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

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Taran Wanderer, Chapter 9 – The Hand of Morda – and Chapter 10 –The Broken Spell

As Morda taunts Taran, debating over what sort of animal he will change him into, Taran feels something gnawing at the ropes that bind his wrists. It’s Gurgi, in mouse form! (Morda put Kaw and Fflewddur in cages, but not Gurgi, which was not very smart of him.) Taran tries to buy some time by pleading with the wizard to let him choose his new form. He asks Morda to turn him into a pig, which would remind him of his happy days at Caer Dallben. Morda pretends to consider it, then exults that Taran has revealed his fondest wish, thus guaranteeing that’s the one thing he’ll never be. Jerk. Taran says – as Gurgi finishes chewing through his bonds – in that case, he’ll keep his own shape, thank you! He jumps up, draws his sword and stabs Morda right in the heart: yikes! But Morda, unharmed, just laughs creepily. He says he would have taken Taran’s sword if he thought it could harm him. His life isn’t in his body; it’s hidden far away, somewhere safe. So he has a Horcrux! And that’s when Taran notices Morda is missing the pinky finger on one hand.

He's like the six-fingered man from The Princess Bride.
Except with two fewer fingers.
Morda finally settles on a shape to transform Taran into: a worm. But as he tries to cast the spell, nothing happens. “As if I struggled against myself,” he says in disbelief. Taran, putting two and two together, slowly reveals the bone fragment in his pocket. Yes, indeed, it’s Morda’s little finger! He put all his life into it and sliced it off, then hid it away so he could be immortal. Terrified, the wizard begs Taran to give him the bone, and to take the gem of Angharad in return. Taran says the gem is not Morda’s to bargain with, but he nonetheless won’t kill him, since his evil is not for Taran to judge. He commands Morda to restore his companions and come with them to Caer Dallben, where Dallben will bring him to justice. At that, Morda swings the necklace like a whip, and the gem slashes Taran’s face. Taran, blinded by blood, drops the bone, and Morda grabs him by the throat. Taran is thisclose to being strangled to death when Llyan comes to the rescue! She bursts through the door and grapples with Morda. Taran retrieves the bone and tries to break it. It resists. The chapter ends ...

... but it’s the shortest cliffhanger ever, because by the second paragraph of the next chapter, Taran succeeds in snapping the bone in two! It crumbles, and so does Morda. The companions are instantly changed back to themselves – including Doli, who was carried in by Llyan – and there’s some comic relief as Fflewddur tries to get out of his wicker basket and get his nose to stop twitching. Kaw brings Angharad’s jewel to Taran. Doli recognizes it as a Fair Folk treasure, given to Princess Regat on her wedding day, and handed down to her daughter. Taran briefly wonders if he can use it to bargain with Orddu for the truth about his parentage. But then he realizes the honorable thing to do is to give it to Doli, and he does.

They leave Morda’s hut, and Taran asks Doli about the Mirror of Llunet. Doli hasn’t heard of it, but he knows of a “Lake of Llunet in the Llawgadarn Mountains.” Then, noticing Taran’s horn, he asks where it came from, and Taran says it was a parting gift from Eilonwy. Doli says it’s a Fair Folk horn, with one magical summons left in it. He whistles “three long notes of a pitch and sequence strange to Taran.” (I like to think that it’s “Hot Cross Buns.”) He tells Taran if he ever needs help, to sound those exact notes on the horn and help will come. He warns him not to waste it: “Someday, your life may hang on that call.”

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