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 15, 2018

The High King, Chapter 16 – The Enchanter

In this “bottle episode” chapter, we’re whisked away to Caer Dallben, where Dallben is drowsing over the books on his table. At his feet, Hen Wen (who is allowed indoors, I guess?) starts whimpering, agitated by something that Dallben can’t hear at first. Dallben says that if their time has come, “it is a moment to pass, no more than that, whatever the outcome.” He walks out into the wintry night and tells Hen Wen he can hear about twenty riders approaching: “I do not know whether to be insulted or relieved. Only twenty?”

He waits quietly until the war band eventually arrives. Alexander’s writing is masterful here, as Dallben unleashes his bad-ass wizard powers the most awesomely low-key way. He exhales “as gently as if he were puffing at thistledown,” which causes a wind to rip through the forest with “the force of a thousand swords.” Then he strikes his staff on the ground, creating an earthquake. Finally, he stretches out his hand “as though he were casting pebbles into a pond,” creating ropes of flame that drive his attackers back into the forest. All but one, that is. A single man presses on, pursuing Dallben into the cottage. Dallben recognizes him as Pryderi, “King of the West Domains.”

Pryderi corrects Dallben that he’s now the ruler of all Prydain. Dallben pretends to be surprised at this news: “Is Gwydion of the House of Don no longer High King?” Pryderi scoffs and says Caer Dathyl has fallen. Dallben says it don’t make no nevermind: as long as Caer Dallben stands and Dallben lives, Arawn will never prevail. What’s more, he says, Arawn knows he can never enter Caer Dallben, nor can the Huntsmen or the Cauldron-Born; that’s why he sent Pryderi to kill Dallben for him. Pryderi bristles at this and says he serves only himself. He draws his sword and strikes at Dallben, who blocks the blow with his wooden staff. Pryderi’s sword shatters on the staff. He says scornfully that he knows Dallben’s strength and also his weakness: Dallben can use his spells to frighten and deter attackers, but not to kill them.

Pryderi reveals he has a black dagger from Annuvin that is immune to Dallben’s magic. With pity, Dallben says it’s true that Pryderi can kill him with the weapon, but that what Pryderi doesn’t realize is that Arawn has betrayed him. He’s only a pawn in Arawn’s scheme to kill Dallben, and once he’s done so, he won’t leave Caer Dallben alive: “No man has ever suffered death at my hands. But those who scorn my spells do so at their own peril.” A circle of flame surrounds the cottage, and Dallben says that as soon as Pryderi kills him, the fire will engulf them both. Pryderi doesn’t believe it, because Arawn not only wants Dallben dead, but wants Pryderi to bring back The Book of Three.

Dallben says that the book will never serve Arawn, or Pryderi: “Good cannot come from evil. You leagued yourself with Arawn for what you deemed a noble cause. Now you are a prisoner of the very evil you hoped to overcome.” He says that he’s already foreseen Pryderi’s death. Pryderi lunges for The Book of Three. As Dallben warns him not to touch it, a bolt of lightning from the book strikes him dead. Dallben bows his head, and the circle of fire quietly fades away. (This whole scene would be so amazing in a live-action film. Come on, Disney, get moving on that already!)

So… The Book of Three definitely has a protective spell on it, but when Taran touched it at the very beginning of the series, he only got some blistered fingers. Pryderi, on the other hand, is rendered quite dead. Does the book know who is grabbing it and why, and respond accordingly? Or was Taran protected by some greater magic? Discuss!

Sunday, March 18, 2018

The High King, Chapter 15 – The River of Ice

The sudden light from Eilonwy’s bauble frightens the Huntsmen, and they fall back. Seeing their numbers, Taran realizes what a close call they’ve just had, but he’s mostly just overjoyed to know Eilonwy is still alive. Fflewddur wisely restrains him from going after her then and there. The valley turns dark again; Taran and company huddle in the mouth of the mine tunnel wondering what to do. They can’t go back through the mine, and the Huntsmen block them in every other direction.

Taran asks Doli to turn himself invisible and spy on the Huntsmen to find out their plans. After much complaining, Doli does so. He returns late that night with the news that the Huntsmen are hiding in the gorge until sunrise to avoid being killed by the bears and wolves that Medwyn sent. “And that’s where I want them,” says Doli, who has a plan. He’s found a frozen waterfall directly above the gorge, which if melted will go pouring down into the Huntsmen’s camp. Taran is dubious at first but trusts Doli’s confidence that it will work. For the rest of the night, the Fair Folk warriors, along with Fflewddur and Taran, chop away at the ice and build a massive pile of tree branches to set on fire. The heat melts the ice, and the waterfall thunderously gives way, crushing and drowning the startled Huntsmen far below.

Eilonwy and Gurgi return! Taran is too happy to even speak at first. He pulls Eilonwy close, and whispers that he had given up hope. “A silly thing to do,” replies Eilonwy, though she admits to having “a few uneasy moments with that ruffian Dorath.” You mean when he was announcing his plans to rape you? That’d make me uneasy too. Eilonwy doesn't elaborate on her recent trauma, but instead compliments Taran and Doli on getting rid of the Huntsmen. It looked like a burning river, she says, then gasps: the prophecy! The prophecy says Gelfling will destroy us! No, I keep telling you, wrong prophecy. It’s the one from Hen Wen’s letter sticks. “Night turn to noon and rivers burn with frozen fire ere Dyrnwyn be regained.” They realize that Eilonwy’s bauble lighting up the valley and the melted waterfall full of flaming branches have fulfilled those words. Gurgi is elated: “Wise piggy told the truth!” But Fflewddur wet-blankets that the prophecy also said mute stones would speak and Dyrnwyn’s flame would be quenched, so he thinks they ought not to put much stock in it.

Taran says that their last hope to stop the Cauldron-Born returning to Annuvin is to travel straight across the mountains, into what Doli says is forbidden land to the Fair Folk. Apparently, they’ll die if they get to close to Annuvin. Doli is the exception, because he’s spent a lot of time above ground, with humans. Ohhh…kay. So hanging out with humans makes him immune to Arawn’s death germs? That doesn’t make any sense to me. Feels like Alexander needed to get rid of the Fair Folk army but keep “good old Doli” in the group, so he invented this explanation on the spot. What do you think? Is this a cheat, or did I miss the part where this logic was established earlier? Let me know in the comments!

Sunday, February 25, 2018

The High King, Chapter 14 - Daylight

Another POV shift! In this chapter we find out what happened to Eilonwy. Gurgi saved her life during the battle by dragging her away from the action, then found a cave for the two of them to spend the night in. The next day, as they searched for Taran, they were suddenly set upon … not by the Cauldron-Born but by a gang of mauraders. Tied to horses and brought to a campfire, they now face off with none other than our old friend Kid Rock (aka Dorath)! He swipes Eilonwy's bauble and demands she tell them where they can find "more treasure like this."

When Eilonwy won't answer, Dorath approaches Gurgi and realizes they have met before, when Gurgi was the "comrade to a pig-keeper." It's then that things get really creepy, y'all. Dorath looks more closely at Eilonwy, whom he'd previously thought was a boy, and notices that she's a "wench." She corrects him that she's no wench, but a princess of Llyr, and he calls her "Princess Vixen" and says he'll set her free later, after he settles a score with Taran. And by that, he means he plans on raping her and inviting his gang to do the same. This meaning was totally lost on me when I first read this book at age 11 or so, but when I read it now, his intentions are very clear - and what's more, they're clear to Eilonwy as well: "she could sense the outlaw's thoughts behind his cold eyes and for the first time she was deeply afraid." Yikes. Heavy stuff.

Gurgi tries to protect Eilonwy by biting Dorath on the leg. Dorath draws his sword and is about to kill Gurgi when - just in the nick of time - the wolves arrive! They tear out the throats of Dorath and his company, then chew through the ropes binding Eilonwy and Gurgi. Eilonwy retrieves her bauble from Dorath's corpse and thanks the wolves for helping them. She says the only wolves she's met before lived with Medwyn, and then very slowly puts it together that these must be the same wolves. She wishes she could communicate with them, and then suddenly she's able to. How terribly convenient! Is this the same magic power that Gwydion acquired at Oeth-Anoeth and then never mentioned again?

Gurgi and Eilonwy travel with the wolf pack through the Hills of Bran-Galedd, the wolves protecting them from bears and other dangers. They arrive at the crest of a hill just in time to see Taran and the war band disappearing into the mines in the valley far below. It takes them the rest of the day to get halfway down the slope. As the sun is setting, Brynach and Briavael sound the alarm that a band of Huntsmen is approaching. Right about that time, Taran and the others emerge from the mine entrance. Eilonwy calls Taran's name, trying to warn him, but he's too far away and can't hear her. She pulls out her bauble, which glows brighter and brighter until the valley is drenched with a light as bright as the sun. Eilonwy's about to rescue Taran once again!

Thursday, January 25, 2018

The High King, Chapter 13 – Darkness

Taran and company try to catch up with the retreating Cauldron-Born, but make slow progress crossing the Hills of Bran-Galedd in the wintry weather. Knowing that the Cauldron-Born get stronger as they get closer to Annuvin, Taran grimly observes that “Unless we halt them, one time for all, our efforts will do no more than sap our own strength.” Snow-blind and exhausted, they stop to make camp … and in the morning, the Cauldron-Born attack. The battle rages all day, and when the Cauldron-Born finally push their way back into the Red Fallows, Eilonwy and Gurgi are missing! Oh noes! Taran searches all night through the bodies of the fallen Commot folk, but can’t find them alive or dead.

The surviving Commot folk assemble, and Fflewddur advises Taran to give up searching and lead the charge to stop the Cauldron-Born from reaching the Fallows. Taran wants to keep looking for Eilonwy and Gurgi but reluctantly agrees. The war band tries to make up for lost time by pursuing the Cauldron-Born as fast as they can. It always cracks me up how they are able to go for days and nights at a time with only “moments of fitful rest” in these books. And with Gurgi gone, I guess they’re out of lembas and jerky too?

On the third day, an outrider raises an alert. The British are coming! No, it’s actually a band of Fair Folk, with Doli at the head. Taran greets him by goofily repeating “Doli! Good old Doli!” a bunch of times, and Doli gets a genuine laugh out of me by replying, “If I ever doubted you recognized me, you’ve fully convinced me that you do.” He explains that King Eiddileg sent him to serve Taran, whom he owes a debt for saving them from being transformed by Morda.

Doli meets Glew, who starts whining about having been a giant and a king in “the finest cavern, with the finest bats, on the Isle of Mona.” Hearing the word “cavern” gives Doli an idea: there’s a nearby Fair Folk mine that they can use as a shortcut to catch up with the Cauldron-Born at the edge of the Red Fallows. I don’t know, Doli – I’ve seen this movie and it didn’t turn out well. Taran hasn’t, apparently, because he agrees to follow Doli to the mine, even though he’s sure that by doing so he’s losing the last shred of hope that Eilonwy will somehow find them.

They light torches, and lead their horses into the mine entrance. Taran sees wooden platforms and notices that the timbers that brace the arches are partially rotted (foreshadowing!). Glew starts scavenging gems, gloating to himself about how rich he’s going to be. When he climbs up to one of the wooden platforms to get an exceptionally large jewel, his pouch rips open, scattering gems, and he loses his balance trying to grab them. He pulls on the platform, causing an avalanche of stones and timbers, which doesn’t kill anyone but blocks their way forward.

Doli says they can dig their way through, which could take days, but that there are likely to be other cave-ins now that the mine is weakened. He advises them to retrace their steps and try to get to the Fallows above ground. Taran and Fflewddur fear they have lost any chance of catching the Cauldron-Born before they reach Annuvin. Oblivious to the fact that he's probably doomed all of Prydain, Glew whines that nobody seems to care that he's lost a fortune (womp womp!).