Tag Archives: Lloyd Alexander

Concept sketch: Taran. And, What makes Prydain so special?

At the beginning of The Book of Three, Taran dreams of becoming a hero, but his education and chores caring for Hen Wen the pig at Caer Dallben seem to stand between him and his ambitions. Little does he know his life is about to change.

When The Book of Three begins, Taran dreams of becoming a hero but his education and chores caring for Hen Wen, the ‘oracular pig’ at Caer Dallben, seem to stand between him and his ambitions. Little does he know his life is about to change.

 

What is it about Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain that makes them so enduring? I think this is an important question to consider. Most of us who make art want our work to matter. We hope it will find a natural audience who will enjoy it and remember it for a long time. We might even aspire to create artwork that can somehow transform people in some way for the better. It’s not that we want our work to simply ‘convey a message’ or ‘teach a lesson.’ Rather, we want our ideas and creations to be received, essentially, as a type of vicarious experience, one that might even become a sort of collective memory or shared understanding.

I recently spoke with a young man who told me, “When I started reading The Book of Three, I thought it wasn’t all that different from other fantasy books I’ve read. But by the end of it, it really started to feel like something unique. I’m looking forward to reading the second book.”

Last year one of my colleagues, a BYU professor of Media Arts, said, “I recently re-read some of the great fantasy novels I had read when I was younger: Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, the Chronicles of Prydain. And I have to say, the ones that held up best on the second reading were the Prydain books. I really enjoyed them more than the first time I read them.”

I’ve heard a few people compare Alexander’s work to Tolkien’s and suggest there isn’t much about Prydain that is really different or unique. I can only conclude that this type of assessment likely comes from a cursory or perfunctory reading. Having read both series multiple times, to me it’s like saying cats are basically the same as dogs (they both have fur, claws, tails, ears, fangs, etc.), or there’s little appreciable difference between a conch shell and a nautilus: both are rigid, spiral, and patterned. Both come from the ocean and are nice to look at—what’s the big difference?

Admittedly there are common themes and elements in almost all fantasy fiction that’s based on the British mythological tradition. That said, I could make a long list of things that, in my mind, distinguish the Chronicles of Prydain from other fantasy series. But ultimately I think you just have to experience them for yourself. When you read them, try to surrender yourself and let go of any assumptions or stereotypes about high fantasy. Just go on the journey with Taran, experience the world through his eyes, and let yourself feel what he feels. You might start to see the land of Prydain spreading out before your mind’s eye. You might even be able to hear the voices of the characters inside your head as you meet and get to know them.

The Prydain books are not long or difficult. In fact, you might even read them so fast that you’ll finish before you really want to. Many readers have said they found it difficult to accept that the stories came to an end. The Foundling: And Other Tales of Prydain offers a welcome opportunity to return to that world and enjoy some of the back-stories alluded to in the central narrative. And if you have children, especially ones between the ages of about seven and thirteen, what better reason to read the Chronicles of Prydain all over again? You can spend more time together as a family and maybe inspire your little ones to become lifelong readers.

~ J. Kunz

 

 

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New art! And a question: Will Disney make the Prydain movies right?

The Book of Three concept artwork by Justin Kunz.

The Book of Three concept artwork by Justin Kunz. The title of the first volume in the Prydain Chronicles comes from this powerful book of history, prophecy, and magic. So named because, “it tells all three parts of our lives: the past, the present, and the future,” The Book of Three is guarded by Dallben, the powerful enchanter.

 

There might be a few folks out there asking the question: Is Disney actually going to get the Prydain Chronicles films right this time?

I know some of you—probably those who love the books and were perhaps disappointed by the animated film treatment, The Black Cauldron—may have read Disney’s announcement regarding the new Prydain films with a vague sense of dread. Maybe you even thought, “Uh oh. Not again. I don’t know if I can bear to watch them foul it up a second time.”

To be fair to the animated film, a lot of people liked it. A lot of people still like it. I can almost hear you saying, “Yes, but those people probably never read Lloyd Alexander’s books, so they have no idea what they’re missing. They don’t know the cinematic potential of the story.”

If this sounds like you, you are not alone. But just imagine how amazed people will be if (and when) they finally get to see a new series of live-action Prydain films made in a way that is faithful and true to what makes the source material so delightful. Does the risk of these films falling short of their potential outweigh the potential benefits of seeing them done right? I don’t think so. That’s why I am fully in favor of this undertaking. Personally, I have plenty of reasons to be very confident in Disney’s ability to make these films in a grand, epic, heart-felt way. And I think you should too.

To name just a few reasons, first of all, it’s been more than thirty years since The Black Cauldron animated film debuted. That was 1985, the same year Back to the Future came out. And The Breakfast Club, The Goonies, Weird Science, and Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure. Almost none of the same people who were there at that time, who made the decisions that were made, even work for Disney anymore. Most of them have retired or moved on to different career paths. For all intents and purposes it’s ‘a whole new world’ at Disney. And I don’t think it’s really fair to judge a person by something they did thirty years ago, much less judge an organization by that standard.

For those who are still reluctant to give Disney the benefit of the doubt, please understand that thanks to the Internet and social media, you might actually have some influence on whether or not these films end up getting made. Think about it: if we act disinterested in the project, or pre-judge it as destined for failure, what would be the most likely thing that would happen? Disney producers would survey the fans’ reaction on the web and determine that the people saying “meh” outnumber the ones going “YEAH!” They would conclude that people don’t really care about seeing the world of Prydain in films, and without an eager audience they won’t risk the time and money it would take to actually do justice to these stories. The doubt and apathy of naysayers would then become a self-fulfilling prophecy: either the films wouldn’t happen at all, or they would simply be deferred for who knows how many more years while Disney patiently waits for a more receptive, enthusiastic audience to emerge.

In my view the only reasonable choice for those of us who love the Chronicles of Prydain is to come out in force, in full support of Disney’s announcement. Have some confidence in the studio that gave us Pirates of the Caribbean, Maleficent, and the new Cinderella—not to mention Star Wars: The Force AwakensZootopia, Frozen, and Tangled. Start doing the things I recommended out in my last post, “New Prydain artwork! And some thoughts on creating a movement.” Let the Internet hear our “collective roar” of eager anticipation for each new revelation regarding the project. Let Disney know why it’s so important to you that the team assembled to develop these films be made up of creative professionals who are not only gifted in their disciplines, but who know the source material well and are emotionally invested in seeing it be as true and faithful to Alexander’s vision as possible within the medium of cinema.

~ J. Kunz

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An Open Letter to Sam Dickerman — Executive VP, Walt Disney Pictures

Poster illustration for the Chronicles of Prydain. Characters depicted are introduced in the first volume of the series, The Book of Three. Artwork copyright Justin Kunz. All rights reserved

Poster illustration for the Chronicles of Prydain. Characters depicted are introduced in the first volume of the series, The Book of Three. Artwork copyright Justin Kunz. All rights reserved.

 

March 22, 2016

Dear Mr. Dickerman,

I write to you regarding an article appearing in Variety last week: “‘Chronicles of Prydain’ Movie in the Works at Disney.” This is an extremely exciting development for me personally and, I believe, countless other readers who love these books by the great American author, Lloyd Alexander.

Like so many others, my affection for all things Prydain began in my childhood. From a young age I had difficulty reading. I preferred drawing, and thankfully I showed some ability with it. When I was eight, I found a copy of The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. Intrigued, I began to read it, but I struggled to understand the difficult language. Eventually I gave up and tried to draw a hobbit instead. That didn’t go any better!

A few years later, my fifth grade teacher read to our class The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander. I remember struggling to pay attention, and I’m sure many of the details were lost on me, but there was something deeply enthralling about the world of Prydain. It seemed to resonate with my young mind and ignite my imagination in a way no other book ever had before. I tried to draw the characters — Taran, Eilonwy, Fflewddur, Doli and others. About that time Disney released an animated film called The Black Cauldron. Somehow I never managed to see the film before it was sealed away in the vault.

But the books… The books! I remember spending all my money on my first paperback copies at the book fair. I worked my way through all five of them, even though reading was still hard for me. I read slowly and exhaustively, unable to move forward until I could see in my mind the scenes and characters the author described. I read them again every summer after that. When the covers started to wear thin, I repaired the corners and spines with clear packaging tape. My family lived in the foothills of the Wasatch mountains, where I spent long hours hiking and exploring the slopes, ravines, woods, and streams that surrounded me. In that environment, Prydain became very real and tangible to my mind.

As a freshman in college, I cut class once to hear Lloyd Alexander lecture when he visited our campus. Then I stood in line at the bookstore for an hour or two, among hundreds of school children, just to have him sign my sketchbook and a copy of The Foundling and Other Tales. I wanted to tell him how much his work had meant to me in my youth, but he looked exhausted so I just thanked him and kept my comments short.

For my senior capstone project, I drew two dozen character sketches and painted a series of book cover illustrations based on the Chronicles. Somewhere in the process of creating that artwork, I realized how reluctant I was to actually finish the project because it meant I would have to leave the world of Prydain. Yet I had a strong feeling my work there was not finished. I wanted to design every character, every castle, every magical creature and enchanted object. I wanted to paint every scene from all five volumes just the way I had seen it in my mind, the way I thought Lloyd imagined them too. I understood the only way I could do that would be to one day work to develop a series of live-action films based on the books. It seemed like such a far-fetched idea at the time, but that didn’t matter; I still hungered for the challenge.

A lot has happened since then. We’ve seen film series like Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and Pirates of the Caribbean. These movies and others—Star Wars, The Princess Bride, Indiana Jones, The Dark Crystal, and The Goonies, to name a few—captured my mind with that same spirit of humor, danger, love, magic, and “anything is possible” adventure Lloyd brought to life so vividly in his stories.

Another thing that happened was that I became a professional artist. I’ve had the opportunity to design and build environments and characters for more than twelve published video games, including a few Disney Interactive titles and four expansions of one of the most celebrated fantasy-adventure games in history, World of Warcraft. I’ve painted ambitious, multi-figure compositions in oils and designed some of America’s new coins and medals for the United States Mint. I’ve taught concept design, digital illustration, location design, drawing and traditional media at the college level for more than four years. I’ve illustrated books, magazines, toys and puzzles, designed theme park attractions and theatrical sets. Over the years, whenever I could steal away a bit of time, I continued drawing characters, creatures, locations and scenes from The Chronicles of Prydain.

Now I would like to begin sharing some of that artwork with you and the rest of the world. Keep an eye on #prydain over the next few weeks and you will probably see some of it online. I’ve been collaborating with filmmaker Jared Crossley, who created the documentary film, Lloyd Alexander, working on how we might be able to convince Disney to make these films—if possible, with some creative contributions from us.

When Peter Jackson began assembling his development team for Lord of the Rings, he reached out to some of the most gifted artists who had envisioned and illustrated Middle-Earth over the years, including Alan Lee and John Howe. Jackson recognized the singular value of enjoining creative visionaries who brought their personal passion for those stories, artists with an intimate knowledge of what made Tolkien’s world so deeply appealing. George Lucas also recruited artists with enthusiasm for the worlds he wanted to create. These visual development teams poured some of their finest work into the project because for them, it was more than just a job; it was a labor of love.

And so I invite you to consider me as an artist who can—and would love to—create the images you will need to help make the Chronicles of Prydain a truly phenomenal series of live-action films, complete with lovable characters, great adventures, inspiring scenes of beauty and wonder, epic battle, heartbreak and triumph. I don’t know a studio better positioned to do justice to the rich source material that is yours to work with in Prydain. I hope you will surround yourself with a team of creators who sincerely love this story world and who know it well, so these films can become the landmark cinematic experience they have the potential be.

Sincerely,

Justin Kunz

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