Sep 29, 2008

The Foundling by Lloyd Alexander + Weekly Geeks, Banned Book Week and BAFAB

In this prequel to Lloyd Alexander’s famous Prydain chronicles, we find eight short tales that take place long before the events told in the series. For this reason, this is a book that those who are not familiar with Prydain can enjoy without the risk of finding any spoilers for the rest of the series.

Of course, those who do know the series will find this book even more rewarding. Many familiar characters are to be found in these pages. In "The Foundling", Dallben the wizard is found by Orddu, Orwen and Orgoch in the Marshes of Moria when he’s only a baby, and later comes to possess the famous Book of Three, a book with the knowledge of all that ever was and all that will ever be. In another tale, Doli, the bad-tempered member of the Fair Folk, gives a farmer a stone that keeps him from growing old, and the unlucky farmer soon learns the real meaning of the saying “Be careful what you wish for…” "The True Enchanter" shows us that Princess Angharad, Eiolonwy’s mother, is very much like her daughter. Medwy, the protector of animals, is seen in a tale aptly titled “The Rascal Crow.” In “The Truthful Art”, we learn how Fflewddur Fflam came to possess his very special instrument.

All of the tales had something of the timelessness of myths or fairy tales. Their only flaw was being too short - the book as a whole is only 98 pages long. But they made me want to read the Prydain books all over again.

In the introduction, Lloyd Alexander says the following about this series: “Inspired original by Welsh legend, the tales, for me, have grown to be much more personal than mythological.” This progression from mythological, or epic, to personal and introspective is very noticeable in the books, and it’s the reason why I love Taran Wanderer so much more than The Book of Three. Interestingly enough, a similar progression can be see in some of my other favourite series, namely Earthsea and Discworld.

The Foundling reminded me of how much I love Prydain. I first read the books at a time when I really needed a story I could lose myself in, and they provided exactly that. I always hesitate to use the word “escapism” because it’s so often used so dismissively, as if losing ourselves in a story were a Reproachable and Shameful Thing. But there's something else: I don’t think we actually completely escape ourselves when we read. We become someone else for the duration of the book, yes, and we stop thinking about our problems directly for a while. But I think that’s exactly why reading so often helps us come up with new ways of looking at things, why it helps us find new insights. We step outside ourselves, and when we return we see the world differently.

I posted this once before, but there's always room for a Terry Pratchett quote in a post, so here it goes again:
As for escapism, I'm quite happy about the word. There is nothing wrong with escapism. The key points of consideration, though, are what you are escaping from, and where you are escaping to. (...) The other worlds out there in space got me interested in this one down here. It is a small mental step from time travel to palaeontology, from sword 'n' sorcery fantasy to mythology and ancient history. Truth is stranger than fiction; nothing in fantasy enthralled me as much as reading of the evolution of mankind from proto-blob to newt, tree shrew, Oxbridge arts graduate and eventually to tool-using mammal. (...) As far as I am concerned, escapist literature let me escape to the real world.
It lets me escape to the real world too.

(I couldn't find any other blog reviews of this book....if you have one, let me know.)

This week's Weekly Geeks theme is to compile a list of our favourite books published in 2008. This is easy for me, because I rarely read new books. I normally wait to buy the paperback editions, not only because they are less costly, but also because they're lighter and I always carry my books around. And since I don't have access to a library that would have new books, wait I must. Sometimes I make exceptions, though, namely for my very favourite authors. Other times I'm lucky enough to have a new book sent to me.

The following three books are probably the only books published in 2008 that I've read, but I'm sure they'd be among my favourites even if I had read dozens:
Also, I'm sure that The Graveyard Book will end up joining my list when I get to read it. When that will be will depend on Amazon's whims. Currently they don't seem much inclined to send the book to me, even though I pre-ordered it a month ago. Sigh.

As most of you must know, this week is Banned Books week. I'd like to celebrate by reading at least one banned book this week, but we'll see how that goes... normally the week is over before I have time to do even half of what I'd planned.

But anyway, several other bloggers are celebrating. For example, Heather is compiling a list of reviews of banned books, so if you have any, leave her your links. And
Jennie is giving away one banned book of the winner's choice. Click here for details.

And finally, October 1st-7th is Buy a Friend a Book Week. Dewey is giving away a book of the winner's choice, and all you have to do to be entered is help her spread the word about the Read-a-thon. I haven't joined BAFAB Week since the April edition, so I think I will again this time. More on that soon!


  1. I like what you wrote about escapism... I am definitely reading for 'escape' right now but I agree -- it's not a Bad Thing, it's a way to get out of yourself for awhile and think about things differently. You articulated it very well. Thanks!

  2. "I don’t think we actually completely escape ourselves when we read. We become someone else for the duration of the book, yes, and we stop thinking about our problems directly for a while. But I think that’s exactly why reading so often helps us come up with new ways of looking at things, why it helps us find new insights. We step outside ourselves, and when we return we see the world differently."

    Just so you know, I just put that in my quotes journal :) That's so completely true and I've never heard it said especially rang true today on a day that I needed escapism.

    You know I've never read The Prydain Chronicles. I've always had this aversion to them for some reason and I have absolutely no reason for that at all, lol. I'll have to make myself read them one day and I'm sure I'll end up enjoying them.

  3. Thanks for linking to me, and for all the reviews you've submitted so far. It will be a great post when its finished!

  4. you have been tagged:

  5. I love the Prydain books, although I've never read this one. I'll have to remedy that. I've been meaning to reread them (maybe read-alouds to my kids). That is an interesting insight about the way the books go from more iconic to more personal - I felt the same way, reading them, and enjoyed Taran Wanderer much more, too!

  6. Hi Nymeth, I have a couple of the listed banned books such as Madame Bovary, Anne Frank, The Colour Purple (read), Farenheit 451 (read), To Kill a Mockingbird (read), etc.

    I can't wait for Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book to come to Malaysia! So excited!

  7. This post makes me want to pick up the Prydain books again and give them another shot... I think my problem was that I'd read them right after I'd read a bunch of other, very similar fantasy, so they didn't impress me that much. But maybe on a second try, if I can find a fantasy-light time in my reading diet.

  8. Nymeth, can you believe that I still haven't got a copy of Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman yet?!

    I'm hoping you'll receive a copy of The Graveyard Book soon! :)

  9. I read the Prydain books eons of years ago.. so much so, I can't say I remember them, all I remember is I had them in a boxed set, and I guess thru divorce and moves they disappeared.. one day i need to get them again..
    The cover on this one is great! (but I'm not a short story person so I'll pass)..

  10. Daphne, I'm glad you agree! I think this is something we all need to do every now and then and books are the perfect way.

    Chris, I'm honoured to be in your quotes journal :D And I do think you'd probably enjoy Prydain. This little book would be a good way to find out, actually, It's really short and it gives you a good idea of what to expect from his writing.

    Heather, you're welcome! I bet it will be a great post :)

    Serena: I'll do the meme soon!

    Kim, thank you :D

    Darla: You'll enjoy this one for sure :) And I want to re-read the series too...especially now that I revisited some of the characters through these stories.

    Alice: I'm sure Heather will really appreciate your links! And yay for The Graveyard Book...I'm very excited too :)

    Fyrefly: I hope you enjoy them more the second time around! I can totally see how having read similar fantasies before would make them less memorable.

    Melody, I hope you find a copy soon!

    Deslily: I love the cover too. And do get them again. I'd love to get a boxed set...I got mine used and they aren't the prettiest editions, so when I replace them eventually I will look for that.

  11. His books were really popular when I was in middle school (I volunteered in the school library and had to re-shelve many of these). I've never read any of them but they do sound like something I might like!

  12. hmmm--so I haven't read any of the three book you mentioned but I have read two of the authors for the first time this year! And mostly thanks to you :)

  13. Ladytink: I hope you enjoy them when you get to them :)

    Trish: The fact that I encouraged you to read Terry and Neil makes me very happy :D

  14. I've never read any of these books but I sure love the cover art.

  15. Dar, it really is pretty, isn't it? :)

  16. This is a very old post I know. But I have a question. Is it a good idea to read the Foundling first. Or do you think I should re-read the Prydain chronicles first. I loved them when I was a kid but have completely forgotten them and decided to read them again. I know you said there's no spoilers for the series later but would it still be best to be introduced to the characters through the series first and read these short stories later? Thanks.

  17. Anon: It might be a good idea to revisit the series first, yes. The stories makes perfect sense in themselves, but you'll get more out of them if you remember the characters well.


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