There are several similarities between Lloyd Alexander’s The Chronicles of Prydain and J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings:
Ø Epic fantasy story-line with a theme of Good vs. Evil and the fate of the world is at stake.
Ø Villain is a largely unseen enemy working behind the scenes or from afar. Arawn and Sauron even sound somewhat alike. Mordor and Annuvin are also alike in being a sort of realm of Death.
Ø Though not uncommon in all fantasy novels or even ancient mythology, both series have special enchanted objects. Some, like the Ring of Power and the Black Cauldron, serve as MacGuffins for the characters to pursue. Eilonwy’s magic bauble and the Palantir are seemingly-innocuous magical objects that turn out to be much more powerful than the characters believe at first. And then there are the special swords: Narsil in The Lord of the Rings, and Drnwyn in The Chronicles of Prydain, both of which are meant for specific people to wield and are used as symbols of the power to defeat evil.
Ø Both books involve “fantasy” beings such as wizards, dwarves, and giant animals (although Llyan is way preferable to Shelob in my humble opinion!). There are also the Cauldron-born, Huntsmen, and the Horned King, which could easily be compared with orcs (specifically Uruk-hai, as both the Cauldron-born and Uruk-hai are “manufactured” warriors), ring-wraiths, the Wraith-king.
Ø Like the stewards of Gondor, the Sons of Don have kept the evil at bay for a long time before the story begins.
Ø Caer Dallben, a sort of farming sanctuary, seems to share the same timeless safety as the Shire, and the value of simple living and fruitful labor that Taran eventually learns is a lot like the Hobbit mindset.
Ø Many characters bear similar characteristics or serve similar roles:
o Aside from Arawn – Sauron, the best example of this is the commonalities between the warrior-prince Gwydion and Ranger/heir apparent Aragorn.*
o Eilonwy – Eowyn
o Gurgi – Gollum
o Doli – Gimli
o Dallben – Gandalf
o Magg – Wormtongue
o King Pryderi – Saruman
Ø SPOILER ALERT BELOW
No seriously I'm about to spoil the ending
I'm warning you
If you haven't read the book this is your last chance to stop here and not find out the ending
Okayyyy here goes:
Both stories end with the majority of the characters leaving the country by sailing off to some unknown, Paradise-like land.
Although I enjoy LOTR, I wouldn’t say I’m as huge admirer as the average Tolkien fan. Because the books are so dense, the world so intricate, and the themes so noble, it can be easy to lose perspective and give Tolkien too much credit, which results in accusing other fantasy writers of copying him. So LOTR fans may look at Prydain and criticize it as “Middle Earth Lite,” when that’s not really a fair assessment.
Firstly, if anyone is to be accused of copying Middle Earth, it’s Narnia. C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, along with other authors and thinkers, formed the Inklings and were active in reading and commenting on each other’s work. Aside from a predilection for going by their initials, Lewis and Tolkien’s works have a lot of commonalities, and I find it strange that neither of them commented on this or asked that one or the other of them make some alterations in order to differentiate their worlds a bit better. If Tolkien didn’t mind Narnia, I doubt he’d mind any similarities Prydain might share with Middle Earth.
A second objection I have is connected with another misconception made by LOTR-worshippers: that Tolkien’s work is the first attempt at creating a mythology for Britain along the same lines as Egyptian, Greek, and Roman mythologies. No doubt Tolkien creating a mythology. But to say there was no British mythology before that is incorrect. Even if one were to discount characters like Rhiannon, Pwyll, or Cocullain, the legend of Beowulf would qualify, and definitely the stories of King Arthur and Camelot should also be considered.
Thirdly, the reason that Prydain and Middle Earth are similar may not be because Alexander was copying Tolkien (although I think it’s fair to say he was aware of LOTR and could have been influenced even subconsciously if he’d read the books), but because Alexander and Tolkien were going off of the same source materials. Tolkien himself translated a version of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and Alexander specifically based Prydain off of the ancient Welsh collection of legends and myths, The Mabinogion, a work that Tolkien probably was familiar with as a linguist, if not a mythology buff and world-builder himself.
Just because two things are similar doesn’t mean that one necessarily has to be better than the other, and that “the other” therefore has to be an inferior copy or plagiaristic. If anything, I would think that fans of either Prydain or Middle Earth would be happy that there is another series of novels out there that they can read if they ever get tired of reading and rereading their favorite books but want to find new stories with a similar feeling.
*For the record, Alexander wasn’t ripping off Aragorn when he wrote the character Gwydion, because he didn’t create the character Gwydion in the first place. He’s one of the few characters Alexander pulled straight from The Mabinogion as a connection to his source material. So if anything, Aragorn is a copy of Gwydion, not the other way around.