Review of ‘The Castle of Llyr’ by Lloyd Alexander

‘The Castle of Llyr’ is the third installment in Lloyd Alexander’s ‘Chronicles of Prydain’ series and, for me, it’s possibly the most memorable. I’ve said before that ‘The Black Cauldron’ is my favorite of the series, and that holds, but ‘The Castle of Llyr’ stands out for me because it has a different feel from the other novels.

‘The Book of Three’ and ‘The Black Cauldron’ always sort of run together in my mind for some reason. I always think the three witches are in ‘The Book of Three’ and they’re not. And the series finale, ‘The High King,’ is in the same mold as the first two. High epic fantasy. Big deeds. Dering do. Sacrifices are made. Things of consequence happen that affect the entire realm of Prydain. We see all of our favorite characters in each of these three tales.

Not so, in ‘The Castle of Llyr.” Doli is conspicuously missing, and Eilonwy is part of the story but not wholly there. Their absence is felt.

And while there are certainly things of consequence that happen in ‘The Castle of Llyr,’ they’re on a smaller, more personal scale. Not quite the personal scale of the fourth book, ‘Taran Wanderer,’ but well on its way.

Taran is growing into a young man and knows how he feels about Eilonwy even if he doesn’t quite understand the finer aspects. An old foe emerges from the mists and seeks to regain lost power at the cost of one of, and quite possibly, the rest of our heroes’ lives. It doesn’t seem as though the fate of Prydain is at stake here. Certainly, it may suffer consequences, but Arawn and the Horned King aren’t here. Nor are the Huntsmen of Annuvin or the dreaded Cauldron Born.

I like big, grand, epic stories.

But I also like the small ones, too. ‘Castle of Llyr’ is a smaller tale.

I’ve read ‘The Castle of Llyr’ a few times. Maybe twenty. Maybe thirty. Between fifth and eighth grade I went through a phase where I’d take these out of my middle school library and read one book of the series each week, multiple times, rotating through them. I loved them then, and I love them now. For me, my greatest fear, presently, with regards to each of them is that they would not stand the test of time.

Well, I’m three for three now in the series, and they’ve all stood up tall and proud. I’ve said it before, but rereading these is like seeing a friend I haven’t seen in thirty years and just picking up where we left off. It’s going back to my parents’ house for Sunday dinner. It’s going home after a long shift and curling up on the couch.

And I’m constantly amazed at how Alexander can convey so much with so little. His writing is so streamlined and spare and constantly beautiful. He says in five words what it would take me a paragraph to convey. And he does it better. Always.

So read “The Castle of Llyr.” You’ll love it.

Just make sure you start the series at the beginning.

– Kevin Wright

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