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, November 27, 2016

Taran Wanderer, Chapter 8 – The Wall of Thorns

Accompanied by Gurgi and Kaw, Taran heads off to Morda’s stronghold, leaving Fflewddur in the forest, along with Doli-as-frog. (Seems like Fflewddur could have just kept on carrying Doli and come with them, but whatevs.) Arriving at an impenetrable wall of thorns twice his height, Taran, after much labor with his sword, manages to carve only a small hole, through which he spies a rough dwelling made of boulders and sod. Guessing that Morda must have a secret passage through the wall of thorns, Taran sends Kaw to look for it. Dusk falls, but Kaw doesn’t return, so Taran and Gurgi decide to try climbing the wall. Nearly at the top, they spring a trap and are thrown over the barrier to the ground below, upon which Taran loses consciousness: Drink!

Taran comes to in a dimly lit chamber, and sees that Kaw and Gurgi are there as well. The bald, unblinking, creepy wizard Morda demands to know who Taran is, what he wants and if the crow belongs to him. Taran says Kaw got lost on their way to the Llawgardarn Mountains and the companions stumbled into Morda’s wall by mistake while looking for him. Morda thinks Taran is lying. Taran notices that Morda wears a crescent moon on a silver chain around his neck. It’s identical to the one Eilonwy wears, except that Morda’s has a clear, carved gem suspended between the prongs of the crescent. Taran blurts out: “The emblem of the House of Llyr!”

Morda’s like, oh, so you came to steal it from me? Now that the Princess Angharad is dead, he says, he alone owns the gem’s secrets. Years ago, Eilonwy’s mom – searching for her kidnapped baby daughter – came to Morda’s house and asked for shelter in return for the amulet. She was feverish and died that night. Morda kept the necklace and the apparently empty book she carried with her. Later on, he sold the book to Glew, never realizing its power.

Morda, who was born human but considers the human race beneath him, had been looking for the secret to eternal life, said to be contained in a Fair Folk treasure trove. With the help of Angharad's gem, he was able to raise the wall of thorns and turn a Fair Folk sentry into a mole. His next move, he tells Taran in that old Bond-villain trope of revealing your entire plot to your prisoner, will be to enslave the entire realm of Fair Folk! At that moment, Fflewddur (who’s apparently no better at waiting than Taran is) crashes through the wall of thorns. Morda ties him up and drags him into the chamber as well. Fflewddur says at least Doli is safe enough, and Morda says they will all share Doli’s fate. Taran warns Morda: they are under Dallben’s protection, and Dallben will put the smack down on Morda if he harms them. Morda scoffs at this, and uses the gem to transform Fflewddur into a hare and Gurgi into a mouse. (Why not more frogs? I guess he likes variety.) Then, Morda turns “his unlidded eyes on Taran.” Creepy cliffhanger! What will Taran’s new form be? Like Orddu, I'm voting for hedgehog.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Taran Wanderer, Chapter 6 – A Frog – and Chapter 7 – Friends In Danger

Exhibit A.
Taran, Fflewddur, and Gurgi ride out of the Valley Cantrevs and into the Hill Cantrevs. Fflewddur remarks that the Hill Cantrevs used to be rich pastureland for sheep with “fleece so thick you could sink your arm in it up to the elbow!” But, much like the farmers of the valley, the shepherds of the hills were robbed of their secrets by Arawn, and now the land is gray and dense with brush. Gurgi doesn’t much care, and wishes he were back at Caer Dallben. Fflewddur says he’s looking forward to heading home himself, to his realm in the north, and loses a string when he says his subjects are always anxious for his return (though his strings hold fast when he says that Prince Gwydion is a distant kinsman).

Exhibit B.
They stop so Fflewddur can repair his harp, and Kaw arrives, bearing news that Eilonwy is well and that Dallben’s potion succeeded in returning Glew the giant to normal size. Then the crow snatches up Fflewddur’s tuning key and mischievously flies to the top of an oak tree with it. Fflewddur commands him to drop the key, and Kaw does – right into the hollow oak. Gurgi climbs the tree to retrieve it, and finds something else hidden in the trunk. He brings down a small, locked box made of iron. Wondering if it contains treasure, the companions pry the hinges off with their swords, and reveal the box’s contents: “no more than a slender piece of bone as long as Taran’s little finger.” Taran wonders why something so seemingly worthless would be locked up and hidden away. Fflewddur thinks it reeks of enchantment and suggests they get rid of it. Taran says whatever it is, “it’s not ours to take.” (Then why’d you break into the box in the first place?) He puts the bone back in the box and convinces Gurgi to return it to the hiding spot.

Exhibit C...
They return to the horses to find that Llyan has wandered off. She quickly returns, proudly carrying a large frog in her jaws, which she drops at Fflewddur’s feet. He praises her, explaining to Taran that she does this often with mice and other creatures and he always makes a fuss over them (Alexander must have had cats). Turns out the frog is still alive, though badly dehydrated. Taran thinks they can save him; Fflewddur is skeptical. Just then the frog croaks: “Arrad! … Urgghi! … Ood! … Elpp!” Fflewddur – or Ood, as I will now call him (at least for the rest of this paragraph) – says hey, that’s odd, it sounds like the frog is calling for help. Then the frog says something else to Taran, something which makes him gasp and announce: “It’s Doli!” Quickly, they douse the frog with water, and he starts to sound like good old grumpy Doli again.

... aaaand D.
Fflewddur asks him why he decided to be a frog, and Doli harrumphs that he was bewitched through no choice of his own, by an enchanter named Morda. King Eiddileg had sent Doli on a mission to find out who was behind a recent theft of Fair Folk treasure. He tracked Morda down, but was turned into a frog before he could find out why Morda stole the trove. He urges his friends to take him back to Morda’s stronghold so that he can find out what the wizard is planning and warn Eiddileg. They ride deep into the forest, and then Kaw suddenly swoops down with the bone fragment in his beak, and gives it to Taran. Taran wonders if Morda might be the one who hid the bone, which he puts in his pocket for safekeeping. Doli is ill and despite their attempts to keep him hydrated, getting sicker. Taran leaves him with Fflewddur and Gurgi, and sets out alone to find Morda. He’s terrified of being turned into a frog before completing his quest, but his desire to provide us with some sick cover art for this installment of the series wins out. Seriously, almost every edition of the book has some version of Taran confronting Morda on the cover!

Monday, November 7, 2016

Taran Wanderer, Chapter 5 – A Judgment

In a feat that seems to defy the laws of physics, Taran single-handedly rescues Smoit, dragging the bleeding king from the whirlpool at the foot of the waterfall and managing to avoid drowning himself. Fflewddur says Smoit has “cracked his skull and half his ribs” (which he somehow can tell without an X-ray) and that they should take him to Caer Cadarn. Taran envies Smoit for being unconscious, which is usually Taran’s job, and suggests instead taking him to Aeddan’s farm, which is closer. He doubts they’ll be able to find Cornillo and the herd now, but just then Gurgi hears “cooings and mooings!” The cows are calmly grazing just past the trees on the riverbank. Smoit comes to and thanks Taran for saving his life: “Claim any favor, it is yours.” He sends two horsemen to tell Gast and Goryon to meet him at Aeddan’s hut. Taran then coaxes Cornillo and the herd to follow them there.

Map probably not to scale.

But Aeddan is not so happy to see them. He bursts from the hut with blazing eyes and a drawn sword; the feuding warriors have trampled his one good field (and for some reason he blames Taran for this?) and now he and his wife will starve. Taran is heartbroken at the sight of the wrecked field. Gast and Goryon arrive, in answer to the king’s summons, each shouting and accusing the other of being a liar and a thief. The enraged Smoit says he’ll throw them both in his dungeon and claim Cornillo for himself as a prize of war. But Taran asks Smoit if he may now claim the favor Smoit offered him for saving his life. He implores him to set Goryon and Gast free “to labor beside Aeddan and strive to mend what they have destroyed.” (Good call, Taran – definitely a more useful sentence!) He also asks Smoit to give Cornillo to Aeddan, who needs her more than Smoit needs a war prize, and grant Gast and Goryon her next set of calves. As for the rest of the herd, Taran decrees that Goryon will divide them in equal portions, and Gast will choose his half. Smoit agrees with me that this is pretty damn clever: “It takes two thieves to strike an honest bargain!” Aeddan thanks Taran for being a friend. He’s traveled down the road and back again. His heart is true, he’s a pal and a confidant…

That night, back at Caer Cadarn, Smoit takes Taran aside and thanks him again for his wise judgment. He’s decided to have his useless dungeons walled up immediately, and he asks Taran to stay on as his advisor. When Taran says he has to learn who his kinsmen are, Smoit says, “There’s enough of me to make all the kinsmen you could want!” He reveals that he’s a widower with no children, and offers to adopt Taran as his son and heir to the throne of Cadiffor. Taran thinks King of Cadiffor sounds a lot better than Assistant Pig-Keeper, as titles go, and that a throne would give him something to offer Eilonwy in marriage. But, he thinks Eilonwy could never respect him for abandoning his quest, nor could he respect himself. He thanks Smoit and says he must first complete his quest. If it turns out he has royal blood in his veins, he will gladly accept Smoit’s offer, but he has to know for sure who he is. Smoit is sad but wishes Taran luck in his search.