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, October 27, 2015

The Black Cauldron, Chapter 9 – The Brooch

Fflewddur and Doli draw off the attacking Huntsmen, calling to Taran, Eilonwy and Gurgi to take the wounded Adaon to safety. They flee through the cold, windy forest, until they reach a small sheltered glade where Adaon implores them to stop. They carry him to a sunny spot under the trees to rest. Taran opens the healing herbs and says that they’ll tend his wound and then make a litter to carry him between the horses. Poor, naïve Taran. Adaon knows that’s not going to happen. He says he’s not in pain and that “it Is pleasant here, as warm as spring.” Taran instantly recognizes that this is the scene Adaon described from his dream. He says he would never have chosen to go to the marshes if he knew Adaon would be in peril. Adaon says if he had interfered with the choice, he would never have known if it was a wise choice or just following his desire to go home to Arianllyn. “I am content to die here,” he says, and gives the protesting Taran his brooch. And then he closes his eyes and dies.

At this point, at age 11, I was so distraught that I threw the book across the room (and I’ve never been prone to violence toward books). It seemed like a betrayal by Alexander, introducing this wonderful, pure, brave character and then ruthlessly killing him off halfway through the book. At that point in my life, I hadn’t read too many stories in which a hero dies. But now, as an adult, I truly appreciate the way this death scene was handled – the books are clearly getting darker and more mature, and, as William Goldman put it, some of the wrong people are going to die. And yet the first “good guy” in the series to die is truly at peace, and despite the violence of his injury, has time to accept, even embrace, his destiny.

Through all of Taran’s adventures up to this point, including having mourned the assumed loss of Gwydion at Spiral Castle, he’s never actually witnessed the death of a friend. Now the poor kid has to bury Adaon with only Eilonwy and Gurgi to help. I hope Gurgi is a really good digger because digging graves is backbreaking work, though Alexander doesn’t mention that part. They raise a mound of stones and Eilonwy scatters flowers over them, bringing Adaon’s vision of flowers springing from bare rock to life. His foretelling that Taran would grieve has also come to pass, “thrice over,” since Taran fears that Fflewddur and Doli cannot have survived either. He decides they should wait for them until dawn and then move on. Then he falls asleep and has some wild and crazy dreams: a black beast torments Ellidyr, a gray bird shows Taran a path, Fflewddur’s harp sits on a boulder in the middle of a stream, and two wolves and a bear attack Taran in a marsh – at which he wakes in terror.

Despite Eilonwy’s protestations that they should head for Caer Cadarn, Taran leads the group south, in the direction of Morva. He notices his senses are heightened and without being able to say how, he knows when there is a stream nearby. Fflewddur sits on a rock in the stream, dipping his feet in the water. He’s glad to see them, but doesn’t know what became of Doli. Later, still unsure if they are going in the right direction to reach the marshes, they come to a meadow and Taran sees a gray bird. He declares it’s a marsh bird and they should follow its direction to Morva. By now, Taran has figured out what’s going on with his newfound prescience – it’s all due to his wearing Adaon’s brooch. Eilonwy doesn’t want to believe it: “Adaon was a wonderful man… You can’t tell me it was all because of a piece of iron.” Taran doesn’t claim to understand things the way that Adaon did, he just knows that he feels and knows things differently than before. Eilonwy agrees that the brooch has given Taran “a kind of wisdom” and that it’s a priceless gift. The chapter ends, and I’m left to wonder when and how poor Arianllyn will find out about her fiance’s death. Sob!

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