The Prydain Project

Thirty years after first devouring Lloyd Alexander's Prydain books, I'm rereading them to see if the magic is still there. If you've arrived at this blog because you loved Prydain as a kid, I hope you’ll enjoy the chance to revisit it along with me. To read the recaps in order, start here: "The Book of Three," Chapter 1

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Book of Three, Chapter 9 - Fflewddur Fflam

Taran’s immediate reaction to seeing an unarmed stranger is to pull out the sword he’s just acquired and start slashing away. Fortunately, he’s terrible at sword fighting, so the newcomer is able to avoid getting hacked to bits by hiding behind a tree. Taran shouts, “You’re not Gwydion!” and the guy is like, duh, I never claimed to be, and also I’m unarmed, so can you please stop trying to kill me? Eilonwy grabs Taran’s arm and tries to get him to stop, but he turns on her and accuses her of betraying him to Achren and leaving Gwydion to die. He even raises his sword to her! Not cool, Taran. Not cool. Eilonwy runs off crying. Taran feels bad and puts down his sword.

The new guy pokes his head out from behind the tree and is all “Truce?” He introduces himself as Fflewddur Fflam, and let me tell you, my fingers don’t want to type those two Fs in a row; thank goodness for copy-paste. Fflewddur is “a bard of the harp” with allegiance to the House of Don, and he’s flattered that Taran mistook him for Prince Gwydion. Taran says Gwydion is dead, and that it’s all Eilonwy’s fault. Fflewddur says that A: that’s a hard judgment to pass on a “winsome lass” who isn’t here to defend herself, and B: if she’s that much of a traitor and liar, why is Taran letting her escape into the forest? Taran grimly agrees, and goes after Eilonwy. He finds her sitting on a boulder, crying. She tells him that he’s hurt her feelings, and over something that was his own fault to begin with. Taran is confused, and Eilonwy points out that he never said “Go and rescue a man named Gwydion.” Instead he assumed the man in the other cell was his companion, and gave her no other details to go on. So she rescued the man in the other cell, who turned out to be Fflewddur. She puts her chin in the air and won’t look at him. Taran is ashamed and apologizes for accusing her of treachery. He says he can’t expect her to help him find Gwydion, but of course she quickly gets over the whole chin-in-the-air act and slides off the boulder and goes with him. Love that girl!

Now we get a description of Fflewddur Fflam – lanky, with a pointed nose and “bright yellow hair,” which is kind of hard to picture on a grown man (but I bet he looks a lot like this guy). He has a beautiful harp, but his clothes are worn and patched, and he looks nothing like “the bards Taran had learned about from The Book of Three.” I guess those bards were fat and had brown hair and nice clothes? Taran explains that Fflewddur was rescued by mistake, and Fflewddur says he should have figured as much, because who would care if he were “languishing in a dungeon or not?” Poor Fflewddur! Taran wants to go back to the ruins and look for Gwydion, in case he miraculously survived having a castle fall on him. Fflewddur is all for storming the castle, but disappointed to hear “there’s not much of it left to storm.”

They arrive at the ruin of Spiral Castle, see some dead guards sprawled around, try to move a couple of heavy rocks and then Taran, in his typical melodramatic fashion, pronounces Gwydion good and dead and turns his face away. He announces, “I am impatient to be gone from here” – a phrase which I absolutely love and plan to use the next time I’m waiting in line somewhere. Eilonwy points out that the rest of them aren’t having a splendid time either. I love how this whole chapter is just Eilonwy pointing out what an insensitive dunce Taran is. They pick up some extra weapons, travel a safe distance away from the ruins, and then stop to rest. Taran takes the first watch, and before long, who should appear but poor humble Gurgi! He greets Taran: “Crunchings and munchings?”

Eilonwy and Fflewddur are intrigued by the new arrival. But Taran calls him a “miserable, sneaking wretch who deserted us as soon as we were attacked.” Because he hasn’t learned anything from when he threw Eilonwy under the bus in similar fashion a few hours ago and was totally wrong about it. Gurgi protests that he ran off to find help. Eilonwy takes his part and says it was probably sensible for him to do so, and Gurgi throws himself at the feet of the “noble lady.” Taran is having none of it, so Gurgi goes to crawl sadly away, but not without first dropping a hint about what he’s seen. Taran agrees to share some “crunchings” in return for the information, which is that many more hosts have joined the Horned King. Fflewddur does his whole delusions-of-grandeur thing again and says they should ride out and attack, but Taran wisely acknowledges that it would be foolish to go up against such numbers without help. He tries to go to sleep, but is tormented by the vision of those burning wicker baskets – you’re not the only one, Taran! – and can’t decide whether his next move should be to continue pursuing Hen Wen or to carry out Gwydion’s mission of warning the Sons of Don at Caer Dathyl. Things have “ceased to be simple,” and now he wishes he were back home at Caer Dallben pulling weeds and making those boring old horseshoes again. Poor kid. I know I pick on him a lot, but I really do feel for him in this scene. What would you do, readers?

If you keep looking for Hen Wen, turn to page 118.
If you go to Caer Dathyl to warn the Sons of Don, turn to page 95.

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Book of Three, Chapter 7 - The Trap - and Chapter 8 - The Barrow

These are two of the less interesting chapters in the book, in my opinion, so I’m going to breeze through them so we can get back to the real action. Eilonwy comes back (yay!) and tells Taran his companion and Melyngar are free. She didn’t find weapons, though, because she didn’t have time to look and “you can’t expect me to do everything, can you?” So she and Taran escape the cell through the tunnel under the flagstone and flee through the twisty underground passages. Taran loses his footing and falls into a sunken chamber. He tells Eilonwy to go on without him. Taran takes himself way seriously, y’all. Instead of leaving him there, Eilonwy sensibly tosses him her bauble so he can look around, and he notes that there is another passageway on his level. Moments later, Eilonwy drops down into the chamber with him. He’s furious at her and goes on a rant, calling her addlepated and foolish, but she just smiles at him until he runs out of breath, because she is awesome, and then says “if there’s a tunnel, it has to go someplace” and that they should follow it together.

They follow the tunnel until it ends, sealed off with boulders, and then investigate a side passage, which leads them to a chamber full of jewels, weapons and the withered corpses of warriors, encircling a stone slab on which another skeleton lies in state. Taran feels a gust of wind and finds a tunnel in the far wall. He takes a sword from one of the warriors, and he and Eilonwy crawl through the tunnel. They exit to fresh air just in time to find that Spiral Castle is aflame and collapsing. Eilonwy gets stuck in the tunnel, and Taran pulls her free. She thanks him for saving her life, then laughs about how Achren will be furious to find they’ve escaped. Taran somberly says that “if Achren is under those stones, she’ll never punish anyone again.” Eilonwy had gotten stuck in the tunnel because she took the sword and scabbard that the dead king was holding, and it was too big for her to wear at her waist, so she slung it from her shoulder, which sounds really uncomfortable. Taran is surprised that she took the king’s sword, but she simply says “It should be the best one, shouldn’t it?” (So awesome.) They see the shadowy figures of a man and a white horse. Taran cries out “Gwydion!” but, oh snap! It’s not Gwydion at all, but a man Taran’s never seen before. Dun dun DUN!

Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Book of Three, Chapter 6 - Eilonwy

Taran comes to in a dungeon filled with straw that smells “as though Gurgi and all his ancestors had slept on it.” He wonders what became of Gwydion and worries that Achren changed her mind again and had him killed. He throws himself against the door and the walls of his cell to no avail. Suddenly, a flashing gold ball drops down through the small grating above, and a pair of “intensely blue eyes” appear. The owner of the eyes introduces herself as Eilonwy and asks Taran to throw her bauble back to her. He’s not to think she’s a baby, playing with a toy, but “sometimes there’s absolutely nothing else to do around here.” She rambles on and on, saying she supposes he’s “a lord, or a warrior, or a war leader, or a bard, or a monster,” and Taran feels flattered to have been taken for any of those, but corrects her that he’s an Assistant Pig-Keeper. Eilonwy asks if the fellow in the other dungeon is one as well. Taran asks if the other prisoner is still alive, but she doesn’t know, and asks him again to throw her bauble. Taran says his hands are tied, so Eilonwy says she’ll come in and get it. He replies that he’s locked in, to which Eilonwy is like, duh, that that’s the whole point of having someone in a dungeon and “I don’t mean to hurt your feelings by asking, but is Assistant Pig-Keeper the kind of work that calls for a great deal of intelligence?” She is awesome.

Something pulls Eilonwy away, and Taran hears a “little shriek, followed by a larger shriek and a moment or two of loud smacking.” She doesn’t reappear, and night falls. A bowl of water is slid through the slot in the door. Taran drinks it, then tries to sleep but – unsurprisingly, considering his situation – has nightmares. Then he hears scratching and a voice from under the straw. It’s Eilonwy! She moves a flagstone and enters the cell. She picks up her bauble and floods the cell with light. Taran, amazed, asks what it is. She’s like, duh squared: “It’s my bauble, how many times do I have to tell you?” We then get a description of her: one or two years younger than Taran, with reddish-gold hair to her waist and elfin features, wearing a white mud-stained robe and a silver crescent moon on a necklace. She unties Taran and explains that the scuffle he heard was Achren catching Eilonwy (little shriek) and Eilonwy biting Achren (big shriek). Achren locked Eilonwy up, but she used one of her many secret passages to escape. Achren doesn’t know about the tunnels, Eilonwy says, because she didn’t build the castle; it once belonged to a great king. Taran is horrified to think that Eilonwy might be Achren’s daughter, but no, she explains that her parents are dead and her “kinsmen” sent her to Achren to learn to be an enchantress. She binds Taran’s wound, and they hatch a plan for her to release Gwydion and Melyngar – who “would be in the stable… where you’d usually find a horse” (hee) – and steal some weapons, then come back for Taran. She douses the light from her ball and disappears. He waits, becoming more and more anxious, but she doesn’t return (not in this chapter, anyway). Suspense!

Monday, May 4, 2015

The Book of Three, Chapter 5 - The Broken Sword

It’s magic time! Remember that mesh of grass Gwydion wove back in Chapter 2? He pulls it from his jacket and tosses it at the first warrior. It becomes a net of liquid flame that expands to trap the warrior. One down, four to go. Gwydion gives Taran his hunting knife, saying it’s the only weapon he can spare: “Use it as well as you can.” Because he has time to belittle Taran even in the heat of battle. Taran manages to stab one of the riders in the leg with the knife. Melyngar tramples another – two down. Gwydion dispatches a third with his sword. The last two hang back, making way for – oh shite – two Cauldron-Born. They are described as silent, grinning warriors with pale faces and eyes like stones. Gwydion is described once more as wolf-like with “his green eyes glittering, his teeth bared.” He orders Taran to “fly!” (He does not say, “you fool,” but it’s implied.) Taran of course does no such thing, but stays in the fight. It’s over quickly, as Taran is wounded in the arm and Gwydion in the side. The Cauldron-Born disarm them, tie them up and throw them over Melyngar’s back.

Gwydion asks Taran why he didn’t flee as ordered, but does give him props for being brave and fighting well. Taran asks about the magic mesh, and Gwydion says it’s a trick Dallben himself taught him. One of the Cauldron-Born lashes them with a whip to shut them up. Gwydion whispers, “If we should not meet again, farewell,” and it’s very moving; I feel like Gwydion finally shows Taran some respect as a companion, if not quite an equal.

They arrive at a fortress and are dragged into a throne room, where a beautiful woman with long silver hair awaits them. She acts appalled and commands the warriors to bring food and wine and to see to Taran’s and Gwydion’s wounds. Then she does the whole White Witch seduction routine with Taran – calling him “poor boy” and touching him gently, which makes him feel deliciously warm and comforted, though she stops short of offering him any Turkish Delight. She starts to question him about where he came from, but Gwydion interrupts, “She is Achren! She sets a trap for you!”

Taran, of course, is surprised that the sweet, pretty lady is the horrible Queen Achren, but he believes Gwydion and shuts right up. Achren feigns surprise at Gwydion’s discourtesy, then offers him a bargain, saying she has much that he could profit from. He doesn’t give her the chance to elaborate, but shouts that her promises “reek of Annuvin” and that “It is no secret what you are!” She freaks out at this, hissing and scratching his cheek with her blood-red nails, then holding his sword to his throat. But in Bond-villain style, she decides that death is too good for him, that he will “beg the mercy of a sword” before she’s done with him. She unsuccessfully tries twice to destroy Gwydion’s sword, first striking it against a stone pillar and then hurling it to the ground. Finally, she uses a dark magic incantation to break it in pieces and screams “So shall I break you!” – which would have been way more bad-ass if she had broken it on the first try rather than the third. Taran and Gwydion are dragged away by the Cauldron-Born, and one of them hits Taran over the head with a whip handle, knocking him out.

So, in the past day or so, Taran has sustained sword wounds in his back and his arm, nearly drowned, been beaten with whips, and now the poor kid is probably concussed. It’s pretty amazing that he survives this book at all, considering. Fortunately, things are about to get a lot brighter (literally) in the next chapter!