Bizarre Title Day: The Book of Three

The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander. 1964.

The heavy info-drop at the start of this book made me put it aside several times. The only reason I plugged ahead was because I had to complete this list!

I’m mixed. On one had the action is compelling and well-done and the plot moves fairly smoothly (i.e., not the “video game” plotline present in so many fantasy novels—like “we must rescue the enchantress but first we need the magic key but to get the magic key we must defeat the octagonal ogre but to defeat the octagonal ogre we need a dragon’s egg that can only be had as reward for aiding the chicken in his quest to cross the road!”). The similarities to Tolkien (The Hobbit published in 1937) were striking. A Gollum-like creature (Gurgi), and Taran is Sam to Gwydion’s Frodo for a good bit of the beginning. Yet this one is very much more, ahem, feminist than Tolkien. The female has a speaking role! And doesn’t end up embracing domesticity at the end (though maybe she will in future books. It’s still incredible, especially for the early ‘60s). And the plot takes many fascinating, unexpected, and un-Tolkien-like turns.

So, in short, I didn’t appreciate the info-dump at the head, as mentioned, nor the summing-up at the end. But both were far and away less tedious than Tolkien’s councils of Elrond and the like. Some notes on content:

  • Taran’s move from Assistant Pig Keeper to hero is believable and subtle—nicely done. An especially poignant passage on p119, “To him, the bright morning felt deceptively gentle; the golden trees seemed to cover dark shadows. He shuddered even in the warmth.” He’s seeing with new eyes, growing, changing.
  • But all this to-do over an ocular pig? Tolkien never had to argue the Ents into existence, nor Hobbits, but grown men seeking divination from a sow ... I needed some convincing that I never received.