hen reviewing a disappointing Young Adult novel, I made a comment like this: "I recommend skipping this book and reading something else, such as The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander." My own remark
made me wonder - should I go back and reread The Chronicles of Prydain? It has been nearly 50 years since I read them, would I still enjoy them as much? And then I thought - did Lloyd Alexander ever write anything else? It turns out that Alexander
was quite prolific - Wikipedia lists 48 books by him. Who knew? Since our library had a copy of The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen, I decided to read it.
The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen is set in a mythological Chinese kingdom of T'Ang. A sorcerer named Master Wu wanders into the palace and demands an audience with the king. Master Wu
describes the excellence governance of the marvellous kingdom of T'ien-kuo. The king longs to visit T'ien-kuo and learn the secrets of ruling a kingdom wisely, but is tied to his palace by responsibilities, therefore an ambassador must be sent in his place. The son of the king is
Prince Jen. Prince Jen, who has been listening to the sorcerer converse with his father, volunteers to go himself. However, to visit the legendary court of T'ien-kuo, Prince Jen must bring impressive and costly gifts so that he will be
taught the secrets of good governance.
Master Wu agrees that Prince Jen must bear gifts, but ordinary gold ornaments won't impress the king of T'ien-kuo. Master Wu searches through the treasure rooms of the palace to find six appropriate gifts - he selects an ordinary looking saddle,
a simple bowl, a kite, an ink stone with a brush, a sword and a flute. Although these don't look at all impressive, Prince Jen takes these items, along with a warrant with the seal of the king, and sets forth on this journey. Accompanying Prince Jen is an escort of soldiers and
his loyal portly servant, the silly Mafoo.
Naturally, obstacles arise in the path of the Prince. Each of the six items that Prince Jen carries turns out to have a vital purpose to play in the journey.
Along the way, Prince Jen encounters villains and rogues and helpful loyal citizens of his kingdom. Naturally, he loses his warrant and escort, and so no one believes he is actually the Prince he claims to be. These leads to Prince Jen seeing a
different viewpoint of the kingdom than the one ordinarily seen by the royalty.
There is a dangerous leader called Natha, brutal head of the band of Yellow Scarfs that rob through out the kingdom. There is a thief called Moxa with a strange set of principles. There is a spirited servant girl called Voyaging Moon, who turns out to be
an expert flutist. Plus, a series of old men turn up opportune times - they have the names Master Fu, Master Shu and Master Chu, but the reader suspects that they are all Master Wu in disguise.
I was amused by some of the dialogue in this book, so I reproduced it here. This first excerpt is from the scene where Prince Jen volunteers to be the ambassador to the kingdom of T'ien-kuo:
“Young Lord, be careful,” Mafoo whispered. “I know you’re good-natured, well-meaning, kindly, with a sweet and innocent nature. Therefore, you are about to do something stupid.”
“Honored Father,” Jen continued, “let me make the journey.”
“I knew it!” groaned Mafoo.
In this scene, Prince Jen meets Voyaging Moon in a village that is terrorized by the Yellow Scarfs:
“In other words, I’m to travel secretly? Furtively?” said Prince Jen. “Do you think it is honorable for me to skulk like a coward through my own kingdom?”
“I’d have supposed that skulking was part of a princely education,” Voyaging Moon said.
“Certainly not,” retorted Jen.
“Then here’s a chance to learn,” said Voyaging Moon.
Finally, from Prince Jen's first encounter with the principled thief Moxa:
“You were the one playing,” Moxa said, with an adoring glance at Voyaging Moon. He jumped to his feet, his eyes alight. “Amazing sensation! It made me think of home and loved ones. Not that I ever had any, but I thought of them, even so….”
I am not sure if the tale told here is based upon an actual Chinese fairy tale, or if Lloyd Alexander invented the entire story. But it is a fun read. Maybe I should go back and reread The Chronicles of Prydain, copies of which still sit on my bookshelves.