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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Foundling: And Other Tales of Prydain (The Chronicles of Prydain)

The Foundling: And Other Tales of Prydain (The Chronicles of Prydain)

by Lloyd Alexander

Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. BYR Paperbacks (May 16, 2006)

ISBN-10: 0805080538


Lest anyone be super impressed that I’ve managed to finish another book this week; this book is neither long, nor is it “difficult” reading in any sense of the word. This is not to say it’s not worthwhile, merely that it isn’t something I’d pick up if you’re looking for a serious intellectual challenge.


The Foundling is a collection of short stories set in the same setting as Lloyd Alexander’s more well-known and popular Chronicles of Prydain; essentially, it’s a prequel book, adding some detail to the original chronicles, or filling in a few unanswered questions. It includes the story of how Dalben was raised by Ordu, Orwen, and Orgach; how Coll saved Hen Wen from the clutches of Arawn Death Lord; how Fflewddur Fflam got a hold of that damnable harp of his in the first place; and the story of why the great sword Dyrnwyn is, in fact, black. The last is perhaps the most disturbing of all the stories, in keep with Alexander’s penchant for writing children’s stories with some seriously adult undertones.


While I enjoyed these stories, I have to confess that I was a little disappointed. I think, honestly, that my expectations were a bit to high; the depth and detail of the original Prydain chronicles is somewhat muted in many of these stories, which read more like a pseudo-Welsh version of Aesop’s Fables. Many of them have a very clear “moral” that, while never stated directly (“the moral of this story is…”), is pretty apparent from the reading. And while the stories do serve to fill n some background information, some of them, like Dalban’s, tell us very little that we didn’t already know. Coll’s story is the only one that really puts a big spin on what we learn in the original Chronicles, and I’m not sure I’m entirely satisfied with that spin. But it works well-enough, I think, in context.


Those who enjoyed the original Chronicles of Prydain should enjoy these stories as well; for readers not familiar with Alexander’s work, I would start with the original Chronicles first, which are a lot deeper and more interesting. Certainly, any child who enjoyed the Chronicles would probably enjoy these too, and might not notice some of the issues I’m finding. Worth adding to the bookshelf, if this is your thing.

Friday, September 12, 2008



by Ursula K. Le Guin

Publisher: Harcourt; 1 edition (April 21, 2008)

ISBN-10: 0151014248

When my father told me that Ursula LeGuin had put out a new novel, I was, as I usually am, ecstatic. LeGuin is one of my all time favorite authors, and I can’t think of time when she’s written something that has somehow failed to engage, entertain, or intrigue me. The fact that she was, apparently, riffing off Virgil’s Aeneid was just icing on the cake for this poor excuse for a classical studies major.

When the book arrived, I found myself looking at the cover and suddenly wondering what the heck this book was about. As much as I tried, I could not remember the character of Lavinia from my previous readings of the Aeneid in the slightest (the best I could do was to temporarily confuse her with Dido). My guilt at my poor powers of memory was a bit assuaged when, after some checking, I realized that Lavinia only barely appears within the Aeneid, and never speaks at all. It’s no surprise I don’t remember her. Indeed, it’s a wonder that many people do.

The notion of taking an old story and telling a different side of it is a popular one these days, and I confess I’m not terribly up on the sub-genre (which seems to include things like The Red Tent, Mists of Avalon, and Lady Macbeth, among others), so I can’t compare it fairly to other authors efforts. It is a sub-genre that seems potentially filled with a lot of anger; how easy would it be for Lavinia (or any of these voiceless women) to rage against the world that so long ignored them? How simple would it be to tell a story about how the men screwed everything up, and the women were doing everything right?

Easy though it might be, LeGuin doesn’t do anything of the kind. Her Lavinia (who is curiously aware of her meta-fictional existence) is very, well, ancient Roman. She is strong, but conscious of her duty. She has a strong sense of the importance of family. She genuinely loves Aeneas, and her insights into Aeneas are interesting, and very much in line with what I remember of the Aeneid (which I confess is precious little). The entire story is told by Lavinia herself, a decision that allows LeGuin to really get into her protagonists mind, and produce a very different, interesting, and very real vision of a part of the Aeneid that Virgil did not get to.

I think that is the thing that makes me enjoy Lavinia so much; it is LeGuin’s addition to the myth. Not a refutation, or an attack, but merely another side of part of the story. A side as compelling, powerful, and insightful as the original itself. Unquestionably worth the read.

Next time: I have no idea. Not really sure what to read next, though I’m tempted to read the Aeneid again. I’ll have to go scan the shelves.