David Bruce: Lloyd Alexander’s THE BOOK OF THREE: A Discussion Guide — Chapters 1-2

Chapter 1: The Assistant Pig-Keeper

What is Prydain?

Prydain is a mythical kingdom that resembles Wales.

Some of the characters in the Chronicles of Prydain come from Welsh mythology; however, the main characters, Taran and Princess Eilonwy, come from Lloyd Alexander’s imagination.

These characters come (roughly) from Welsh mythology:

Dallben the enchanter

Hen Wen, the oracular pig

Prince Gwydion

What does “caer” mean? What is a “cantrev”?

“Caer” is a Welsh term that can be translated as a royal residence. Often, it can be translated as castle, palace, or fort. It can be the home of a king, or it can be a fortification.

We discover the meaning of the word “cantrev” on p. 13. A cantrev is a small kingdom. In Prydain, a High King rules the cantrevs.

What do we learn about Taran in Chapter 1?

We learn that Taran is hasty and impetuous.

Evidence: He wants to make a sword, so he grabs some hot metal and starts pounding away at it, not even realizing that the metal is the wrong kind for a sword.

Evidence: He wants to look at The Book of Three, so when Dallben is meditating (asleep), he grabs it, and it burns his fingers.

We learn that Taran dreams of being a warrior.

Evidence: The war leader Prince Gwydion mightily impresses Taran.

Evidence: Taran wants to learn how to fight with swords.

Taran is on the verge of being a man.

Evidence: Dallben says to Taran, “You are barely on the threshold of manhood …” (15).

We will see Taran fighting with swords in this novel. That is a characteristic of adventure novels written for children: The child heroes often do feats of arms that would be impossible for children in real life.

Taran is somewhat unhappy with his life. He wishes to do great things.

Taran, of course, is an Assistant Pig-Keeper. His main duty is to take care of Hen Wen, the oracular pig. He would prefer to be a war leader.

Taran has a good family life.

No women are in Taran’s household, although he will meet a girl later. Clearly, Dallben and Coll take care of and love Taran.

What do we learn about Coll in Chapter 1?

Coll is stout and bald-headed.

Coll is knowledgeable about the arts of peace — and of war. He is a blacksmith. He knows about the metal for making swords. Coll does teach Taran a little about the art of fighting with swords.

Coll gives Taran the title of Assistant Pig-Keeper. Since Taran is the Assistant, that makes Coll the Chief Pig-Keeper.

Clearly, Coll cares for Taran.

What do we learn about Dallben in Chapter 1?

Dallben is in part a humorous character. He meditates after breakfast and later in the day. Because meditating is so exhausting, he does it lying down with his eyes closed. (In other words, he takes a nap.)

Dallben is 379 years old, and he has a white beard that mostly covers his face. (Prydain is a magical place, after all.)

Dallben is a wise enchanter.

Dallben loves Taran and looks after him.

Dallben realizes that Taran is growing up.

Dallben is on the side of good, as are Coll and Taran.

What is The Book of Three?

The Book of Threeis a magical book. It holds wisdom. It is enchanted. When Taran tries to sneak a look at it, it burns his fingers. Dallben has to tell Taran to have Coll treat his fingers; otherwise, his fingers may blister.

In The Black Cauldron, we find out more about The Book of Three.In The Foundling: and Other Tales of Prydain, we also find out more about The Book of Three.

What does the “three” refer to? In The Black Cauldron, we find out that The Book of Threeused to belong to three enchantresses. Perhaps that is where the “three” comes from.

What do we learn about the Horned King in Chapter 1?

The Horned King is on the side of evil.

No one sees the Horned King’s face; instead, they see the antlered mask he wears.

No one knows the Horned King’s name.

The Horned King is reputed to be as powerful as — or more powerful than — Gwydion.

What do we learn about the High King in Chapter 1?

Prydain is a small kingdom. It is divided into many smaller kingdom called cantrevs.

Still, one king who is called the High King rules Prydain.

Gwydion is the High King’s war leader.

Math is the High King.

Prydain has its own mythology. The Lady Don had as her consort Belin, King of the Sun. From the Summer Country they migrated to Prydain. They have built a stronghold called Caer Dathyl, which lies in the North. The Dons protect Prydain against evil. Math is a descendant of the House of Don.

What do we learn about Prince Gwydion in Chapter 1?

Gwydion is on the side of good.

Gwydion is the War Leader of Math, the High King.

Taran admires Gwydion and wishes that he could also be a war leader.

Gwydion is powerful, but his enemies may be even more powerful.

What do we learn about Hen Wen in Chapter 1?

Hen Wen is a special pig; she is an oracular pig, which means that she can foretell the future in some way. (The process involves letter sticks.)

Hen Wen is the only oracular pig in Prydain.

Hen Wen has a good life. She sleeps until noon, then moves to a shady spot and lies down. Taran scrubs her every second day.

How does Taran get the title of Assistant Pig-Keeper?

Taran longs to make a name for himself. He wants to be somebody. Therefore, Coll gives him a title: Assistant Pig-Keeper.

Actually, the title seems to be fairly meaningless. Taran will continue to do what he has always done: help Coll to take care of Hen Wen.

However, the title denotes humility. Taran will mostly avoid the excesses of pride as he grows up — and definitely after he grows up.

What is your opinion of the way that Chapter 1 ends?

Chapter 1 ends with things happening. The bees swarm although it is not their time to swarm. The chickens attempt to fly away. Hen Wen panics and runs to the forest.

Obviously, the animals are afraid of something.

Taran runs after Hen Wen to find her in the forest.

This chapter ends in a bit of a cliffhanger.

Discuss the theme of education in Chapter 1. How does Taran’s education progress (if it does)?

Coll speaks of “the three foundations of learning: see much, study much, suffer much” (18).

Taran learns a very little about fighting with swords from Coll.

Dallben and Coll are teaching Taran.

Taran may be learning not to be hasty. His attempt to make a sword fails utterly.

Taran learns not to attempt to sneak a look at The Book of Three.

Taran certainly has potential. He tries to stop Hen Wen from running away, and he runs after her to find her in the forest.

Taran does admire heroism on the side of good. He has good role models, although he wants to grow up too fast.

Chapter 2: The Mask of the King

What do we learn about the Masked King in Chapter 2?

In Chapter 2, we see the Masked King when Taran runs across him.

We learn that his followers are evil. One of his followers slashes Taran with a sword across his back.

We learn that the Masked King is seeking Hen Wen, the oracular pig.

What do we learn about Prince Gwydion in Chapter 2?

Prince Gwydion has many good qualities.

He takes care of Taran and recognizes that Taran has been slashed with a sword across his back.

Gwydion is an adult man. He is a war leader, and he acts and looks like a war leader. Taran is surprised to see Gwydion in a travel-stained cloak, but of course that is exactly what he ought to be wearing.

Gwydion occasionally works alone. Of course, at times Gwydion is a leader, but on this quest, he is alone (until he runs across Taran).

Gwydion has a prince’s sword. That is how Taran recognizes who Prince Gwydion really is.

Gwydion recognizes that there is a proper time for things to be done.

Taran is eager to get back on the trail of Hen Wen, but Gwydion points out that it is night, and no one can find and follow a trail at night.

Gwydion is brave. He values his life, and he would not risk it unnecessarily, but he vows to fight the Horned King — a fight that only one warrior will walk away from.

Gwydion is not overly proud. He values his life highly, but he does not believe that his life is worth more than another man’s life.

More evidence that Gwydion is not overly proud: He wonders if Taran is supposed to help him in his quest — or if he is supposed to help Taran in Taran’s quest.

Gwydion knows both Coll and Dallben.

What are Arawn and Annuvin?

We have found out a little about them in Chapter 1 as well as in this chapter.

Arawn: the bad guy of the novel. He threatens the land of Prydain.

Annuvin: a place of evil, where Arawn rules.

What is Melyngar?

Melyngar is Gwydion’s horse.

Melyngar is a white horse.

Who is helping whom in whose quest?

This is something that Gwydion wonders about. Gwydion, of course, is seeking Hen Wen, as is Taran. Both have quests.

Perhaps each is helping the other in the other’s quest.

Students may want to ask themselves what is their own quest.

Discuss the theme of education in Chapter 2. How does Taran’s education progress (if it does)?

Taran learns — or could learn — many things in this chapter:

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