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

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Black Cauldron, Chapter 5 – The Huntsmen of Annuvin

As the sun begins to rise, Taran can see the attacking Huntsmen – of which there are about a dozen. They wear clothing made from animal skins, and each has a crimson brand on his forehead. Guessing that the symbol is a mark of Arawn’s power, Taran is chilled with fear. The Huntsmen are pretty terrifying, I guess, but somehow I never found them as frightening as the Cauldron-Born. Deathless zombie warriors > fur-clad, branded, Hydra-type warriors for sheer horror in my book. Plus, I would like to know where the Huntsmen came from. The Cauldron-Born have no choice but to serve Arawn, being drafted in death into his service, but what about the Huntsmen – are they volunteers? Does Arawn kidnap them and put a spell on them? I can't remember whether this gets explained later. And lastly, I would think that Cauldron-Born, which presumably never have to eat or sleep, would be a better investment for Arawn than human armies that require resources to maintain. Unless the Huntsmen are much better at strategy or fighting – like special forces – it seems like Arawn is just diversifying for the sake of not having all his eggs in one cauldron. (Rimshot.)

Anyway, they fight, and Taran is pulled from Melynlas and pinned by a Huntsman. Things look bleak for a second, until Ellidyr kills the Huntsman from behind. (That’s two you owe me, junior.) A sigh ripples through the remaining Huntsmen, and then they renew their attack with superhuman ferocity. Taran shouts at the others not to kill any Huntsmen: “Defend yourself but do not slay them!” Like, how exactly would you do that, unless you were in a cartoon? Speaking of which, the Huntsmen start falling all over the place as invisible fists pound them and grab their weapons away. It’s Doli, of course. He creates enough of a distraction for Adaon to grab Gurgi, shout “Follow me!” and ride off on Lluagor (presumably to victorious music on the soundtrack, whenever they get around to making the live-action movie version). Taran mounts Melynlas, grabs Eilonwy and gallops after him. They all flee to the relative concealment of a riverbed, where they lose the Huntsmen, then keep galloping west into the forest.

Adaon says they can stop for a brief rest. There’s some squabbling over whether they should make a stand or shun the Huntsmen. Taran thanks Ellidyr for saving him, and Ellidyr is predictably scornful in response. They set off again, as the day turns cold and damp. Suddenly Doli draws up and says there are Fair Folk around. Taran asks how he knows, and Doli says, “How do you know how to swallow your dinner?” which gave me a chuckle. Sometimes Doli’s not a total drag. He dismounts, runs to a hollow oak and starts yelling down into it. No one answers, but Doli is sure he calculated correctly. He kicks at the tree and says he’ll report this mismanagement to King Eiddileg himself! Eilonwy gets in on the hollering-into-the-tree action, and finally there’s a faint response: “Go away.” Strap in, folks: we’re about to meet yet another charming and fun representative of the Fair Folk.

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Black Cauldron, Chapter 4 – In the Shadow of Dark Gate

Halfway through the night, there’s a bustle in the hedgerow, or rather a rustling in the shrubbery, and Taran, Adaon, and Ellidyr leap to attention. The light of a glowing bauble reveals it’s Eilonwy and Gurgi! Taran starts yelling at Eilonwy immediately, calling her foolish and scatterbrained. (I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt and say he only does this when he’s under great stress. If he’s been berating her like this for the whole year she’s been working in the scullery – you can do better, Eilonwy. Just sayin’.)

Adaon echoes Aslan as he wearily chides, “Princess, Princess, you should not have followed us.” (Intentional on Alexander’s part? I wonder.) Then Ellidyr calls Eilonwy a “little fool” and Taran rounds on him, saying it’s one thing when Ellidyr insults Taran, but another when he insults his friend. But, weren’t you just insulting her yourself? Swords are drawn, and Adaon has to intervene once again. Ellidyr asks mockingly if Gurgi is the black beast from Adaon’s vision. Adaon sadly says no. Then Eilonwy explains that they had initially followed on horseback, but the horses got spooked being so close to Dark Gate and ran off in the direction of Caer Dallben. Taran says Eilonwy will be going back herself, but she asserts herself: if he can go on a quest, so can she. “Fair is fair!” You go, Billie Jean!

Adaon offers them refreshments, and Eilonwy says admiringly that he’s very kind and thoughtful. (Back off, Eilonwy. Yeah, I know I just said you deserved better, but I’m next in line behind Arianllyn.) She says that they brought along Gurgi’s magical wallet full of food, but that those mysterious provisions are “rather tasteless.” So I was right! Lembas and jerky.

Eilonwy’s impressed that Taran was “ready to smite” Ellidyr to defend her honor. Awww. As she’s effusing, Fflewddur rides in breathlessly, yelling that they need to pack up and flee. Doli, astride his pony, snaps back into being visible and complains that his ears are buzzing. Fflewddur says Gwydion wants them to fall back. Taran asks if the plan failed. No, says Fflewddur, it was perfect, except that they didn’t find the cauldron! Doli relates how he slipped into the Hall of Warriors unseen but saw only an empty platform, and then he heard two of Arawn’s guards talking about how the cauldron went missing a few days ago. Eilonwy and Taran are like, hooray! Arawn doesn’t have it anymore. The adults, less na├»ve, correct them that the cauldron is dangerous in and of itself, so no one is safe until it is found. They must go to Caer Cadarn, where Gwydion will plan the search. Eilonwy and Gurgi will ride with Taran and Adaon, respectively, since Ellidyr sneers that Islimach is trained to accept no other riders but him. As they’re mounting up, arrows hiss through the woods. The Huntsmen of Annuvin are attacking!

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Black Cauldron, Chapter 3 – Adaon

The company sets out at dawn, and Taran, astride Melylas, waves goodbye to Eilonwy, Gurgi, and Dallben. As they enter the forest, Ellidyr’s horse Islimach nips at Melynlas, almost unseating Taran. Ellidyr laughs, “She bites. We are much alike, Islimach and I.” Adaon solemnly agrees that both horse and rider carry “a difficult burden.” He tells them that he dreamed a dream in time gone by – or rather, the night before – in which he saw Ellidyr with a black beast on his shoulders. Ellidyr snorts, “Spare me from pig-boys and dreamers!” but Taran wants to know more. He asks what Adaon dreamed about him, and Adaon hesitates, then says Taran was filled with grief. Taran is surprised, since he's totes happy, and says that serving Lord Gwydion is more honorable than “washing pigs and weeding gardens!” Does Dallben have more than one pig? If not, I’d take umbrage at the “washing pigs” comment if I were Hen Wen. Adaon says he’s fought in battles and tended fields, and there is more honor in the latter. Not only has he been a farmer, but he’s worked as a sailor, a potter, a fisherman, a weaver and a blacksmith. He’s pretty dang awesome. I think even Taran is starting to crush on him (that is, if anyone could rival pompous old Gwydion for Taran’s affections). Adaon must suspect Taran’s and my growing ardor, because he mentions that he’s anxious to return to his betrothed, Arianllyn, when their quest is done – sorry girls, he’s engaged!

They camp at nightfall, and Fflewddur hands his harp to Adaon, who plays a song of “peacefulness and deep joy.” Taran can hardly sleep for his excitement over the journey, but remembers Adaon’s dream and feels “a shadow like the flutter of a dark wing.” (Sometimes I absolutely have to quote Alexander verbatim because his prose is so poetic, and this is one of those times.) The next day they split up, with King Smoit (grumble, grumble) branching off to his realm to gather his forces for backup. The rest of the party rides single-file up trails through narrow cliffs, and Ellidyr once again bullies Taran, forcing his way past Melynlas and causing Taran to fall from the saddle and nearly off the cliff. Adaon tries to reach him, but Ellidyr, in an unexpected show of heroism, heaves Taran bodily back onto the trail, then puts his shoulder under Melynlas and helps him climb back up as well. Taran is amazed at Ellidyr’s strength. Ellidyr appears uncertain and vulnerable for the first time as he says he didn’t mean for Taran to fall. Then he remembers that he’s supposed to be a stone-cold bastard, and laughs that he was only concerned about the horse, not Taran. Adaon snaps that he can see the black beast in the saddle with Ellidyr.

Gwydion, alerted by one of Morgant’s men, strides up ready to do some scolding. Ellidyr accuses Taran of trying to force his way ahead. Gwydion asks Taran if it is true, and Taran bites his tongue and nods that it is. That’s pretty tough of him, I must say. Even at my age, I don’t know if I could stand falsely accused in front of my hero and take the blame. Gwydion says if it happens again he’ll send them both back to Caer Dallben. Morgant chooses this opening to say he thinks they should take the cauldron back to his realm, not to Caer Dallben, and that three of his horsemen should trade their places with Adaon, Ellidyr, and Taran. Oh, butt out, Morgant! Gwydion basically says as much, and Morgant hisses “as you command, Lord Gwydion.” He’s extremely Snape-like. Fflewddur whispers to Taran that he’s sure Ellidyr was really to blame. I love Fflewddur. He’s such a good friend.

The next day, they see gwythaints, but no Cauldron-Born. Gwydion exposits that Arawn has even more helpers, in the form of roving war bands called the Huntsmen of Annuvin. They are mortal, but magic: when you kill one of them, the others get even stronger. Once again, I’m reminded of a video game; I think there was something very similar in The Legend of Zelda. That night, they ready for their attack on Dark Gate. Doli turns invisible and goes ahead to scout. Coll puts a helmet on his bald head, and Taran has a moment of love and concern for him. Morgant tells a flattered Taran that he would have been honored to ride with him. Then Taran begs Gwydion to come with him, but Gwydion says no, and the riders depart. Adaon says he will share the watch with Taran first and Ellidyr second, and tells Ellidyr to sleep, “or at least keep silent.” Ellidyr pouts. Adaon’s eyes are lit bright by the stars as he keeps watch (swoon). Taran rhapsodizes about how great Gwydion and Morgant are. Adaon says he’s worried for Morgant, because he dreamed that Morgant’s sword was broken and bloody and warriors were circling him slowly. Taran’s like, hey, dreamer, don’t be so upset! And by the way, what did you dream about all the others – Coll, Fflewddur, “good old Doli”… or yourself? Come on, Taran, you have to have caught on by now that there was nothing good in this dream. Adaon doesn’t answer, just watches Dark Gate, and the chapter ends on that quiet but tense note.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Black Cauldron, Chapter 2 – The Naming of the Tasks

Gwydion’s announcement provokes amazed reactions in everyone except the cool-as-a-cucumber King Morgant. Gwydion says that anyone who wishes to leave is welcome to do so. King Smoit tries to bluster that any cowards will have him to deal with, but Gwydion firmly but gently says they must each make their own decision. Of course no one leaves, and Gwydion says that’s good because he has tasks for each of them. Fflewddur excitedly says his task must be to compose the epic song of their adventure, but Gwydion wants him for his sword, not his harp. Fflewddur is disappointed, but rallies, saying “a Fflam is always valiant!”

The plan is to journey from Caer Dallben to the Dark Gate, the “back door” of Annuvin, and divide into three bands. Doli is to turn invisible and break into the Hall of Warriors where the Black Cauldron is kept. Then he, Fflewddur, Coll, and Dallben will steal the cauldron, backed up by King Morgant and his warriors, who will attack the Dark Gate to create a diversion. King Smoit and his army will stand at the edge of Smoit’s kingdom to fight off pursuers and, if necessary, give shelter at Smoit’s stronghold, Caer Cadarn. (Smoit, of course, makes it loudly known that he is none too happy about being excluded from the front line that goes to Annuvin. ) The third band, made up of Adaon, Ellidyr, and Taran, will guard the pack animals at the Dark Gate and “serve as the need demands.” That sounds like a pretty crummy job to me, and Ellidyr agrees, crying out that he’s being treated as “no better than a pig-boy [who] is untried, a green apple!” Taran once again gets hot and bothered by Ellidyr’s insults, countering that he has stood with Gwydion against the Cauldron-Born, and that he has more experience than “Prince Patchcloak” (hee). Gwydion tells them both to cut it out and ends the meeting. They will ride for Annuvin at dawn.

As they leave the council, Taran tries to be the bigger man and offers his hand to Ellidyr to shake, but Ellidyr spurns him. Adaon intervenes with a “Gently, friends,” staving off another altercation. Then Dallben calls to Taran. He has something to give him: a sword! Taran is like, “Whoa, cool, what are its powers?” Dallben says it “is a bit of metal hammered into a rather unattractive shape,” and its only powers are those of the wielder. Then he bids Taran farewell and tells him to go get “the Princess Eilonwy” to gird the sword on him. Everyone’s so formal with her title – well, except Taran, who runs to the scullery and demands her girding services, saying please only as an afterthought. Eilonwy is flushed and flattered, and then Taran wrecks things, in his usual way, by pointing out that she’s the only girl around to do it. At that, she gets her ire up and refuses, but relents when Taran promises to tell her what happened in the council. When he gets to the part about riding for Annuvin at dawn, Eilonwy says she’ll barely have time to pack! Taran is all, um, no, by “we” I meant Gwydion and me and the other dudes. No girls allowed! Eilonwy squeals that even if he has a hundred swords, he’s still just an Assistant Pig-Keeper, and she has as much right to be included as he. She flings crockery at him as he flees the scullery. Boo, sexism. And yet I have a feeling Eilonwy will find some way to be part of this adventure (especially since Alexander says as much in the Author’s Note)!