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, December 31, 2018

The High King, Chapter 21 – Farewells

Taran stays awake the rest of the night in silent thought, and whenever Taran spends a night in silent thought, I know he’s going to make a decision I’m not happy with. In the morning, everyone is preparing for the journey to the Summer Country, except Doli and Kaw, who are there to say goodbye to the others before departing for the realm of the Fair Folk. Taran looks at everyone assembled and announces that he’s made a decision: instead of marrying Eilonwy and living forever, he will stay in Prydain. He has work to do, he says; in addition to tending Coll’s garden and finishing Rhun’s seawall, he owes a debt to Annlaw, Llonio and the other Commot folk to try to restore the Red Fallows and rebuild Caer Dathyl. You see, he’s learned what it means to be a true hero: “A grower of turnips or a shaper of clay, a Commot farmer or a king—every man is a hero if he strives more for others than for himself alone.” He’s finally given up his dreams of nobility and is content to be an Assistant Pig-Keeper. Our boy’s all growsed up, y’all.

But Dallben says Taran is no longer Assistant Pig-Keeper. I guess with Coll dead, he’s Head Pig-Keeper now, right? Except if Hen Wen’s going to the Summer Country, who will he tend? Is she leaving her piglets behind? We don’t find out, because Dallben has a bigger promotion in mind for Taran: High King of Prydain. That’s right, you guys—he proved his worth by drawing Dyrnwyn and his decision to stay in Prydain confirmed that the prophecy in The Book of Three was meant for him. Dallben says that he never knew who Taran’s parents were: he was a foundling, wrapped and hidden in the trees by his parents, who were slain in battle. Dallben, who had been looking for the future king for many years, had hoped but not known for sure if Taran was the one: “Until now, my boy… you were always a great ‘perhaps.’”

Everyone says goodbye, and Taran gets some lovely parting gifts: a crystal from Glew, Doli’s axe, Fflewddur’s unbroken harp string. Gurgi says miserably that he has no gift to give—his wallet of lembas and jerky stopped working when magic left the realm—but then remembers that he picked up a little something in Annuvin. It’s a metal box containing parchments on which are written “the secrets of forging and tempering metals, of shaping and firing pottery, of planting and cultivating.” These secrets are even more valuable, Gwydion says preachily, than the magic tools “that labored of themselves and would have given carefree idleness.” It’s a good thing those were destroyed, then! Douche. Aww, this is the last time I get to call Gwydion a douche, guys! He wasn’t that bad, all in all. Though, in lieu of a gift, he does offer Taran a little lecture about how his hard work is just beginning: “so long as men still hate and slay each other, when greed and anger goad them,” there will still be evil in the world.

Dallben’s parting gift for Taran is The Book of Three. No longer magic, it now serves as a history of Prydain. Dallben fills in the last page right then and there: “And thus did an Assistant Pig-Keeper become High King of Prydain.” Heartbroken Eilonwy offers Taran her bauble to remember her by, but then loses her chill entirely and stamps her foot, saying she doesn’t see why she has to leave just because she has stupid magical powers. She’d much rather give them up and stay with Taran. Oh, honey.

Dallben says if she really means it, all she has to do is wish on the ring that Gwydion gave her. So that ring is even more lame of a gift than I initially thought! Does she want to take a night and sleep on it before making such a huge decision? No? All righty then. Right away, she turns the ring, and wishes for her powers to vanish. She gives “a sharp cry of pain,” and then says she doesn’t feel a bit different—are her powers truly gone? They are, says Dallben, “yet you shall always keep the magic and mystery all women share” (ugh) and “Taran, like all men, shall be often baffled by it.” And with that, he commands them to clasp hands and pledge their troth—and boom, they’re married!

Bidding Taran a final farewell, Dallben says he’s sure Hen Wen will decide to stay with Taran (and with her piglets, I presume). Outside the cottage, the surviving tertiary characters—Hevydd, Llassar, King Smoit, Aeddan, Goryon and Gast—are waiting to hail their new King and Queen. “And so they lived many happy years, and the promised tasks were accomplished.” And that’s the end of the book… and the series! We did it!

The High King, Chapter 20 – The Gift

We fast-forward through the journey home: the Sons of Don bear Taran and his companions to Avren harbor aboard their golden ships, “with Kaw proudly perched on the highest mast,” and then they ride beneath the banner of the White Pig until they arrive at Caer Dallben. Taran sees Coll’s empty garden and grieves “for the stout grower of turnips, far distant in his lonely resting place.” Sob! You deserved better, Coll.

Eilonwy runs to Dallben and hugs him. Hen Wen has a surprise: she’s now the mother of six piglets! I’m just about to wonder if it was a virgin birth when Dallben mentions that a “very handsome boar” came to visit during the winter and decided to stay. Well, all right, Hen Wen! You go, girl. Fflewddur assumes the piggies must be oracular like their mum, but Dallben says they seem to have no special powers, and not only that, but “Hen Wen’s own gift began to fade when the letter sticks shattered and now is gone past recall.” He thinks she’s happier now that she’s not bearing the burden of magical powers. Foreshadowing?

After a couple of days of resting, Dallben gathers the companions to announce that the Sons of Don are preparing to sail for the Summer Country. Taran is shocked that they would leave now, instead of staying to celebrate their victory over evil, and Gwydion says that having defeated Arawn, their destiny is now to “depart forever from Prydain.” That destiny includes his distant cousin Fflewddur, he says. Fflewddur protests that he’d like to stay in his own realm, but Taliesin says it’s not up to him to decide. As consolation, he tells Fflewddur he can bring Llyan with him, he will get a new harp whose strings will never break, and oh by the way, he’ll also be immortal: “All men born must die, save those who dwell in the Summer Country.” Dallben is headed there, too, since it sounds like a nice place to retire.

Doli has to return to the realm of the Fair Folk, and so does Kaw, for some reason. Everyone is sad about having to say farewell, and then Dallben drops the bomb: Eilonwy has to come to the Summer Country, since she still has magic powers and the new Prydain has to function without any magic. But Taran, Gurgi and Hen Wen are all invited to come with. So, everyone gets to be together except Doli and Kaw? Even fucking Glew gets to go to the Summer Country, and not only that, but he will be gifted with normal stature – I guess so that everyone doesn’t have to spend eternity listening to his bitching and moaning about how he used to be a giant.

Taran asks Eilonwy to marry him! She replies, “I wondered if you’d ever get round to asking. Of course I will.” Everyone is happy. Hooray! End of book. Close it, put it away.

*** 

Sigh. Just kidding. Of course it couldn’t be that easy. Taran goes to bed that night and “dreams” that Orddu, Orwen and Orgoch, in their young and beautiful incarnations, visit him in his bedroom (hubba hubba!) They present him with a gift: the tapestry of his life, woven on their loom and incomplete because his life is not finished and he has to make his own choices. He begs them to tell him why his grief is overshadowing his joy, but instead of suggesting that he may be clinically depressed, or suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after seeing SO MANY people die right in front of him, they just vanish. End of chapter.