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

Monday, July 25, 2016

The Castle of Llyr, Chapter 16 – A Meeting of Strangers – and Chapter 17 – The Spells of Caer Colur

Eilonwy seems to have completely lost her memory. She introduces herself formally, and asks Taran again who he is. He says she’s dreaming and implores her to wake up. She says yes, she was dreaming, before he so rudely awakened her: “A pleasant dream – with a pig in it – and someone who – no, it’s gone now, faster than a butterfly.” Taran notices that her eyes lack depth, and fears she’s been drugged or is under a spell. He begs her to climb down the rope with him, but she’s like, slide down yourself, dude, and let me go back to sleep. Taran starts desperately dropping names: Hen Wen, Coll, Caer Dallben. Eilonwy thinks maybe Caer Dallben was in her dream, too. She was climbing an apple tree, fell off, and was caught by someone: “Could it have been an Assistant Pig-Keeper? I wonder what became of him.” Taran says quietly that he’s here, and I’ve got legitimate chills; it’s so beautiful and sad. Then there’s a great moment where Eilonwy, for a second, seems as if she’s going to remember him, then dismisses it all as simply a dream.

Taran grabs Eilonwy’s arm, saying that Achren has done this to her. That’s the wrong move, as it turns out. Eilonwy jerks away from him, slaps him in the face and then runs into the hallway, shrieking for Achren to help her. Taran chases after her and is seized by Magg, who pulls a dagger on him! Gwydion and the others show up just in time. Fflewddur wastes no time in setting upon “the spider,” Magg. Gurgi helps Fflewddur pin Magg down, while Rhun manages to save Taran’s life, by killing a guard who has Taran cornered. Gwydion kills two guards, and the others flee at the sight of the blazing Dyrnwyn. At the end of the hall, Eilonwy appears with Achren beside her.

Achren warns the companions that if they kill her, Eilonwy will die also. Gwydion believes she’s telling the truth, and tells the others to stand down. Achren gives Gwydion a lingering look, and says it’s a pity Gwydion didn’t become her consort when he had the chance. Gwydion commands her to release Eilonwy. Achren says that Eilonwy is there willingly to claim her birthright – the castle of Caer Colur and all its enchanted treasures, and Eilonwy, still speaking like she’s in a trance, agrees with her. Poor Gurgi tries to appeal to Eilonwy’s memory, saying he waits to serve her, as always. Achren demands that Fflewddur release Magg, and in one of the most upsetting scenes of the entire series, Eilonwy basically puts the Cruciatus Curse on Gurgi, torturing him until Fflewddur obeys. And then Gurgi says he forgives Eilonwy, and I love his poor tender head so much! It’s just the saddest thing ever.

Magg says Fflewddur will pay dearly when he is king of Dinas Rhydnant: “Magg the Magnificent!” Fflewddur corrects him: “Magg the Maggot!” (That one’s a little too easy, Fflewddur.) Achren says she will make Magg’s kingdom great, and that Arawn will pay. Then she goes off the deep end a little bit, railing against her ex, saying that he betrayed her and she will topple him. I kind of picture everyone else shifting around during this rant, like “Awkward!” Especially Gwydion, whom she was just hitting on a few minutes ago. I’m guessing he’s not regretting the decision not to hook up with her one bit. He tells her that she doesn’t have the power to awaken Eilonwy’s enchantments. She tells him he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. And then Rhun, channeling his inner Screech from “Saved by the Bell,” chimes in enthusiastically that yes, he does! They have the book and the bauble and they’re never giving them up!

Monday, July 18, 2016

The Castle of Llyr, Chapter 15 – The Island

Gwydion steps out of the shadows, still in his shoemaker’s disguise, with Kaw perched on his shoulder. Rhun asks where his sandals are. Taran quickly whispers to him – like, no dude, be cool, this guy is a Prince of Don – which cracks me up. I suppose he could be whispering so that they won’t be overheard by Magg or Achren, but it totally reads like he’s whispering an aside to Rhun to keep him from embarrassing himself in front of Gwydion. And, because Gwydion is a douche, he just says that the sandals will have to wait, without bothering to introduce himself to Rhun at all or explain why he posed as a shoemaker. Then he proceeds to apologize to Fflewddur, for not revealing himself when they shared a stable together, which makes his behavior to Rhun seem even ruder. Oh, Gwydion.

Taran tells Gwydion that Magg has taken Eilonwy, most likely to Caer Colur. Gwydion already knows this, and in fact has already been to Caer Colur, but he was too late. Eilonwy is now Achren’s prisoner, guarded by a crew of “hirelings and outlaws,” but fortunately no Cauldron-Born, since Achren no longer has Arawn’s protection. Taran is all for going and attacking right now, but Gwydion says there is more to fear than swords. He leads them down to the beach, where they board a small boat that he obtained from one of Mona’s fishermen. Taran is surprised by how far away Caer Colur is, based on Glew’s descripton of it having broken off from the mainland. Gwydion is like, whoa, you met Glew? Taran hands him Eilonwy’s bauble and shows him the magic book. Gwydion can’t read the writing either, but says it’s a treasure of the House of Llyr. He exposits, “For generations the daughters of the House of Llyr were among the most skillful enchantresses in Prydain, using their powers with wisdom and kindliness.” Two of their most magical treasures were Eilonwy’s bauble, aka the Golden Pelydryn, and the book of spells that went with it.

Although Eilonwy grew up believing her kinsfolk had sent her to live with Achren to learn to be an enchantress, Gwydion explains, in reality, Achren kidnapped her. But Achren couldn’t take the Pelydryn away from Eilonwy, because it would lose its power, and with the book of spells having been lost there was nothing she could do with it anyway. The spells wouldn’t have helped Glew, even if he had the bauble to read them by, continues Gwyddie, because only a daughter of the House of Llyr who “has reached the threshold of womanhood,” as Eilonwy is about to do, can command them. (Is that a euphemism for getting her period?) Taran says that Achren won’t dare harm Eilonwy, then, and Gwydion counters that Eilonwy may be “in greater danger than before.”

They arrive at the fortress of Caer Colur (aka the titular Castle of Llyr, y'all)! Gwydion goes ahead to check out the guards, coming back to report that they are mostly asleep. They all sneak in easily, and Kaw identifies the tower where Eilonwy is being held. Gwydion says one of them must climb up and see if they can free her, while the others stand guard. Taran turns to Rhun and says it should be him, since he’s her betrothed and all. Rhun says he no longer needs to prove his valor to Eilonwy: “I’m quite content proving it to myself.” And, he adds, Eilonwy would probably rather see Taran first.

Gwydion buries the book and the bauble under some loose stones in the courtyard, to keep them safe until they come back. (Um, wouldn’t it be smarter to have Kaw carry them somewhere else, like to the boat, perhaps?) Then he gives Kaw the end of a rope, which the crow secures to the top of the tower, and Taran climbs up. Eilonwy’s in the tower! She’s asleep on a couch. Taran wakes her, exclaiming that Gwydion, Gurgi, Fflewddur and Rhun are all with him. Eilonwy sleepily says, “That’s very interesting.… But who are they? And … who are you?”

Monday, July 11, 2016

The Castle of Llyr, Chapter 14 – The Empty Book

Taran thanks Rhun for saving their lives, and asked how he managed to climb down into the cavern. An apologetic Rhun says he didn’t climb, just jumped, and now he’s afraid he’s trapped them again. Taran says they can form a ladder like last time, but then Fflewddur points out a crack in the wall where Glew’s roars shook the rock apart. Glew is still unconscious, and Fflewddur wants to dispatch him, but Taran takes pity and plans to ask Dallben to help the sad giant, despite everything. He’s a good egg, that Taran.

As the companions start to pick their way through the rocks, Rhun suddenly misses the book they found in Glew’s hut and goes back to look for it. It’s lying on the floor of the cavern, but by the light of the bauble they can see that it’s no longer empty – every page is covered with writing! Rhun is sad that it can no longer be used as a notebook, but Taran recognizes the script as ancient and carefully written. They leave the cavern, and in the sunlight, Taran tries to show the writing to Fflewddur – but it’s gone! Some confusion ensues, until they finally realize that the writing can only be seen by the light of the bauble. Fflewddur can’t read it, and says the book makes him uneasy; he recommends they destroy it. But Taran wants to solve the mystery and decides to hold onto it.

They arrive at the riverbank and find the remnants of their raft. By nightfall, they’ve repaired it and are afloat down the river. Taran wonders aloud why the bauble lit for Rhun, when it had never done so before. Fflewddur says that he knows a lot about these kinds of enchantments, causing a harp string to break (which I think is only the second time that’s happened in this book, and I must say I’m glad Alexander decided to go easy on that gimmick in subsequent books, after its heavy usage in The Book of Three). He amends that he knows very little about them, but if pressed, he’d say that the bauble seems to light when you are thinking more of others than of yourself. Taran remembers that when he thought of Eilonwy, the bauble glowed, and so it must have worked for Rhun when he was ready to sacrifice his own safety to help the others. Fflewddur says once you learn to put others ahead of yourself, “you’ve discovered a great secret indeed,” which is the kind of moralizing sentiment I’d expect more from Gwydion than from the bard. And speaking of Gwydion, he shows up again at the very end of the chapter: the river ends in a bay, and the companions pole the raft to shore. Taran walks up the hill in the moonlight, and his old buddy Gwydion warns him from the shadows to be careful: “Achren’s eyes are sharp.” Things are about to get good!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The Castle of Llyr, Chapter 12 – The Tomb – and Chapter 13 – The Ladder

Having trapped the companions, Glew apologizes from the other side of the stone. He says he only asks one thing of them: to help him brew a potion that will change him back to normal size. Fflewddur protests that he can’t force them to be test subjects for the potions. Glew promises they won’t have to try a drop – he only needs one of them, and he promises what he needs will be quick and painless. Taran puts it together, correctly guessing that Glew wants to kill one of them for potion ingredients. Glew whines that this isn’t easy for him either: “I’m fond of all of you, especially the little fuzzy one, and I feel dreadful about the whole thing.” In fact, he doesn’t want to choose which one will be his victim. He tells the companions that they must choose, and he’ll shut his eyes so he doesn’t see who gets picked. “Then, after it’s over, we’ll try to forget about it. We’ll be the best of good friends – those of you remaining, that is.” (Heh. I’m enjoying the dark humor, which is a place these books don’t go to very often.) He goes off to prepare the other ingredients.

The companions try, and fail, to dig their way out of the chamber with their swords. Finally, Rhun says the only way out is to capitulate to Glew’s demands. Terrified Gurgi volunteers “his poor tender head for broilings and boilings.” Taran and Fflewddur think they all should fight to the death first. Rhun disagrees. He says he’s obviously the most expendable person in the group, and that by volunteering for the sacrifice, at least he can be useful to Eilonwy. Taran respects Rhun for the offer but reminds him of his oath to the king to protect Rhun from harm. Smiling, Rhun says he will lift the oath from Taran, and then wonders aloud where all the bats have gone. Taran shines the bauble around the chamber: no bats, so there must be a way out! After some searching, they find it – a passage at the top of the sheer stone wall. Fflewddur says that short of turning into bats themselves, there’s no way they can reach it. Taran suggests they make a ladder by standing on one another’s shoulders, enabling the top person to reach the exit. Taran decides Rhun should be the one to go. He gives him Eilonwy’s bauble, saying, “May it shine brightly on your wedding day.” Sob!

They form the human (+ Gurgi) ladder – with poor Fflewddur on the bottom, then Gurgi, then Taran – and Rhun climbs up. He manages to reach the ledge and pull himself up, just as Glew returns and rolls away the stone. In the dark, Fflewddur, Gurgi and Taran try to defend themselves against Glew, who can see better than they can. While trying to avoid being trampled, they knock over the giant’s potions table, and then Taran falls into one of the underground pools. He tells the others to run, as Glew reaches for him. Then suddenly, a bright light fills the cavern. Glew, blinded, screams and retreats. His roars of pain shake the cave, bringing a crystal down on his head that knocks him out. Taran jumps up to see Rhun, returned already, with “the bauble blazing in his hand.” Zero to hero, just like that!