Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Flashbacklist- The Book of Three

Alexander, Lloyd. The Book of Three
March 12th 1964, Holt, Rinehart & Winston
Library copy 

Taran is the assistant to Pig Keeper Coll at the Welsh farm of Dallben, a magician who is 379 years old in a vaguely Medieval period. Hen Wen is  not just any pig, but an oracular one, so when she runs away, Taran must find her. While out looking, he comes across Lord Gwydion and his horse Melyngar, who is looking for advice from the pig. Along with Gurgi, a strange, slovenly creature with annoying speech patterns, the two look for Hen Wen, but are unfortunately captured by Cauldron-Born soldiers of Achren and thrown into the dungeon at the Spiral Castle. Achren is one of the supporters of the Horned King who is terrorizes the countryside. While imprisoned, Taran makes friends with Eilonwy who has been raised by Achren but isn't a fan. She arranges to get Gwydion out of the dungeon, retrieve his horse from the stables, and then come back for Taran so they can all flee together. Unfortunately, she frees Fflewddur Fflam, a traveling minstrel, who isn't very useful. When the Spiral Castle is destroyed, Taran despairs of Gwydion surviving, and reluctantly continues on the journey to find Hen Wen and save the kingdom from the forces of evil. Along the way, the group is helped by Doli, a disappointed dwarf, who wants to be able to turn invisible but can't. Among other adventures (including the requisite underground cave one), the group finds a young gwythaint (a killer bird sort of thing usually associated with the Horned King) and tries to heal it and bring it along with them. Taran eventually makes it back to Caer Dallben, which doesn't seem so boring now, especially since Taran's adventures are just beginning. 
Strengths: I've long thought of this series as "Tolkien Lite". It has many of the same elements: magicians, bands of travelers, forces of evil, and a band of travelers, but the book is much more quickly paced, has fewer characters, and is just easier to read. I won't go as far as to say that The Book of Three is the first modern, middle grade Medieval fantasy series, but... if you don't include The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, what other contenders would there be? I've recommended this for years, and it's always been popular. I can definitely see why. I used to think that the first three chapters got off to a slow start, but really, it's just the first chapter. 
Weaknesses: Having read hundreds of other fantasy books over the years, this seems a little simplistic, but it's a great introduction to the genre for new readers. 
What I really think: I have multiple copies of this and don't feel bad about that at all. My favorite copies are the 1999 Henry Holt editions, which were printed on acid free paper that has held up really well. I am sad that my own children didn't read them; the hardcover set that I bought for them has gotten much more use in the library!

This should never be published with anything but the amazing 1964 cover! The colors, the weird art style-- so perfect. Again, this 1999 reissue was brilliant. I wish I had the whole set in these bindings. 

Ms. Yingling


  1. I agree with you! Tolkien-lite! I loved this series as a kid in elementary school though it scared me a little! The cauldrons and the undead people ...shudder.

  2. You're absolutely right--that 1964 cover is so perfect that it should be the cover forever!

  3. Oh, I should reread these! They make me so happy.