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, June 14, 2015

The Book of Three, Chapter 12 - The Wolves

Late that afternoon, Taran thinks that they must have finally outrun the Cauldron-Born, only to see them reappear in the distance. He decides that they can’t run any further and must try to make a stand long enough for Gurgi and Eilonwy to escape. Gurgi howls in protest, and Eilonwy jumps down from Melyngar and grabs a bow and arrows. Taran cries to her to stop, that the Cauldron-Born can’t be killed, but she runs to the top of a hill and strings the bow. The next passage was the front excerpt in my Dell Laurel-Leaf edition, starting with “Taran seized the girl by the waist and tried to pull her away. He received a sharp kick in the shins.” (I remember spending hours as a young girl puzzling over whose job it was to pick out those passages and what criteria they used to select them. I really wished – still do, come to think of it – that was my job!)

Eilonwy snaps at Taran not to interfere. She looses her arrow and it creates a large silvery spider web in the air as it flies toward the Cauldron-Born. Taran and Fflewddur are amazed, but the Cauldron-Born pay the web no mind, and it melts away as they ride through it. Eilonwy is crushed that her spell, which she learned by listening at the door while Achren practiced and which was supposed to be a “big, sticky rope,” didn’t work. Taran prepares himself to face down the Cauldron-Born, but, at the last minute, they suddenly turn their horses and head back the way they came. Taran tells Fflewddur and Eilonwy what Gwydion said about the Cauldron-Born losing their power as they get farther from Annuvin, and surmises that they have run out of strength and are returning to Arawn. Then he compliments Eilonwy on her spider web. She blushes and says that’s the first nice thing he’s said to her, then harrumphs that he wasn’t worried she was in danger and flounces off. Taran says he “can’t make sense of that girl,” and Fflewddur says “We aren’t really expected to.”

That night, they keep watch in shifts. Taran wakes up before Eilonwy’s watch is over, and tells her quietly that in fact he was worried about her, but that the web was so amazing he forgot to mention it. Eilonwy is mollified, until Taran makes another blunder by saying “It is a good destiny that brings me such brave companions,” and she bristles at him all over again – he doesn’t care about her, he’s just happy to have helpers on his journey. She says she’s not speaking to him, pulls a cloak over her head and pretends to sleep while Taran sighs that at Caer Dallben, “nothing ever happened. Now, everything happens.” But he can’t seem to “make it come out right.” Poor Taran. The battle of the sexes never did run fair.

In the morning, Gurgi’s leg is much worse. Taran makes a poultice of herbs (Kingsfoil? That’s a weed!) for him. Fflewddur says the Cauldron-Born have forced them off-course to the point where they will lose two days if they return to the original plan. They agree to cross the river Ystrad and head on through the hills. When they make camp for the evening, they’re on the other side of the river and approaching the Eagle Mountains. But Gurgi is suffering terribly with fever and not even interested in his crunchings and munchings. Fflewddur says “Caer Dathyl is not far away… but our friend, I fear, may not live to see it.”

By Juan José González Vega, via Wikimedia Commons

And just when we’ve almost forgotten the title of the chapter, they hear wolves howling beyond their campfire. The wolves follow them all the next day, making everyone uneasy. Fflewddur worries that they won’t find a pass over the mountains. Taran suggests letting Melyngar pick the path, an idea which Fflewddur seconds heartily: “Every horse knows its way home!” Eilonwy, who apparently is speaking to Taran again, agrees it’s an interesting idea. Melyngar leads them swiftly along the ridges – right into a ravine where a wolf is waiting. (A real wolf, apparently – not a dude that looks like a wolf). The wolf pounces on Taran!


  1. You have to wonder about Taran's decision to stand against the cauldron-born here. Once he and Fflewddur are slain (the only likely outcome), there's nothing to stop the warriors from pursuing Eilonwy and Gurgi, neither of whom knows how to get to Caer Dathyl, and one of whom is an invalid unable to flee with any speed. It bothers me that Fflewddur goes along with it as though they have no other options.

    But I do appreciate that Eilonwy gets to show off her budding magic abilities, despite the failure of the trick - the only real moment like it in any of the books. LA didn't seem to want to dwell much on it, which I think is something of a detriment - certain sacrifices made later on would have been far more compelling emotionally if we'd been shown the extent of what was at stake.

    As for the cauldron-born retreat, I hold with the theory that

    they recognized Dyrnwyn as the only weapon that could stand against them and gave up the fight. That they could use up their Annuvin-powers at that very second is a little too convenient for belief.

  2. I agree it doesn't make a lot of sense for Taran and Fflewddur to sacrifice themselves in the hopes that Gurgi and Eilonwy can escape, especially since they haven't yet hit on the idea of letting Melyngar find her way to Caer Dathyl for them. Interesting theory about the timing of the Cauldron-Born retreat; I'll need to read further to see if this is borne out in the text, but would they be capable of recognizing Dyrnwyn, carried by a girl, at a distance? Maybe not visually, but through some sort of magic vibration that it gives off?

    1. Oh, it's not anything the text hints at; just something friends and I on a fan forum were bandying about. The CB do get very close to the companions, but since she's wearing Dyrnwyn on her back, it's not likely they see it; I think perhaps they just /feel/ it in some way. I used the idea in a fic from Eilonwy's POV; she senses the sword's animosity toward them and is irritated that none of them can use it.

      Of course if the CB could sense it here they would presumably do the same in the last book and avoid a certain outcome, so maybe that theory falls apart. Drat.

  3. To the idea of Dyrnwyn scaring off the cauldron-born, when Eilonwy realizes her spell didn't work as intended, she "stamped her foot and turned away." In the next paragraph, the cauldron-born stop just before they reach Taran, which would also be the point where they could get a close view of Dyrnwyn now that Eilonwy's back is toward them. Whether they think any of the companions is capable of wielding the sword probably doesn't cross their minds; they surely have a sense of how dangerous it is to be near it.

    The Horned King has a moment of hesitation later when he sees Taran try to use the sword, though that hesitation passes once he realizes Taran can't draw it. I'm just bringing it up here to illustrate how easily the sword is recognized by those who can be threatened by its power.

    1. That's a great detail I didn't take note of, that she's turned her back on them at that point. And then she says "Something turned them away, but I'm afraid it wasn't my spell." I think you guys are definitely onto something with the Dyrnwyn theory!