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

Friday, March 17, 2017

Taran Wanderer, Chapter 19 – The Potter’s Wheel

The friendly old man invites Taran and Gurgi to come back to his home for some horse brutality – hospitality, that is. Taran offers to carry his buckets of clay for him, but soon finds the yoke unbearably heavy, and the old man has to take it back. When they arrive at his hut, the man pours the clay into a large vat. Upon entering the hut, Taran sees an assortment of beautiful pottery, and he instantly recognizes the craftsmanship from the pieces Lord Gast was bragging about. He tells the man, “If this is your work, I have seen some of it before, and I know you: Annlaw Clay-Shaper.” Wow, what are the odds? The one potter in Prydain we know by name, and Taran ends up at his house.

Taran fanboys to Annlaw that he’s so talented, he’s even heard that the potter uses enchantment to create his wares. Annlaw says there used to be some enchanted implements, but Arawn stole them all, along with some trade secrets that Annlaw would prize higher than magic, if he could get his hands on them. Taran laments that he has no trade, and tells about his brief internships with Hevydd and Dwyvach. Annlaw says, “Have you considered piracy? You’d make a wonderful Dread Pirate Roberts.” No, actually he says “What of the potter’s wheel?” Taran is game to try. Annlaw demonstrates how to make a bowl of clay, then invites Taran to take a turn at the wheel. Taran practically has an orgasm as soon as he touches the clay. He’s so excited by how fun it is to make a pot that he begs Annlaw to take him on as apprentice. Annlaw, of course, is like, sure, we’ll start tomorrow. I love how no one ever tells Taran, “Forget it kid, hit the road.” They’re very hospitable, these Commot folks.

Much like Hevydd and Dwyvach did, Annlaw makes Taran start from the beginning, learning about finding and sifting the earth, etc., before he finally gets to try the wheel again. This takes all summer, and then throughout autumn Taran practices making vessels. None of them match his expectations, though, and he finally cries, “Is the gift forbidden me?” Annlaw’s response is pretty much, yeah, you’re never going to be a potter. I would protest it would take more than a few months to know that, but apparently Annlaw is the pottery equivalent of a judge on “The Voice.”

Taran is devastated. Annlaw tries to cheer him up by saying he can still stay there and help with various tasks. For instance, he needs someone to carry his wares to Commot Isav, a day’s journey away. Taran agrees to go, but thinks of his happiness as “a flawed vessel shattered in the firing.” Poor kid. He was pretty good at being a smith and a weaver, but didn’t want to be those things, and now he really wants to be a potter, and the master potter is telling him he’ll never be good at it. This is pretty much every artist’s worst fear – that our skills are not equivalent to our passion. And on that downer note, I’m going to go have a beer (it’s St. Patrick’s Day, after all)!

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Taran Wanderer, Chapter 18 – The Free Commots

Taran and Gurgi journey on into the Free Commots, where Taran continues to introduce himself only as “Taran Wanderer” and is glad that no one presses him for more information. He finds a smith named Hevydd laboring at his forge, and asks to be taught the craft in exchange for free labor. Hevydd at first says he doesn’t have time, but Taran baits him a little bit – “I’ve heard it said that a man must be a true master of his craft if he would teach it” – and of course Hevydd takes umbrage and demonstrates his art by hammering a perfect blossom out of metal. He then challenges Taran to smooth it out again, and Taran’s attempt, though inexpert, demonstrates that he knows the basics. Hevydd agrees to train Taran, and says they’ll start by making him a sword. Just like Taran wanted Coll to teach him back at the beginning of the series!

Taran finally learns to make a sword!
Taran labors for several days making a sword from beginning to end. When it’s finally done, he’s proud of his work, admiring its shape. But then Hevydd challenges him to strike a wooden block with it. Taran does, and the sword shatters. Womp womp! He has to start all over. After several more attempts, he finishes a sword that’s not nearly as pretty as the first one. But this time, it splits the wooden block in two. Hevydd says, “That's a blade worth bearing.” He invites Taran to stay on as his apprentice, and says he’ll teach him everything he knows. But Taran’s heart is telling him to move on, that this is not his destiny. Hevydd tells him to keep the sword, and bids him farewell, reminding him that life is a forge, shaping and tempering us all. For some reason, I remembered Taran’s time with Hevydd as lasting for a significant portion of the book – maybe because, like the Morda scene, it’s been immortalized in cover art. I was surprised when I got to it this week and saw that it’s only half of one chapter!

Next, Taran visits a weaver named Dwyvach and asks her to teach him the craft of weaving. She calls him “Taran Threadbare” and says that he can start by weaving himself a new cloak. As Hevydd did with the sword, she makes him start at the very beginning, first teasing burrs and thorns out of the wool, then spinning it to thread. Gurgi protests that spinning is woman’s work – what the hell, Gurgi? Now you’re sexist too? – but Dwyvach just snorts that the work doesn’t complain about who does it. After spinning the thread and dyeing it, Taran threads the loom and begins to weave his cloak. After a long day of work, he realizes that he doesn’t like the pattern he picked. Dwyvach says he has a choice: “Either finish a cloak you’ll be ill-content to wear, or unravel it and start anew.” Taran sighs and decides to start over. Once again, he tries over and over before he gets it right, and when he finally does, he decides it’s time to move on. Dwyvach is sad, because she thinks he has the skill to be a great weaver, but she understands the restlessness of a young heart. As they say farewell, she reminds him that life’s patterns are “not so easily unraveled.”

The chapter really should end here, but instead there are asterisks followed by a two-page section that feels kind of tacked-on, in which they journey to the next commot, the fairest one Taran has seen. He feels a “strange excitement” and is certain they should stop there. They see a man digging by a stream, who tells them that they are in Commot Merin, and that’s the end of the chapter. I gotta say, Alexander (and/or his editor) made some odd choices with the chapter breaks in this book. First we had the stay with Llonio split awkwardly over two chapters, and now two commots and the beginning of a third are crammed into one chapter. Oh well. What matters is that we’re very nearly to the climax and the resolution of Taran’s quest!