Taran Wanderer, by Lloyd Alexander, was published in 1967 by Henry Holt.
Taran is an Assistant Pig-Keeper no longer; he has become a hero. Now he dreams of winning the hand of the Princess Eilonwy. Eager to find his origins, Taran sets off with the faithful Gurgi on a quest across the marvelous land of Prydain. Their journey takes them to the three witches in the Marshes of Morva, through the many realms of Prydain, and finally to the mystical Mirror of Llunet, which may hold a truth about Taran’s identity that he cannot bear to face. In the course of his travels, Taran will learn much about his world and the good and bad people in it, but will also discover much about himself. After many hard lessons, Taran Wanderer learns the secret of the Mirror of Llunet and of his past—and finds not an ending but a beginning.
Taran Wanderer is the calm before the storm in Prydain—the last trip the hero takes before the final battle. It’s an oddly relaxing, soothing novel, Taran’s inner anguish aside. Maybe the lack of Eilonwy and her tantrums and similes have to do with the mellower mood. Taran basically just travels around Prydain trying to find himself or something like that. Along the way he solves a few problems, vanquishes some bandits, learns stuff about himself, and ultimately becomes the no-longer-whiny-but-still-annoyingly-philosophical-and-noblish-sounding Taran who will go into The High King with much more self-confidence and win the day for all. I’m not sure if I prefer it to The Black Cauldron or The Castle of Llyr, but it certainly has a different feel to it.
Yes, Taran is no longer whiny, but I still find his tone strange. It’s a tad melodramatic in places and just sounds off to me. I’m not sure why. It might be because, as I’ve mentioned before, no one else really talks like he does. But he does at least get some closure over who he is in this book, even if he does go through a plethora of metaphor and symbolism piled into certain occupations.
There’s a bit of lovely symbolism in the book in Taran’s sword(s). Alexander is usually pretty heavy-handed about character development (especially in this book), but the sword was a nice touch, I thought. Also, we can really see all of the lessons Taran has learned in the first three books culminating in his wisdom and ability to help out villagers in danger, which I appreciate even if it does make him seem pretentious at times.
Also, I am now convinced that Prydain has no teenage/young adult girls in existence except for Eilonwy. Boo.
I’m super excited to read The High King because I remember virtually nothing about it except for the end, so here’s hoping Alexander delivers and brings the Chronicles of Prydain to a satisfying end.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Warnings: Some violence, war, death.
Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade
“But what of the salmon of Lake Llew? I’ve never met a wiser fish?”
“Gone,” muttered Orgoch, sucking a tooth. “Long gone.”
“In any case, ousels and fishes are flighty and slippery,” Orddu said. “Something more reliable would serve better. You might, for example, try the Mirror of Llunet.”
“The Mirror of Llunet?” Taran repeated. “I have never heard it spoken of. What is it? Where…”
“Best yet,” Orgoch broke in, “he could stay with us. And the gurgi, too.”