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, May 31, 2016

The Castle of Llyr, Chapter 8 – The Harp of Fflewddur – and Chapter 9 – The Luck of Rhun

Fflewddur orders the others to flee the cabin while he has Llyan under his musical spell. Taran hesitates, but for once concedes some authority to Fflewddur and obeys. The horses have fled, so they escape on foot. Rhun is a poor runner (of course), and Taran and Gurgi have to help him along. When they finally stop to rest, Rhun tells Taran he knows that their situation is all his fault, that he hates “being a blunderer,” and that he wants to be worthy of marrying Princess Eilonwy. Taran is surprised that Rhun knows about the betrothal, and apologizes for giving him such a hard time about his royal birth. Then he says that, as much as they both want to rescue Eilonwy, they’ll never keep up with Magg without horses. They only have one choice: to return to Dinas Rhydnant. When Rhun protests, Taran tells him about the oath he made to keep Rhun from harm. Rhun sadly says he should have known he wasn’t truly in command.

Fflewddur comes running toward them, none the worse for his captivity with Llyan, except for some blisters on his fingers. (Now I have Dire Straits in my head: “Maybe get a blister on your thumb…”) He’s been strumming for nothing and singing for free ... until Llyan finally fell asleep, at which point he grabbed their swords and ran off. He warns that they had better get going before she wakes up and comes looking for him. But just then, Kaw shows up, croaking “Eilonwy!” The crow confirms that Magg has taken Eilonwy to the river Alaw. Taran says they can’t lose any time trying to return to Dinas Rhydnant or sending word to the search party for reinforcements. They follow Kaw to the river, where they find hoof prints, boat tracks, and Eilonwy’s bauble. Dun dun DUN!

These are osiers. You're welcome.

CC BY-SA 3.0
The companions use branches and vines to build a raft. Just as they’re finishing, Llyan appears. She spots Fflewddur, gives a “questioning cry,” and then advances, purring. Kaw attacks, flying at her face and pulling her whiskers, giving the others time to escape. But their raft soon starts to fall apart in the strong current. They swim to shore and begin to repair it. Then Rhun suddenly vanishes again, falling into a large hole (amid a clump of osiers, which I had to look up. I love that I can still learn new words from a YA novel at my age). Fflewddur, who has lost all patience with Rhun, cries, “If there were a field with one stone he’d trip over it!” Hee.

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Castle of Llyr, Chapter 6 – The Potions of Glew – and Chapter 7 – The Lair of Llyan

Taran tells Fflewddur and Gurgi that when dawn comes, they should return to the search party, while Taran goes on after Rhun alone. Then he falls asleep, has scary dreams about Achren, and wakes at dawn to Fflewddur shaking him. Turns out they’re not quite so lost as they thought last night – they were just going in circles. They mount their horses, who lead them to Rhun’s mare, standing riderless next to a decrepit-looking cottage. The door opens and: “Hullo, hullo!” Rhun’s had a great night’s sleep in the abandoned hut. Taran yells at him for getting lost, and Rhun says he fell off his horse and had to go chasing after her, then, since it was getting dark, decided to spend the night in this convenient shelter. Besides, he wasn’t lost, because he’s in command. “Wherever I go, that’s where the search is, if you see what I mean.” Heh. Taran is of course furious at Rhun’s rank-dropping and almost tells him about his oath, but controls himself.

Fflewddur says he dislikes huts on the whole, thanks to Orddu, Orwen and Orgoch. This hut’s abandoned, however, with a thick layer of dust and leaves on everything. Gurgi finds sheets of parchment with writing on them, and under them is a leather-bound blank book. Rhun says he’d like to have it to write down “things I’m supposed to remember to do.” Taran gives it to him, saying, “if there’s anything that might ever help you do anything, you’re welcome to it.” What about something that helps him marry Eilonwy? Aw, too soon?

Taran is able to make out enough of the writing to discern that the pages are recipes for potions (I guess Dallben must have had him help with a few on occasion?) written by someone named Glew. The potions appear to be designed to make someone grow bigger and stronger. They spot some tiny boots in the corner and presume that Glew was “a little fellow.” Fflewddur takes over translating the notes, expositing that Glew tested his recipes on a mountain cat that he named Llyan, and that she grew so large he had to keep building bigger cages for her. The gang conjectures that Llyan must have gobbled Glew up.

Outside the hut, the horses start panicking, and then a huge shape bursts through the door! It’s Llyan! She’s a mountain cat larger than a horse, and the lash of her tail is enough to knock Taran down. She also knocks Fflewddur over when he draws his sword, then settles herself in the doorway, refusing to let the companions retrieve their weapons or leave the hut. While trying to think of a way out, Fflewddur starts to strum his harp. Llyan stops growling, but resumes every time he stops playing. She’s a music lover! Gurgi tells Fflewddur, “Do not leave off hummings and strummings!” The bard urges the others to flee, since apparently he’s going to have to stay in the hut and play music for Llyan for the rest of his natural-born life.

OK, nitpicking time. When I first read these books as a child, I didn’t have the benefit of a pronunciation guide, so of course I read Llyan as “lion” and not as “lee-AHN.” Now that I know how it’s supposed to be pronounced, I can hear it correctly in my head (unlike Prydain, which is probably going to require hearing it in the movies to actually sink in, if it ever does). But are we supposed to believe that Taran and Fflewddur, seeing the name written down, didn’t also pronounce it “lion”? Did Glew provide a phonetic spelling alongside his potion notes? And why would he choose that spelling if not to be intentionally confusing? Also: the solid orange, fluffy feline on the cover of my paperback looks not at all like a mountain cat.

Monday, May 9, 2016

The Castle of Llyr, Chapter 5 – The Oath

Taran shouts to the king to call out the guard to help search for Eilonwy and Magg. The king, of course, thinks that the sea air has addled Taran’s brains, and asks why he accuses Magg of such an offense. Taran agonizes for about half a second over whether to reveal Gwydion’s secret, then tells all. He succeeds in convincing the king to call for Magg, who, naturally, cannot be found. The king then immediately believes Taran is telling the truth, which seems a little easy to me. King Rhuddlum forms two search parties, one headed by himself and one by Prince Rhun. Taking Taran aside, the king says he needs to speak to him about Rhun. Taran minces zero words in telling the king exactly what he thinks of the feckless prince. Then he tries to apologize, but it turns out the king is no dummy, and he’s quite aware of what a yutz his son is. He asks Taran to take an oath.

No, not that oath. Rhuddlum wants Taran to watch out for Rhun and make sure no harm comes to him. After all, he’s betrothed to Eilonwy. Taran is like, wait a sec, you mean my Eilonwy? Yes, that was the whole reason they brought her to Mona to begin with. Poor, tortured Taran gives his word to look out for his rival: “Your son will come to no harm if it lies in my power to keep him from it.”

As the search parties depart, Taran sends Kaw ahead as a scout. Fflewddur, riding alongside Taran, tries to reassure him that Eilonwy will be fine. Taran bitterly asks if he means the future Mrs. Rhun. Fflewddur immediately gets why Taran is so upset, saying he somehow always thought “despite all the squabbling and bickering between the two of you” that Eilonwy would end up with Taran. Taran reminds him that Eilonwy is a princess and has to marry one of her rank, and lies that he has never hoped for more. Fflewddur’s not buying it.

They ride on with no sign of Eilonwy or Magg. It’s nearly nightfall when Gurgi points out that Rhun has ridden off by himself and is likely to get lost. “Then cheerful hullos will turn to sad moanings and groanings!” The Master of Horse sounds a signal horn for the warriors to gather and make camp, but Rhun doesn’t return. Taran worries that Rhun may have fallen off his horse and gotten injured. He decides to head into the grove where Rhun was last seen. The companions lead their skittish horses through a wood filled with flickering, sinister shadows. Finally the horses refuse to go any farther, and an exhausted Taran agrees that it’s useless, Rhun is lost, and they should turn back. But Fflewddur points out that “unless you or Gurgi knows where we are, I rather suspect we’re lost, too.”