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The Chronicles of Prydain and Other Fantastic Children's Books by Lloyd Alexander

Newbery Award-winning author Lloyd Alexander wrote more than 50 novels in his lifetime, the majority of which were meant for children and young adults.

Lloyd Alexander books

Born in 1924, legendary children’s author Lloyd Alexander grew up in Philadelphia during the Great Depression, where he taught himself to read by the age of four. “My parents never cracked a book,” he told the Christian Science Monitor, “just newspapers. But they had lots of books. They bought them at the Salvation Army to fill up empty shelves.”

Thus began a career that would eventually net Alexander the Newbery Medal and two National Book Awards, and make him a beloved figure in literature for children and young adults. His most popular series, The Chronicles of Prydain, was adapted into the Walt Disney animated film The Black Cauldron in 1985, and he was a co-creator of the children’s literary magazine Cricket in 1973, the goal of which was to create “The New Yorker for children.” He also served on the magazine’s editorial board.

Though his first novel—an autobiographical satire about his work as a bank messenger when he was younger—wasn’t published until he was 31 years old, and he didn’t begin his most popular series until he was in his 40s, Lloyd Alexander published nearly 50 novels in his lifetime, most of them for children and young adults. For those who haven’t read the works of this master of children’s letters, or those who have only approached his best-known series, here are some of Lloyd Alexander’s most iconic books …

The Chronicles of Prydain

'The Book of Three' by Lloyd Alexander features a boy hiding from a man on a horse in the woods

The Book of Three

By Lloyd Alexander

Inspired heavily by Alexander’s interest in Welsh mythology, The Book of Three introduces readers to Taran, an assistant pig-keeper with a greater destiny, and kicks off The Chronicles of Prydain, Alexander’s best-known and most beloved fantasy series. Many of the elements of this book were later reused in the Walt Disney film The Black Cauldron, including the villainous Horned King, and the five-volume Prydain series became Alexander’s most popular work. 

'The Black Cauldron' by Lloyd Alexander

The Black Cauldron

By Lloyd Alexander

The second book of The Chronicles of Prydain lent more plot elements—and its title—to the Disney animated film. After the events of the first book, The Black Cauldron sees Taran and many of his allies seeking to secure the eponymous magical cauldron from their foe Arawn Death-Lord. The cauldron is capable of creating horrific undead Cauldron-Born and must be secured through a daring raid. However, securing the cauldron is not as simple as it initially appears, for even the ostensible forces of good are capable of being corrupted by the power it offers, and betrayals and redemptions abound before the final page is turned.

'The Castle of Llyr' by Lloyd Alexander features two figures walking over a bridge to a castle

The Castle of Llyr

By Lloyd Alexander

Alexander himself has said that the Prydain books contain “the feeling, not the fact, of the land of Wales and its legends.” It is partly for this reason that he resisted simplifying the Welsh names used in his books, arguing that they gave the Prydain Chronicles “a certain mood and strangeness.” The Castle of Llyr is the third book in the series, and while Taran remains the protagonist, much of this adventure is focused around Princess Eilonwy and her “unavoidable (and in her view absolutely unnecessary) ordeal of becoming a young lady.”

'Taran Wanderer' by Lloyd Alexander features a boy with a sword

Taran Wanderer

By Lloyd Alexander

At one time, the Prydain Chronicles were to have been a trilogy, and then a four-book series, ending with The High King. However, Alexander’s editor suggested a fourth book between The Castle of Llyr and The High King, which became Taran Wanderer, a more episodic book than the others in the series, where Taran travels the lands of Prydain having various encounters and truly coming into himself as an adult. “He learns to reshape his life out of his own inner resources,” Alexander wrote in his author's note, “for there must not only be an end to childhood but also a beginning of manhood.”

Cover of 'The High King' by Lloyd Alexander features a man on a horse overlooking a castle

The High King

By Lloyd Alexander

The final book of the Chronicles of Prydain sees Taran and his allies in an ultimate battle against their old enemy Arawn. However, in proper Alexander fashion, victory is less clear-cut than it seems, and triumph can be bittersweet, prompting its own difficult decisions. “The final choice is never offered to us in the real world,” Alexander wrote of the tough decisions facing Taran at the novel’s end. “In another sense, we face this kind of choice again and again because, for us, it is never final.” The High King won the Newbery Medal in 1969.

Other Great Children's Fantasy Books by Lloyd Alexander

'Westmark' by Lloyd Alexander features a man with in full armor with a sword


By Lloyd Alexander

Besides The Chronicles of Prydain, Alexander’s best-known works might just be the trilogy that kicks off with Westmark. Set in the fictional kingdom of the same name, the events of the Westmark Trilogy parallel many of the events of the French Revolution, and are often inspired by the works of French existentialist writers, making for a darker and more “realistic” book than Alexander’s previous fantasy series. Despite the fantasy categorization, there is no real magic in Westmark, nor anything else to set it apart from an alternate history, except for its fictional setting and events.

Cover of 'The Illyrian Adventure' by Lloyd Alexander features the portrait of a woman

The Illyrian Adventure

By Lloyd Alexander

Though not as well known as some of Alexander’s earlier works, The Illyrian Adventure kicks off his longest-running series, starring Vesper Holly, a high-society orphan from Philadelphia whose archaeologist father disappears in the Balkan Peninsula. Described as having the “digestive talents of a goat and the mind of a chess master,” Vesper Holly “is familiar with half a dozen languages and can swear in all of them.” She’s also the protagonist of a six-book series that begins here and runs through The Xanadu Adventure, which was released as late as 2005, just two years before Alexander’s death.

'The Marvelous Misadventures of Sebastian' by Lloyd Alexander features a boy and girl in a hot-air balloon

The Marvelous Misadventures of Sebastian

By Lloyd Alexander

“Spiced with the author’s unique brand of wit, this winner of the 1971 National Book Award follows a young adventurer with good intentions through disaster after disaster.” That’s how Publishers Weekly describes this award-winning romp from Alexander, written after his Prydain series but before his Westmark or Vesper Holly books. Though faced with a cavalcade of misfortunes, the eponymous Sebastian never loses his optimism, and he always finds a way to outwit trouble as readily as he seems to attract it.