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, January 25, 2016

The Black Cauldron, Chapter 18 – The Loss

Taran wakes that evening to find Eilonwy, Gurgi, and Fflewddur tending to him. They’ve lit a campfire, and Taran is alarmed that it will betray their presence to the Huntsmen. Fflewddur says they couldn’t let Taran freeze to death, and besides, the Huntsmen are looking for the Black Crochan, which they don’t have anymore – Ellidyr has stolen it. While Taran was unconscious and nearly drowned, Ellidyr fought the others off (even snapping Eilonwy’s bow in two, which is so not cool) and rode away with both the cauldron and their horses. Taran says he pities Ellidyr, who is so clearly tormented by the black beast. Fflewddur says he would pity him more “if he hadn’t tried to slice off my head.” Heh. But Taran recognizes his own desperate need for glory in Ellidyr. He gloomily says that maybe Ellidyr was right, and a “pig-boy” should never try to seek the same honor as a prince. Eilonwy exclaims that he’s not a pig-boy, he’s an Assistant Pig-Keeper: “one is proud and the other isn’t. Since you have a choice, take the proud one!” Which is very good advice, applicable to pretty much any way you might describe your job or yourself. Taran remembers what Adaon said about finding honor in a well-plowed field, and says from now on he will seek honor where he knows it will be found.

In the morning, they head south toward Caer Dallben. Later that day, a war party appears on the horizon, flying the colors of King Morgant’s House of Madoc. Taran greets Morgant, tells him that Adaon is slain and Doli is missing, and asks about Gwydion and Coll. Morgant says they’re both alive and looking for Taran. They had heard from Gwystyl that Taran had gone to Morva in search of the cauldron. Eilonwy can’t believe that useless Gwystyl actually did them some good, and Morgant says that Gwystyl is “the shrewdest and bravest” of the Fair Folk way post occupiers, which is why Eiddileg placed him so close to Annuvin, and that Gwystyl must have intended that they misjudge him (why, though? It’s not clear). Morgant also tells them that Ellidyr is with him, having brought the cauldron singlehandedly all the way from Morva. At this, Eilonwy flies off the handle, despite Taran's commanding her to stay silent. She’s not about to be bound by that stupid oath, and she tells Morgant the truth of how they rescued the cauldron and then Ellidyr robbed them of it. Taran won’t confirm or deny the story, but Morgant says he already had a feeling Ellidyr was not telling the truth.

They ride to Morgant’s camp, where the cauldron is guarded by two warriors. Taran asks if Morgant is not worried that the Huntsmen will attack the camp and take the Crochan. Morgant says he’s not afraid of any challenger, even Arawn himself. And then, shockingly, the companions see Ellidyr – bound, bloody, and unconscious. Taran whirls on Morgant, accusing him and his men of “shameful and dishonorable treatment.” Morgant replies by saying that Ellidyr tried to resist him, and Taran had better learn from his example. Then he tells his guards to disarm the companions and bind them. Because he’s eeeevil!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Black Cauldron, Chapter 16 – The River – and Chapter 17 – The Choice

At dawn, the companions set out again, with the Black Crochan tied between Melynlas and Lluagor. Taran worries that the wide open moors offer them no protection from gwythaints. He decides they should detour to the Forest of Idris. Within the forest, the horses struggle to carry the cauldron through the thick brush. Taran wishes Doli were here, since he’d “think of something clever. Like making a sling out of branches and vines.” Eilonwy praises Taran’s ingenuity and says he doesn’t need Adaon’s brooch, which strikes me as a little odd, since Taran had voiced a longing for Doli, and not the brooch. Whatever. They make the sling and labor onwards, toting the cauldron between the four of them. Eventually, one of the branches snaps, and so does Taran, saying, “We’ll never get it through the forest. No sense trying.” Eilonwy says he sounds like Gwystyl. I think he sounds like this guy:

He mends the sling, though, and they continue on until they reach the banks of a choppy brown river, which Fflewddur says must be the River Tevvyn. They attempt to cross, but Fflewddur stumbles against some sharp boulders, and the cauldron falls down and sticks in the mud. Fflewddur, pale, gasps, “Is it broken? Is it broken?” Taran examines his arm and says he fears that it is. But of course Fflewddur could care less about an arm, it’s his harp he was worried about! The same harp that he was about to trade for the cauldron a chapter ago. Awwww. The harp is intact, but with Fflewddur injured, the others are unable to lift the cauldron out of the river.

Ellidyr appears! Looking the worse for wear, he leads Islimach to the riverbank and greets the companions in his usual scornful fashion. “The pig-boy, the scullery maid – I do not see the dreamer.” Taran shouts that Adaon is dead, thanks to Ellidyr’s betrayal. Ellidyr is like, don’t care, give me some food. Gurgi doesn’t want to share his magical lembas and jerky with the traitor, but Taran commands him to. He asks why Ellidyr is there, and Ellidyr says he was heading for the Marshes of Morva, but ran into some gwythaints that slashed his face, and some Huntsmen he outran. Taran says they’ve been to Morva already, and points to the cauldron in the riverbed. Ellidyr is enraged to have been cheated out of what he considers his rightful prize. When he calms down a little, he mocks Taran for not having the strength to smash the cauldron. Taran explains the only way to destroy it is to sacrifice a life, so of course Ellidyr double-dog-dares him to climb in himself. Taran ignores the taunt and asks Ellidyr to help them move the cauldron out of the river; Ellidyr scoffs.

Three gwythaints swoop down on the company, but see the cauldron and fly off instead of attacking. Taran surmises they have gone to tell Arawn the cauldron’s location. Ellidyr decides he’ll help move the cauldron on one condition: that the others swear that he, and he alone, found it and won it. Taran warns him of the black beast, but agrees, despite Eilonwy’s protests, that they will all agree to his terms. Ellidyr uses his considerable strength, along with that of the three horses, to raise the cauldron and drag it to the bank. Once it’s there, he wonders aloud whether the price he demanded was too low, whether he can count on Taran’s utter silence, and whether maybe he could carry the cauldron by himself. Taran says he’s mad, and Ellidyr responds by drawing his sword and forcing Taran into the river. Taran slips, hits his head on a boulder and blacks out!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The Black Cauldron, Chapter 14 – The Price – and Chapter 15 – The Black Crochan

Orddu, Orwen, and Orgoch appear (as crones, not as beautiful maidens) and affect sympathy for the “poor lambs” who are magically stuck to the cauldron – except for Orgoch, who wants to cook them. Taran, who was right in thinking that it was a trap, calls them “evil creatures.” Orddu corrects him that they are neither good nor evil, but “simply interested in things as they are.” Eilonwy contends that being objectively uncaring is “worse than being evil.” Orddu changes the subject, saying the enchantresses have good news and that the companions can go ahead and carry the Crochan outside. Taran and the others find they’re able to move again, and they laboriously move the cauldron out of the chicken roost. Orddu says that they’ve talked it over and they’ll let Taran take the cauldron in exchange for the North Wind in a bag… or the South Wind… or a memory of his nicest summer day. When he protests that all those things are impossible to give, she asks if they have something else to offer that they prize as much as the Crochan.

Taran offers his sword, then Lluagor, then, reluctantly, Melynlas. The witches refuse all three. Taran is about to offer Adaon’s brooch when Gurgi jumps in and says he’ll give up his magical wallet of crunchings and munchings, which is all he owns. Once again, they decline. Eilonwy tries to offer the ring that Gwydion gave her, and then her prized bauble, and dear Fflewddur offers up his harp. Heartbreakingly, all offers are refused, and Taran once again guesses Orddu’s true aim. Turns out she recognized the brooch from the start. She tells them that it was made by Menwy, “first of the bards,” who imbued it with magic powers that Taran could learn to harness and use to become a mighty hero. But the brooch's magic will only work if it is given willingly. So how did Arianllyn come by it, and did she know about its powers when she gave it to Adaon? I'd like to read that back story.

The exchange is made, and Taran hands over the brooch. He asks Orddu if they may use the iron bars and hammers in the stable; she agrees. Taran makes a very sweet and classy little speech to his friends thanking them for the sacrifices they tried to make and calls them “the best of true comrades.” Sniff! Then the companions beat the crap out of the cauldron with hammers, which has absolutely no effect. An amused Orddu tells them they’ll never destroy it that way. The only way is that “[a] living person must climb into it,” causing it to shatter, and that person “will never climb out again alive.” In addition, the human sacrifice must go willingly and with full knowledge of what will happen. After delivering this chilling news, the enchantresses go into the cottage and shut the door. (The windows even darken, so they must be made from the same material as Transitions lenses.)

Taran says they have no choice but to drag the cauldron all the way to Caer Dallben. Fflewddur says he relishes the exercise, breaking a harp string. Awww. Even with Lluagor and Melynlas taking most of the burden, they make achingly slow progress. That night, when they make camp, Eilonwy tries to console Taran. She says that when it comes right down to it, the brooch was never part of him, not like a summer day would have been: “I know I shouldn’t want to give up a single one of mine. Or even a winter day, for the matter of that.” I think it’s worth noting that Taran didn’t actually refuse to give up a summer day, he just didn’t believe that it was possible for him to give one. In his place, I think I would have been willing to try. But then I’m old, and my summer days are mostly lost to memory and aren’t doing me much good anyway. Eilonwy, who can probably remember all her summer days, tells Taran he should be proud that he won the cauldron, and he agrees, “This much I have done.” But he still cries, thinking of the brooch.

When I first read the story, I thought he was mourning Adaon all over again. Upon this reading, I have a less charitable view and think he’s mostly upset because the brooch gave him special abilities, and now he’s “only an Assistant Pig-Keeper” again. “I should have known that anything else was too good to last,” he says. That makes me feel a lot less sorry for him this time around. What do you think, readers? Is Taran being selfish again? Should he have agreed to give away a memory? Or is it moot because Orddu never planned to accept one, given that she wanted the brooch all along? And where can I find some good fanfic about the brooch's history?