And Other Tales Of Prydain
Alexander's six short fairy tales, set in Prydain before the time covered in his Newbery-winning quintet, demonstrates both the author's special talent for spinning this kind of story and the extent of his need to borrow plots and motifs on which to build. The foundling of the title story is the enchanter Dalben as a child, adopted by three hags who send him off with his chosen gift of wisdom after he (recalling Taliesin) acquires knowledge by licking the fingers he has burned while stirring their magic potion. The other five stories are more generally familiar and their connection with Prydain more gratuitous: there is the firmer whose wish (here, never to grow older -- and it happens to have been granted by Doli of the Fair Folk) turns out to be a curse when nothing grows on his land and his teething baby's dental development is similarly arrested; there is the princess (incidentally, Eilonwy's mother) who chooses -- unsurprisingly -- not the arrogant enchanters who make darkness and demons to impress her but a third, poor suitor who "enchants" the court with his poetic words; there is "The Rascal Crow" who is saved from a hunter by smaller animals he had previously scorned; the harper who, true to his calling, defies the Death-Lord, and "The Sword" (this must be the entry that the author claims "bears on our own time and concerns") whose growing stain reflects the evil deeds of a King who becomes more and more suspicious and reclusive, and his deeds more monstrous, as he attempts to cover up what started as a callous oversight and led next to a rash murder. All worth another hearing as Alexander tells them, but hardly an important contribution to a mythological landscape.