Yet the influence of existentialism can account for exactly what sets Alexander’s work apart from other fantasy series. Taran, who does not know who his parents are, longs to be born of noble blood. At the end of the novel, after looking into a pool of water that he’s been seeking and seeing only his reflection, he states, “Now I know who I am; myself and none other.
Take Taran Wanderer, often considered the most distinctive volume of the series, as in a recent appraisal by Vox. In other words, he longs to have his nobility or heroism be his essence, inherent to him, like, say, Harry Potter, destined since toddlerhood to be the “Chosen One.” But he learns over the course of the novel that these qualities are not linked to blood and thus are not essential: “As for my parentage . I am Taran.” Indeed, Taran’s parents are never revealed, often to the frustration of readers.
And prophecies are quite important to Alexander’s work as well.
Yet the end of The High King, and Taran’s choice to remain in Prydain, serves to salvage the idea of free will within the deterministic framework of the genre.
Rejecting the idea that “people are born heroes,” Sartre instead declares that “the existentialist says that the coward makes himself cowardly, the hero makes himself heroic; and that there is always a possibility for the coward to give up cowardice and for the hero to stop being a hero.” In other words, the idea of being born noble, as Taran realizes, is absurd.
He is, in Sartre’s words, “nothing else but the sum of his actions, nothing else but what his life is.” Existentialism is thus above all a philosophy of free will.
This makes sense in some ways, as the disgust expressed in Sartre’s Nausea is a far cry from Alexander’s gentle humanism.
Likewise, Sartre in his 1938 essay “Aminadab: Or the Fantastic Considered as a Language” disdains the kind of fantasy literature that Alexander would eventually write, commenting that the genre needs to evolve past the “useless, time-worn conventions” of “fairies, genies and hobgoblins.” These conventions and these fairies are precisely what interests Alexander. Man is nothing else but that which he makes of himself.” In Taran Wanderer these ideas get expressed through the idea of nobility. True kinship has naught to do with blood ties.” Rather, heroism is defined through choices and actions, “not in my birth, but in myself,” in Taran’s words.
Corresponding closely to the model set up by Tolkien ten years earlier, the series tells the story of Taran Assistant Pig-Keeper and his friends, who grapple with steadily escalating encounters with servants of the Death-Lord Arawn that culminate in a last battle against Arawn himself.
Check—in this case, the Welsh myths collected in The Mabinogion.