Taran Wanderer is a tale that brings out the classic themes of man searching for his identity, thinking that his identity must be founded in where he is from, who his family is, what he does. The tale concludes with the idea that Taran is simply Taran; his being comfortable with being Taran will, the reader assumes, be a precursor to whatever role he will next assume in Prydain in the tale of The High King.
It’s been almost a quarter-century since I first read Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain. I’ve reread these books in order throughout this year. Finishing the last two seemed a fitting way to celebrate National Book Month. The read of Taran Wanderer especially takes me back 24 years….
It’s any other average Tuesday evening in New England, almost a month after Easter. The beloved Boston Red Sox have only just begun the season that will cement heartache on every fan’s heart. I’m reading a hardback, school library-bound edition of one of Alexander’s books. (I think it was Black Cauldron; fortunately, names and titles have escaped my memory of the incident.)
A knock on the door. Someone from church has come to discuss church business with my father. Not unusual. They left something in their vehicle, go back out to get it. Nothing out of the ordinary. They return with a parade of folks, half the church it seems, a surprise to my parents to honor a special anniversary. The quietude of reading my book at home is interrupted by a party. I’m not disappointed.
Someone in the crowd, whose identity by God’s grace to me my long memory has failed to retain, sees the book I’m reading. As I remember, Alexander’s books have always had exciting covers; the cover of that version of Cauldron (if that’s what it was) is no exception. The adult is obviously unfamiliar with Prydain and gives the book a Christianly glance that a volume of the “Sugar Creek Gang” would not have received. A look that stuck in my collective church memory, not unlike some looks we got when our weekly baseball game in the church parking lot every Sunday post-church may have gotten a little too competitive. (Looks that, unlike the glance given my book, were actually deserved!)
I have nothing new to say about how we Christians should interact with culture in all its forms, literary or otherwise. The battle has been fought, mostly in our own subculture, over Harry Potter and whatever else. If you’re reading this, you’re aware of that battle and have probably already decided to dismiss or fight it on your own terms.
What I do have to say is that I simply hope I can avoid making such looks. I hope to tell my son, if he ever enjoys these adventures, that the lessons Taran learns in Wanderer are important: we are who we are. We are not defined by our family, our trade, or our social network (even if that network includes dwarves, bards, and kings). But I also hope to move beyond mere humanism to identify the redemptive in such tales.
That night, I was reading Alexander’s chronicle within a month after becoming a new creation in Christ. I could have done with more than just a look at the cover. I could have done with an adult that wondered what the story was, and then could find the redemptive parts of that story and surmise what was noble, lovely and true.
am now writing just to myself. Instead of judging the book by its cover, enter into the culture’s stories. There are plenty of redemptive lessons in the Chronicles. There are plenty of redemptive lessons in our culture. Protect our kids from real evil. Fight the right battles. Avoid sideways glances that will be remembered long after the book or movie titles. Do that, and wander through life as we know it as aliens and strangers in the world, not of it.
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