Author: Lloyd Alexander
The Prydain Chronicles, vol. 1
Taran dreams of a life of heroism, convinced his real life in tiny Caer Dallben is anything but. While daring swordfights spark his imagination, he finds himself Assistant Pigkeeper to an oracular pig who, while quite nice in her own way, has never done anything exciting. Or at least, not until one fateful day when all the creatures in Caer Dallben started acting terrified and ran away . . . a day when the Horned King rode. Chasing after the pig, Hen Wen, into the forest, Taran soon finds himself dragged into an adventure as big as he could have ever hoped . . . only, heroics in truth seem a lot more like hard work, sacrifice, exhaustion, hunger, and conviction than like anything he ever expected. On the course of his journey, Taran meets numerous people who show him what true valor looks like: Prince Gwydion, the lovely Eilonwy, the creature Gurgi, travelling bard (and notorious liar) Fflewddur Fflam, to name a few. In the end, Taran’s whole view of life will change . . . and you never know, he might develop a touch of heroism himself.
I love Lloyd Alexander’s writing, and his Prydain books in particular. There’s just something about his matter-of-fact, pragmatic, yet somehow satirical voice that’s both captivating and extremely funny. His plot is exciting, but I must say, it’s the people that stand out, and the things they learn (which are almost always things we need to learn ourselves as well). Gwydion is a true hero–by which I mean he’s a servant who puts others before himself. Gurgi, with all of his crunchings and munchings is quite the enigma, someone you could easily feel sorry for but who’s actually braver and more loyal than most anyone when it comes down to it. And the princess Eilonwy . . . Alexander’s female leads are always impressive and a treat to read, and Eilonwy’s no exception. I admire her strength of character, and I think her metaphorical way of speaking adds both humor and depth to the story. Poor Fflewddur . . . you’d think he’s mostly there for comic effect, but then there are moments when he truly surprises you. It’s a delight to see the characters growing throughout their journey. I LOVE The Book of Three and would highly recommend it to anyone upper elementary to adult.
Mangaka: Rumiko Takahashi
Kagome was just your average middle-school Japanese girl until she got dragged (literally) into Sengoku-era Japan. There she finds she’s the supposed reincarnation of the priestess Kikyo. Her coming sets off a number of misadventures, including the release of the half-demon InuYasha (who used to be Kikyo’s lover, and now becomes Kagome’s biggest problem) and the shattering and dispersal of the powerful and dangerous Shikon jewel throughout the country. Now she must pair up with InuYasha to retrieve the shards of the jewel before they are snatched up by the evil half-demon Naraku–the very same one who came between InuYasha and Kikyo, murdering Kikyo, fifty years before. Joining them on their quest are Miroku (the monk of the wandering hand), Sango (the bereaved and angry demon exterminator), and Shippo (the adorable kid kitsune), all of whom have their own grudges against Naraku. Now if Kagome can only manage to fit in graduating from middle school between all the fighting demons, tracking Shikon shards, and digging up past grudges!
InuYasha is a manga that is near to my heart for many reasons: it was one of my very first manga ever, it’s led me to finding many other great manga, and it’s a great manga to talk about with other people, among other reasons. Even disregarding the history I have with this story, I think it’s a wonderful manga. Rumiko Takahashi is one of my favorite mangaka, and InuYasha is executed with her typical aplomb and signature art style (which I love). It’s an interesting blend of adventure (somewhat dark and bloody at times, actually), comedy (as per Takahashi-sensei’s norm), and romance (also classic Takahashi). While definitely being more serious (and battle shounen) than, say Urusei Yatsura or Ranma 1/2, it still maintains a lighter side that keeps it from getting bogged down and depressing. I think the relationship between Kagome and InuYasha is one of the most intriguing I’ve ever read–and the most amusing when she gets angry at him and makes him “sit!” And of course, Kagome herself is fascinating in general; I mean, what girl gets dragged to another era, sees a guy stuck to a tree with an arrow through his chest, and immediately thinks “Ooh, he’s got dog ears. I want to touch.”?! The inclusion of numerous wild-card characters (Sesshomaru, Kikyo (reanimated), Koga, Kohaku, and even some of Naraku’s subordinates at times) keeps things interesting as well. My only complaints are: 1) the story kind of dragged on a bit towards the end, like Takahashi was having a hard time figuring out how to end it (but the actual ending is really good), and 2) there’s unnecessary fanservice in the early volumes (understandable, just coming from writing Ranma 1/2, but still unnecessary). But I could keep talking about the things I love about InuYasha for pages and pages, so let’s just say that this is definitely a recommended manga.