I enjoyed Taran Wanderer and the accompanying books of the series: The Black Cauldron and the Book of Three when I was a tween. My 14 year old saw me carrying the Taran book around and told me he enjoyed reading it as well. It was a pleasure to re-read it as an adult. I wonder if I internalized some of the lessons that are taught in it.
Alexander used the Mabinogian as part of his inspiration. In this volume Taran, assistant pig-keeper, sets out from the farm to seek his parents. He wants to marry Eilonwy, the princess, but feels he would prefer to be of noble blood to have something to offer her. He sets out with hairy and faithful Gurgi for “ramblings and bramblings” and soon meets up again with the bard king FFlewddur Fflam.
He is successful at solving a problem between two nobles that would have led to war. The king is so grateful he offers to give Taran his kingdom when he dies. This would be great for Taran’s marriage prospects, but he wants to continue his quest for now. He is trying to get to a famous “mirror” in the mountains that might be able to show him his parentage. He meets up with robbers and various craftsmen. He tries his hand at farming, smithing, weaving, and pottery making. He learns from the best, but each time at the end of a few months, he decides this is not his lifelong craft and he would like to move on. The Smith teaches him life is like a forge, full of hard challenges and hard work. The weaver woman says like is like a weaving, many threads from many people and experiences all woven together into a whole. The potter of course compares like to potting — making it mold to what you want from it. At one point he thinks he found his father and helps him rebuild his farm and farmhouse, but it turns out not to be true. It was only wishful thinking on the man’s part, lonely and longing for a son since his child and wife died years before. Still he learns to build a house and clear land for the pastures and farm and discovers his bravery at saving the man from an accident.
In the end he concludes that it doesn’t really matter who his parents were. He knows now who he is: Taran, Wanderer.
This book would be enjoyable for the whole tween bracket, boys and girls, but especially for boys around 1-12 years.