volunteers to accompany him on this quest. Taran has an idea - he will risk another meeting with the three terrifying enchantresses who live in the Marshes of Morva, Orwen, Orddu and Orgoch. Gurgi is frightened to encounter these unpredictable, powerful witches, but Taran is determined to follow any possible angle. Naturally, the meeting does not go as Taran had hoped. However, the crones do offer some advice: seek the Mirror of Llunet for an answer. This cryptic answer is not much use to Taran, who has no idea where or what the Mirror of Llunet might be.

Taran and Gurgi wander around Prydain. Taran meets commoners and kings, gets involved in some nasty scrapes, and has his eyes opened about how the common folk live. He is joined by his friend Fflewddur Flam and his giant cat, Llayn, and the Doli of the Fair Folk makes a memorable appearance. But alas, the witty Eilonwy remains entirely off stage in this book. Roaming an area called the Free Commots, Taran works with a shepherd, a weaver, a blacksmith and a potter - all of whom teach him their craft, and offer to let him join them in their trade. But Taran remains fixated on finding the Mirror of Llunet.

Taran his growing in this series, and these encounters show him maturing as he learns how others live. Taran learns to respect the farmer and shepherd, while also seeing first hand how foolish kings can be. Perhaps the "morality lessons" are too obvious for the adult reader, but I think children reading about Taran's exciting adventures will absorb them without noticing. When I first read these books decades ago, I remember thinking of them as an epic fantasy tale. Now I admire how economical Alexander is with his story telling - each scene resolves quickly, there aren't pages devoted to descriptions or subplots, the story is told in a direct march without tangents, flashbacks or side-arcs.

Only the fifth volume, the Newberry Award winning The High King remains in my reread of the Chronicles of Prydain. I am looking forward to it.