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

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Black Cauldron, Chapter 9 – The Brooch

Fflewddur and Doli draw off the attacking Huntsmen, calling to Taran, Eilonwy and Gurgi to take the wounded Adaon to safety. They flee through the cold, windy forest, until they reach a small sheltered glade where Adaon implores them to stop. They carry him to a sunny spot under the trees to rest. Taran opens the healing herbs and says that they’ll tend his wound and then make a litter to carry him between the horses. Poor, naïve Taran. Adaon knows that’s not going to happen. He says he’s not in pain and that “it Is pleasant here, as warm as spring.” Taran instantly recognizes that this is the scene Adaon described from his dream. He says he would never have chosen to go to the marshes if he knew Adaon would be in peril. Adaon says if he had interfered with the choice, he would never have known if it was a wise choice or just following his desire to go home to Arianllyn. “I am content to die here,” he says, and gives the protesting Taran his brooch. And then he closes his eyes and dies.

At this point, at age 11, I was so distraught that I threw the book across the room (and I’ve never been prone to violence toward books). It seemed like a betrayal by Alexander, introducing this wonderful, pure, brave character and then ruthlessly killing him off halfway through the book. At that point in my life, I hadn’t read too many stories in which a hero dies. But now, as an adult, I truly appreciate the way this death scene was handled – the books are clearly getting darker and more mature, and, as William Goldman put it, some of the wrong people are going to die. And yet the first “good guy” in the series to die is truly at peace, and despite the violence of his injury, has time to accept, even embrace, his destiny.

Through all of Taran’s adventures up to this point, including having mourned the assumed loss of Gwydion at Spiral Castle, he’s never actually witnessed the death of a friend. Now the poor kid has to bury Adaon with only Eilonwy and Gurgi to help. I hope Gurgi is a really good digger because digging graves is backbreaking work, though Alexander doesn’t mention that part. They raise a mound of stones and Eilonwy scatters flowers over them, bringing Adaon’s vision of flowers springing from bare rock to life. His foretelling that Taran would grieve has also come to pass, “thrice over,” since Taran fears that Fflewddur and Doli cannot have survived either. He decides they should wait for them until dawn and then move on. Then he falls asleep and has some wild and crazy dreams: a black beast torments Ellidyr, a gray bird shows Taran a path, Fflewddur’s harp sits on a boulder in the middle of a stream, and two wolves and a bear attack Taran in a marsh – at which he wakes in terror.

Despite Eilonwy’s protestations that they should head for Caer Cadarn, Taran leads the group south, in the direction of Morva. He notices his senses are heightened and without being able to say how, he knows when there is a stream nearby. Fflewddur sits on a rock in the stream, dipping his feet in the water. He’s glad to see them, but doesn’t know what became of Doli. Later, still unsure if they are going in the right direction to reach the marshes, they come to a meadow and Taran sees a gray bird. He declares it’s a marsh bird and they should follow its direction to Morva. By now, Taran has figured out what’s going on with his newfound prescience – it’s all due to his wearing Adaon’s brooch. Eilonwy doesn’t want to believe it: “Adaon was a wonderful man… You can’t tell me it was all because of a piece of iron.” Taran doesn’t claim to understand things the way that Adaon did, he just knows that he feels and knows things differently than before. Eilonwy agrees that the brooch has given Taran “a kind of wisdom” and that it’s a priceless gift. The chapter ends, and I’m left to wonder when and how poor Arianllyn will find out about her fiance’s death. Sob!

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Black Cauldron, Chapter 8 – A Stone in the Shoe

The companions set off toward Morva, with Fflewddur admitting only after two harp strings have snapped that he doesn’t know the way and letting Adaon lead instead. Ellidyr is pouting and won’t talk to anybody. Taran remarks to Eilonwy that trying to bring back the cauldron single-handedly is “the kind of childish thing I’d have done when I was an Assistant Pig-Keeper.” Eilonwy retorts that he’s “still an Assistant Pig-Keeper” and that he’s only going to Morva because of Ellidyr. Taran starts to regret his choice, and asks Adaon quietly if he’s kept something from him that would have swayed his decision. Adaon, who’s looking strong and joyful, responds that we all have a destiny, though we don’t always know what it is. Taran thinks that Adaon knows his. He asks again what Adaon dreamed about himself, the last night at Caer Dallben. Adaon smiles and says that he saw himself in a sunlit glade, with birds calling and flowers springing up from bare stone. Taran is relieved that it wasn’t something unhappy. As for me, I break out in chills at the beautiful image and what I know it means. Sigh.

They ride through the night with no sign of the pursuing Huntsmen. Doli isn’t sure exactly how long Gwystyl’s track-concealing powder lasts, but humphs that they’re bound to be caught sooner or later. Ellidyr’s horse, Islimach, has gone lame, and Taran offers to check it out. Ellidyr warns that no one can touch Islimach but him, and at first it seems that he’s right and the skittish mare will trample Taran. But then Taran is able to calm her and remove the stone from her shoe with a technique Coll taught him. I really like when Taran is able to use his farming expertise for good in these stories, although of course the proud Ellidyr doesn’t appreciate it one bit, accusing Taran of trying to steal both his honor and his horse. Taran fires back awesomely: “What stone is in your shoe, Prince of Pen-Llarcau?” He goes to dine with the others on Gurgi’s magical provisions and leaves Ellidyr to sulk.

Adaon commends Taran’s patience with the black beast. Taran says that Ellidyr will feel better when they all share the glory of finding the cauldron, and Adaon rather preachily replies that there should be glory enough in living all the days that we have. He’s sounding a bit like Gwydion, but I will cut him some slack because a) he’s my boyfriend, and b) I think he knows at this point that (spoiler!) he doesn’t have many days left. In fact, the next thing he does is to ask Taran, should some harm come to him, to take the three things he values most: his horse, his packet of healing herbs, and his fiancée. Er, that is, the brooch his fiancée gave him. He’s never met anyone he would trust more than Taran with these precious things. Taran is like, nothing’s going to happen to you, silly! But at Adaon’s insistence, he agrees.

They decide to rest until midday, and Ellidyr takes the first watch. Taran, the first to wake, finds Ellidyr and Islimach are gone. He wakes the others, and they find Ellidyr’s trail headed in the direction of Morva. They head after him, but he’s got several hours’ head start. When the shrill call of a bird rings through the woods, Adaon says it’s not a real bird call, but the signal of the Huntsmen. Doli rushes off to check, and comes back to report five Huntsmen are close. He’s all set to play the same invisibility trick that worked last time, but Adaon for some reason says no, we have to stand against them this time. I’m super-annoyed because what can be the goal of standing versus running away? They engage in battle, and one of the Huntsmen draws a dagger and is about to kill Taran. Adaon slays the Huntsman, saving Taran’s life and getting a dagger in the chest for his efforts. Hold me, you guys. Adaon slumps over in the saddle, clutching the dagger. Taran catches him before he falls, and cries to the others to retreat: “Adaon is wounded!”

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Black Cauldron, Chapter 7 – Kaw

Gwystyl immediately tries to take back ‘fessing to knowing that Arawn no longer has the cauldron, and instead of elaborating he simply implores the companions to abandon their quest and get to safety. Eilonwy says they should rejoin Gwydion at Caer Cadarn and Gwystyl is like, yes, yes, do that, absolutely, goodbye. Eilonwy calls him on his BS – “Goodbye?” but the Huntsmen are still out there and you haven’t done a thing to help us – and so he reluctantly offers them a powder to put on their feet and hooves that will cover their tracks. He was saving it for emergencies, you see. Doli calls Gwystyl a “clot,” grabs him by the arm and tells him he has a “skulking, sneaking look” in his eyes as if he’s trying to get away with something. He threatens to squeeze him to find out what will come out. At the thought of being squeezed, Gwystyl faints and has to be revived.

Mariana Crow Corvus kubaryi Suddenly, Kaw the crow croaks out “Orddu!” and then “Orwen! Orgoch!” The companions are quite surprised that he didn’t say “kaw” at all, but they have no idea what he means. Doli can tell that Gwystyl knows, and threatens again to squeeze him. Gwystyl hems and haws but finally reveals that the cauldron is “in the hands of Orddu, Orwen, and Orgoch.” Taran demands to know who – or what – they are, but Gwystyl says he doesn’t know. Taran then asks where they can be found. Gwystyl again pleads ignorance, but Kaw pipes up: “Morva!” With much hand-wringing, Gwystyl explains that Kaw means the Marshes of Mova, about a day’s journey west.

Should they go and tell Gwydion the news? Or go straight to Morva and retrieve the cauldron themselves? Eilonwy sensibly promotes the former, but Taran is tempted by the glory of the latter. He finally agrees Eilonwy’s plan is better, only for Ellidyr to jump in with a “screw you guys, I’m going to Morva.” He calls Taran “pig-boy” again and insults his courage. Taran flares up and says he was a fool to listen to a girl (Eilonwy and I both shriek in anger), but then quickly calms himself. He says he would be twice a fool to be goaded by Ellidyr’s taunting, but that, all things considered, they can’t risk not going after the cauldron and having Arawn find it first. Taran’s clearly matured a bit since the start of the book, since he was able to get control of his emotions pretty quickly after Ellidyr riled him up. But he seriously owes Eilonwy an apology.

Eilonwy wisely points out that it’s not Taran’s party to command – Adaon is the boss of both him and Ellidyr. But Adaon says that this is a choice he cannot make, and someday Taran will understand why. In the meantime, he will support whatever decision Taran makes. Taran decides on Morva. Adaon says, “So it shall be.” Gwystyl finds the track-concealing powder while Doli turns invisible and goes to check on the Huntsmen. They’ve camped down for the night, so it’s a good time to sneak away. They dust their feet and the horses’ hooves with the powder, and Gwystyl escorts them out from the thorny portal, seeming very satisfied and muttering, “Goodbye. I hope we meet again. But not soon.” Heh. And with that, they slip out into the night.

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Black Cauldron, Chapter 6 – Gwystyl

Doli has a long, muffled conversation with the voice from the hollow tree trunk, and afterward he leads the party down a steep embankment to an imposing wall of thorns. The thorn bushes crack open to reveal a sad, thin member of the Fair Folk, wrapped in a dingy robe. This is Gwystyl, and I picture him looking like Dobby the house-elf crossed with Puddleglum the Marsh-wiggle. He's morose and self-pitying and acts as if he’s suffering terribly from some feverish ailment, but it’s pretty clear that, like King Eiddileg, he’s just a bundle of neuroses (though I find Eiddileg's fussbudgetry more entertaining than Gwystyl's melancholia). Doli reads Gwystyl the riot act about being in charge of a Fair Folk way post and not being prepared to offer protection to those in need. Gwystyl moans in protest about being asked to admit not only humans, but horses as well! Nonetheless, he parts the thorns enough to admit everyone into the gallery. There’s a passageway leading to a small chamber with a smoking hearth (where Gurgi curls up), a sleeping pallet and a table and chairs.

Adaon gallantly thanks Gwystyl for his hospitality, while Doli demands Gwystyl get them something to eat and drink. Gwystyl asks, “When did you say you were leaving?” Hee. Eilonwy, ever the animal-lover, delightedly spots Gwystyl’s tame crow on a perch. She compliments it, although its feathers are a mess: “They’re unusual, but very handsome once you get used to them.” Petting the crow, Taran thinks sadly about the gwythaint he rescued and wonders how she’s doing. Eilonwy asks the bird’s name, and Gwystyl says it’s Kaw, because of the sound it makes. Fflewddur is like, wow, how clever, I would never have thought of that! I can't tell if he's just being nice or if he's legitimately impressed.

Adaon treats Ellidyr’s wound, though Ellidyr peevishly protests that he isn’t troubled by it and won’t slow them down. Gwystyl wonders if Adaon has anything for his “condition,” and complains about the dampness and drafts, which he’s certain will outlast him. Doli tells him to knock it off and start thinking of a way to help them escape the Huntsmen. Gwystyl has another attack of shivering and moaning, and tells Doli and Taran it was inconsiderate of them to involve him in their “mad schemes.” Adaon starts to say that he would rather not tell Gwystyl the reason for their plight, but then Taran goes and blurts out that they were on a quest from Gwydion to steal the cauldron from Arawn. Adaon doesn’t reprove Taran for speaking out of turn (as I bet Gwydion would have) but merely tells Gwystyl the rest of their story. Gwystyl sighs that it’s a very unfortunate business and they should never have gotten mixed up with the cauldron. Taran says they aren’t mixed up with it, because someone has already taken it from Annuvin. And Gwystyl’s surprising response? “Yes… yes, I know.”