Right, I had three books tied for favorite read this past month (Anvil of Tears – crazy intense characters, The All-Pro – football and space battles, and The MVP – love on the battle(football) field and stealing spaceships) so I couldn't pick one to review this month.
Instead, I'm gonna talk about the book I found the most useful – The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander.
I read this book when I was a child, and while I usually remember what I read pretty well I was surprised at how much of the story I didn't remember.
It's about Taran, the Assistant Pig Keeper, whose job it is to take care of Hen Wen, the oracle pig. The only problem is, Arawn is planning on taking over Prydain and when Hen senses his soldiers she takes off into the woods. Taran scrambles to find her, and meets Prince Gwydion in the woods who had been hoping to speak to Hen Wen. Together they search for the pig, but when they learn that Arawn's strength is greater than expected, and Gwydion is captured by a witch, Taran forces himself to forget his quest for Hen Wig and take up Gwydion's – save the Prydain.
Alexender's writing is, while not something I want to emulate is a example of many good things to me as a writer. Prydain is a land richly built around traditional Welsh figures and legends, with original characters and folk names interacting seamlessly together. The story could be Welsh myth itself; it's not a story based on Welsh culture but one that takes on the feel of it.
I love his characters. Princess Eilonwy is a smart girl, talking circles around Taran, and the dialog between them is so reminiscent of a young couple. He makes comments that set her off and she disses him for being so ignorant. I could just see him rolling his eyes and muttering 'girls'. The Bard/King Fflewddur Fflam has a problem with lying, his hard strings snapping every time he does. Doli the Dwarf complains about everything he's asked to do, he has the special talent of making himself invisible, but you can tell he secretly likes it. And Gurgi's dialog is as distinctive as Gollum's, though he's a lot more friendly. If you feed him.
The plot is full of adventure and mishaps, the companions are always in some type of trouble. Getting captured by a fairy king, chased by the undead Cauldron born. But what got to me the most was that Taran, despite being the protagonist, isn't actually responsible for getting them out of most of their troubles.
He's a perfect flawed character, making mistakes due to pride and inflated self-knowledge, and gets himself into lot of of trouble. It's his friends who have sword skills and magic at their fingertips, Taran just knows how to ride a horse. His role is not to save the world, but rather to act as a glue keeping people together. His decisions, while not always correct and ear him a tongue lashing from Eilonwy, are usually followed.
The Book of Three shows that not everyone is a hero, but that doesn't mean they aren't significant.
It was a refreshing thing to see – lots of plot points happen outside of Taran's awareness and his story is not the most important in the history of the land. But it's important to him and to read a story where the hero doesn't have to save the day, but just try, is something so new to me. So many stories involve the main characters being heroes – Harry Potter, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Avengers. When do you hear about someone's roll in saving the world when they didn't really have one?
And that's what Alexander taught me. All characters are important. They all have a story worth telling not just in side stories and back story, but in their own novels. And that there is more to being a hero than taking down the bad guy.