Thursday, July 6, 2017

The Chronicles of Prydain: The Covers

Yes, I am still talking about Lloyd Alexander's The Chronicles of Prydain. You're welcome.  

Today I want to show you all the pretty...or not-so-pretty...covers. Most of the problems with the not-so-pretty covers are related to the art being dated, as all five volumes were published in the sixties, and the sixties, seventies, and eighties have not necessarily aged well.  

This is a collection of all five novels, but the image itself is lifted from a climactic scene in 
The High King, which makes it spoilerific. 

I've never seen this cover in person, and the details of images online aren't extremely clear. What I like about it: the Horned King (a villain of The Book of Three rearing his black stallion ominously in the background, with Taran and Hen Wen in the foreground. What I don't like about it: all that shafts-of-sunlight-in-a-magical-waterfally-glen is giving me Disney's Bambi vibes for some reason. And it sort of derails the ominousness achieved by having the Horned King in the first place. 

Here we have the Horned King again, as well as Taran skulking behind a tree. This time, however, the image is lifted directly from an early scene of this first novel. It perfectly captures the adventure/danger vibe without coming off so scary it puts off younger readers.

Apparently this was a very popular scene to draw. I feel the other one is superior, however, for two reasons. First, here the Horned King looks as though he's spotted Taran and is about to slice him something awful. And second, Taran's haircut is just weird. Is that a pageboy? Was the illustrator confused, thinking page-boys wore pageboys in vaguely medieval fantasy lands? Did the illustrator know that technically Taran isn't a page anyway, but an Assistant Pig-Keeper, and the haircut for that occupation is completely different?

Although, I do admit I'm digging the rest of Taran's ensemble. Especially the sheepskin/leather wrapped boots.  Those look comfy.

Here we have the Horned King rearing up on his black stallion (no relation to the novel and subsequent sequels by Walter Farley, by the way). And again there's the shafts of sunlight peeking into the forest, fooling the Black Stallion Doppelganger into thinking he's the Great Prince of the Forest. 

I'm really really hoping that person in the foreground isn't Taran, though. That haircut is enough to want that pageboy back. And is he holding a dagger? Where'd Taran get a dagger at this point? Why is he holding it like a lever? Is he about to open up a secret forest trapdoor under the Horned King?

Actually that would have been hilarious. Not in keeping with the rest of the tone of the novel, but hilarious nonetheless.

This is the version I most commonly see in libraries and at used bookstores, as well as the version I own myself--although my covers are on a white background instead of black with silver metallic lettering. What I couldn't find online--I'll probably have to do a special photo-op with my own copies--are the full-cover images of this publication. The entire image wraps around from the back to the front (usually the villains are on the back). 

I'm not really a fan of this style of art, but I must say for this first volume it kind of works because it looks like one of those old tapestries telling of adventures and battles. 
In addition to pig and Assistant Pig-Keeper, Eilonwy takes her place as a protagonist as well.

Although there is something a bit dated about the art style here, this is my favorite version of illustrated covers. Despite Taran being dressed up like Robin Hood, there's a sense of urgency in how he and Eilonwy lean forward. I like how concerned Taran's face looks, as well as how he is touching Hen Wen on the back as if to comfort her.  

Princess Eilonwy of the Red-Gold Hair is also well-done here. There's nothing weird about her clothes that would peg it to a certain historical period; her glowing golden bauble is leading the way through the darkened wood; and then of course there's her facial expression, completely undaunted and fearless, just like Eilonwy.  

 Moving on to The Black Cauldron. It seems to me that this second novel provides a lot of symbolism and imagery that would make illustrating the cover a bit easier than some of the other books. There's the cauldron itself, Adaon's brooch, and of course the three weird women, Orwen, Orddu, and Orgoch. 

We see here that they've included two of those (I don't think the brooch actually is on any covers at present), but the composition seems strange, putting Eilonwy between the trio of hags and (supposedly) Taran wearing Hobbit curls. Since the main "crisis" of character is between Taran and the hags, putting Eilonwy between them with a sword and wearing a tomato-red dress makes it seem like she is either the focus of the story, or that she is somehow protecting Taran.  

I will say I do enjoy the depictions of Orddu, Orwen and Orgoch. They seem simultaneously jolly and dangerous, which is completely accurate to their characters.

Again Eilonwy takes center stage on the cover. I don't really remember a scene like this in The Black Cauldron; it reminds me of the final battle in The Book of Three instead. I'm also wondering if there could be objections regarding racism considering the contrast in color between her skin and the skin of her attackers. 

Again, I really like this Dell Yearling cover, which puts the three hags and the cauldron center stage where they really belong.  Also featured is their home in the Marshes of Morven, which was one of the cooler places the Companions travel to throughout their many adventures, and Kaw the naughty but also extremely helpful crow.

Note how Kaw seems to be breaking the fourth wall and laughing mischievously at the reader.

I do have two problems with this cover: first, the hags don't look nearly haggish enough. Second, Orgoch kind of looks gangsta with her arms cross and her hoodie up. 

Forgive the glare, as this cover--like my own--is encased in a protective but very shiny mylar. 

Once again the correct images--the cauldron, the hags--are included.  The cauldron even is blood red on the inside, making it seem more sinister than just a pot. 

With the purple contrasts and white figures of the misshapen and barefoot hags, I'm definitely get a Macbeth feel here. 

Relying heavily on Celtic knot motifs to tie this cover illustration to its ancient setting, this is one of the more surreal covers I've seen. There's a spoiler front and center, while in the foreground are the hags--who look like a cross between Norwegian trolls and Muppets to me. Not one of my favorite representations, though they do look properly sinister.

Kaw returns to his place on the front cover, along with newcomer Llyan and Fflewddur's harp. Behind them looms the moonlit skyline with the titular Castle of Llyr. 

Llyan again, with pageboy-sporting Taran who has lost all sense of fashion and ditched his sweet sheepskin boots for what looks to be a courtier ninja outfit. And don't get me started on those purple sleeves. (With those boots?!) And who is that in the purple cloak in the background? Is that Raven from "Teen Titans"?

Hobbit-haired Taran is not having any easier a time with Llyan in this cover. This is more accurate to the scene itself when Llyan has his sword under her paw, and I also like the more realistic look of the giant cat. The tagline at the top is a bit weird, however: "A daring rescue attempt pits Taran against an evil enchantress." Not that it's Taran who actually defeats said enchantress.  

This is probably my favorite out of all the covers I discuss here. The Castle of Llyr looms large against a stormy sea and darkened sky. Eilonwy is back, bauble in hand, and fingering a crescent moon pendant. And behind her the evil enchantress Achren stands with epic white braids (Disney's "Tangled" + Storm from X-Men), black dress, and a cool crown. Best of all is her beautiful face, marred with a harsh and controlling, almost hungry expression. 

what have you done to Gurgi!  

 The next two covers illustrate one of the more exciting chapters of the book (and actually the entire series), one that finds Taran, Fflewddur, Gurgi, and Doli in the power of a very evil wizard.

It's nice to see a sort of throwback at my favorite illustration of The Castle of Llyr with having Morda finger a pendant similar to Eilonwy's crescent moon. Another cool thing about this one is the tapestry-style border with shadowy images of other characters that appear in the book.

I think this image of Morda is even more scary, though it does look a little bit like he's holding a flashlight under his face while telling ghost stories to Taran and Companions around a campfire while toasting marshmallows.  This illustrator has really caught Alexander's description of Morda's unblinking, staring eyes.  

Did Taran steal Eilonwy's tomato-red dress from that Black Cauldron cover, though?

The above cover illustrates a scene in the book where Taran learns to make his own sword from a master blacksmith.  It's not really the most exciting or meaningful of the scenes throughout the book--I wish someone would do a cover including Dorath, who is the villain. 

Taran's outfit here looks almost Ancient Greek or Roman. Otherwise, this image really reminds me of a picture book by Tomie dePaola. 

This cover shows a victorious moment in the last book, The High King. I believe it's supposed to be set in Annuvin, with sunlight breaking through the dark mist as good defeats evil. Yet I find it hard to believe that Arawn Death-Lord had a white castle with cheerful blue-gray roofing in the first place.

Also to note with these cover versions: aren't those little icons in the corners, the ones connected with gold chainmail/Celtic knot borders, just fantastic? It would be cool if they had Eilonwy's necklace or bauble, the sword Dyrnwyn, and The Book of Three also included. This brings up too many uncomfortable and unanswered questions. Are those the Huntsmen? The Cauldron-Born? Is that Santa's jacket Taran is wearing? And are those Uggs boots cheap imitations?

Taran looks annoyed at being accosted by four blue orcs or smurfs or whatever as they request he play baseball in the snow with them. I don't know what Taran is so upset about; the orc things look downright miserable. Maybe someone stole their winter parkas.

Again giving me Bayeux Tapestry vibes, Taran rears up on his white horse (much like the Horned King in all those The Book of Three cover illustrations), about to engage in battle against the Newbery Award sticker that is invading his personal space. 

I do like how in this series of covers Taran seems to mature and age (at least what I can ascertain considering I can't see his face very clearly).  Also cool is the inclusion of his signature banner of Hen Wen, painstakingly (if only partially and imperfectly) handmade by Eilonwy.    

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