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, April 2, 2017

Taran Wanderer, Chapter 20 – The Spoilers – and Chapter 21 – The Mirror

The next day, Taran and Gurgi travel to the neighboring commot, with Annlaw’s wares loaded on Melynlas and Gurgi’s pony. (Does Gurgi’s pony have a name?) Arriving at Commot Isav, they see a group of men with tight faces, one of whom – Drudwas – warns them that a band of outlaws is threatening to plunder their herds and lands. Drudwas says the leader of the outlaws is a “yellow-haired ruffian,” who Taran guesses must be Dorath. Taran asks what they're going to do, and Drudwas says they will fight: they number seven against twelve if you count his son, Llassar, who is “scarcely older than Taran had been when Coll first dubbed him Assistant Pig-Keeper.” Awww, the nostalgia!

Taran says he and Gurgi will stand with the men, making it nine against twelve, but since they are going up against Dorath’s skill the element of surprise will be critical. He suggests that two men lie hidden in the sheepfold and attack the enemy when they least expect it. Dorath says those men will be risking their lives for the others. Taran volunteers to be one, and Llassar insists on being the other. I have a bad feeling about this. Night falls, and Taran and Llassar talk quietly while they wait for Dorath’s band to attack. Llassar asks what Taran is seeking, and Taran says since he can’t be a smith, a weaver or a potter, his destiny must be to “wander without seeking.” So, other than farming or fighting, those are all the professions that exist in Prydain, I guess? Llassar says he’s content to live in Commot Isav and he doesn’t envy Taran; Taran says, “No, it is I who envy you.”

Dorath’s band attacks! Taran and Llassar spring up as planned, and Taran finds himself battling with Gloff, Dorath’s very unpleasant henchman. Llassar jumps between them to save Taran. Gloff stabs Llassar (oh no!); then Drudwas kills Gloff. The women and girls of Isav strike a blow for feminism, joining the fight and driving off the bandits with rakes, hoes and pitchforks. In a flash of brilliance, Gurgi jumps on the back of a bull and charges Dorath and the remnants of his band, driving them away. Llassar’s wound is not serious, it turns out; he’ll live. The commot folk celebrate their victory and thank Taran for saving their lives and their flocks. Even though you’d think he’d be tired after traveling all day and staying up all night, Taran refuses their offer to stay and instead heads straight back to Commot Merin.

Taran laments to Annlaw that, despite having just won the eternal gratitude of a whole bunch of people, he feels of no use to anyone. Annlaw suggests maybe he should try antidepressants. No, actually he suggests the Mirror of Llunet. Taran is like, whoa, I almost forgot about my whole quest! He tells Annlaw the story of his journey so far. But now, he concludes, he’s almost afraid of what the Mirror would tell him. Annlaw’s like, I can’t help you with that, but I can tell you where the Mirror is; it’s a pool of water in a cave at the head of the Lake of Llunet, about two days’ journey away. And so, without further ado, Taran (and Gurgi, of course!) go to find the Mirror.

The journey is uneventful, and they find the cave Annlaw spoke of, near the Lake of Llunet at the foot of Mount Meledin. The Mirror is a glistening pool just a few inches deep, fed by moisture trickling down the walls of the cave. Taran kneels at the edge, looks deeply into the Mirror and sees something that makes him “cry out in disbelief.” Before we can find out what that is, that asshole Dorath is back! Somehow he managed to follow Taran, still believing that his quest was for treasure. Because he’s a total dick, he stamps in the Mirror, splashing all the water out of it, and then he attacks Taran. Gurgi tries to defend Taran and is thrown against the cave wall. Dorath and Taran fight, and the ugly sword that Taran made in Hevydd’s forge holds up, shattering the sword that Dorath stole from Taran.

Dorath runs away. Taran patches up the wounded Gurgi and takes him back to Annlaw’s hut. The potter asks Taran what he saw in the mirror. Taran says – ready for this? – he saw himself: “myself and none other. I am Taran.” Seriously? That’s what made him “cry out in disbelief”? I felt so incredibly ripped off when I read this as a child, and I’m afraid my relative maturity doesn’t help much. Taran says there was no enchantment in the Mirror at all; it was just a pool of water, and Orddu must have known that when she sent him on the quest. So now he doesn’t care about finding his parents, because “kinship has naught to do with blood ties,” and having friends is more important. He makes a little speech about how “Llonio said life was a net for luck; to Hevydd the Smith life was a forge; to Dwyvach the Weaver-Woman a loom” and says he has learned from Annlaw that life is also “clay to be shaped.” So Taran plans to shape his own life by heading home to Caer Dallben … and that, my friends, is the end to this fourth installment in the Prydain series!

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