Taran Wanderer by Lloyd Alexander: A search for identity
Fourth book in the Chronicles of Prydain
Overall rating: 8.5/10
Quality of writing: 9/10
Concerning content (language, violence, etc.): minimal
Age level: 8 and up
Taran, protagonist of the previous three books in the Chronicles of Prydain, sets out to discover the identity of his parents, in a journey that takes him across the entire realm of Prydain. However, he learns more than he bargained for along the way as he encounters several characters who teach him that his quest may be less important than he thought. More episodic in structure than other volumes in the series, Taran Wanderer explores themes of coming-of-age and identity primarily through the detailed characters of Lloyd Alexander’s fictional land, Prydain, and through the personal struggles of Taran.
The plot of Taran Wanderer is somewhat divided. At the beginning of the story, Taran sets out to seek the “Mirror of Llunet,” a fabled site that he hopes will yield information about his birth parents. However, the storyline quickly takes a turn as unforeseen difficulties arise, causing Taran to spend most of the book’s middle section wandering the “cantrevs” (or regions) of Prydain, working in various jobs to determine what his role in life should be. Throughout this section, Taran spends several “episodes” working with different characters and is offered various options to move forward in life with (jobs as a potter, herdsman, farmer, or smith; a position as an heir to a small kingdom, etc) but ultimately refuses them all and continues his undirected journey, along the way defeating an evil wizard and a group of bandits. Only at the very end of the book does Taran (unintentionally) finally stumble upon the Mirror of Llunet and thus “accomplish” his quest to discover his identity.
This book does not have an entirely cohesive plot, considering its episodic structure; despite this, the entire story is unified by the common theme of Taran’s search for identity. While this is a significant difference from the other Chronicles of Prydain, it isn’t necessarily one for the worse. On the whole, however, based on Taran Wanderer’s looser plot structure, it receives a 7.5/10 on plot.
As in the other Chronicles of Prydain, Alexander continues to introduce well-crafted characters in Taran Wanderer. The device of Taran’s “wandering” allows readers to meet the inhabitants of previously-unseen areas of Prydain, ranging from evil characters like the wizard Morda to humorous ones such as “Llonio son of Llonwen,” a happy-go-lucky peasant who lives on materials he scrounges from a river. Alexander keeps the cast of this story fresh by introducing many new characters such as these, while maintaining continuity by repeating characters from previous books, such as Doli, Fflewdur Fflam (my personal favorite—a bard whose harp strings break any time he “stretches the truth”), and Gurgi. Overall, Alexander’s use of well-written characters both new and old merits Taran Wanderer a 9/10 on characters.
Taran Wanderer is not a difficult work to read: it is relatively short, and incorporates relatively little confusing language beyond the occasional archaism. While the plot is admittedly less straightforward than the other books in the series, it is still comparatively easy to follow, even for younger readers. Overall, Taran Wanderer has no significant difficulty concerns and gets a 3/10 on difficulty.
Quality of writing
Lloyd Alexander does a commendable job of exploring complex (for a children’s book) themes in an accessible and engaging style in Taran Wanderer. Pointing readers to the essential lesson that one’s worth is not defined by “noble blood” or birth parents, Alexander’s work is satisfyingly meaningful, but strikes a nice balance between abstract ideas and action. Furthermore, as I mentioned above, Alexander’s characters (in my mind, one of the best features of his writing) are detailed and interesting, and their setting, the realm of Prydain (which Alexander based on Wales) is correspondingly detailed. (9/10)
Taran Wanderer has practically no concerning content, whether violence, language, or sexual issues. There are only a few scenes involving fighting (in all of which description of violence is minimized), and the only considerations as far as combat are a few scenes in which characters are stabbed or punched. In addition to these, there are a few potentially “scary” scenes (at least for younger readers), most notably the one in which the protagonists encounter the evil wizard Morda, who turns some of them into animals. However, the level of concerning content overall in this book is minimal.
Due to this book’s shorter length, accessible style, and low level of concerning content, it is recommended for ages 8 and up.