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 30, 2017

Taran Wanderer, Chapter 15 – The Open Cage

Taran, Gurgi and Craddoc finish mending the cottage in time for the first snow of winter. Taran is pleased with his handiwork, in a depressed kind of way. Craddoc says that it is no longer his cottage, but both of theirs. They spend the long winter evenings talking by the fire, but Taran is overcome by emotion and has to stop talking whenever he thinks of Eilonwy. One day, Craddoc remarks that Taran has never called him Father. Taran bites his lip and can’t answer. Craddoc doesn’t press him and just says, “Perhaps … perhaps one day you shall.”

A fierce snowstorm comes, and Taran is reinforcing the cottage windows when Gurgi rushes in, crying for help. Craddoc has fallen into a gorge! When they get there, he’s lying twisted and motionless at the bottom, and Taran has a brief moment of exhilaration that he’s finally free. Then Craddoc moves; he’s still alive! Taran says they can’t leave him to die, but wonders how they can possibly lift him out of the gorge without breaking their own necks in the process. Once again, he thinks that this could be his chance at freedom, if there’s no way of saving Craddoc. Then, furious with himself, he cries, “What man am I?”

He scrambles down the slope, getting stabbed by a sharp rock on the way. Gurgi follows. They free Craddoc from the fallen rocks and carry him between them to the cliff, where there is a narrow passage that leads almost straight up. They try several times to bear Craddoc to the passage but he’s too seriously wounded, and the wind is too strong. Finally Craddoc tells them to leave him and save themselves. Taran replies, “You are my father. I stay.” And then – holy cow, you guys – Craddoc tells him that there is no bond of blood between them. Turns out that Dallben did pass through the valley, but he never took Craddoc’s son away – because the son died, along with his mother, the day he was born. Craddoc says he was ashamed of lying to Taran and hoped that, given the option, Taran would have left with Fflewddur, but Taran chose to stay. He adds that “no father came to love a son more dearly.” Then he falls back and tells Taran again to go.

Taran remembers the Fair Folk horn, and without hesitation, blows the three notes: Hot … Cross … Buns! Then “whirling shadows” come, and he is only half-conscious as a party of dwarves arrives with ropes, rescuing them. He wakes in the cottage, with his chest wound bandaged and Gurgi at his side. Taran asks how Craddoc is, but Gurgi just sadly bows his head. Taran cries out in anguish, as another sad chapter draws to a close.

When I first read this book, at age eleven or so, I remember being absolutely livid with Craddoc for lying to Taran and – although glad that Taran nobly tried to rescue him anyway – even more furious that the battle horn’s single call was wasted, since Craddoc did not survive. As an adult, having enjoyed many morally complex stories with protagonists who lie all the time – “Mad Men,” “Dexter,” and “Breaking Bad,” to name a few – I’m not nearly so outraged at Craddoc’s deception, but I’m still totally bummed about the horn. I wonder, if Taran had remembered it and sounded it before climbing down the cliff himself, would the dwarves have come sooner and been able to save Craddoc’s life? Would Craddoc then have told Taran the truth in gratitude, or would he have been too ashamed? Leave a comment and let me know what you think!

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Taran Wanderer, Chapter 14 – The End of Summer

Fflewddur and Gurgi are joyful that Taran has found his father at last. Taran and Craddoc embrace uncertainly, then sit quietly in thought while the others celebrate late into the night and Fflewddur rings the rafters of the cottage with his exuberant singing and harp music. The next morning, Taran confides in Fflewddur that while he believes Craddoc is telling the truth, he wishes that it weren’t so. He admits to having dreamed that his parents might have had noble lineage, making him worthy of Eilonwy. Craddoc, meanwhile, is all pumped that his son will help him make his crappy farm great again. Taran suggests that instead Craddoc come with them to Caer Dallben, but Craddoc won’t hear of it. He tells Taran to leave if he wants to, but that he himself will stay on his land. Fflewddur’s like, I can see where you get your stubbornness from, dude.

Taran, miserable, feels he has no choice but to stay with Craddoc. He asks Fflewddur to ride to Caer Dallben and tell Dallben and Coll the news, but begs him not to tell Eilonwy: “She and I must never meet again. It were better the Princess forget the shepherd boy, better that all of you forget me.” (Now, I understand he’s brokenhearted and being a bit dramatic here, but why does everyone have to forget him? Is “herdsman’s son” so much worse than Assistant Pig-Keeper?) He even scolds poor Gurgi for calling him “master” – “No master am I, but a low-born churl” – and tells him to leave the valley and go with Fflewddur. Gurgi emphatically refuses; he will stay as Taran, as he promised. Fflewddur himself leaves “with many a backward glance,” to take the news to Dallben.

Taran feels duty-bound to toil for his long-lost father but feels as trapped as he would have been had Morda turned him into a worm. He works his ass off all summer: He mends Craddoc’s cottage, unblocks the spring and makes a stream to water the sheep, even catches himself on fire during a controlled burn of the fields. Craddoc saves him by putting out the flames with his own body, since Taran apparently never learned “stop, drop and roll.” Taran muses that it seems like Craddoc is two people, one he hates and one he loves. And for a spot of comic relief in this otherwise total bummer of a chapter, Gurgi dons a fleece jacket, dubs himself “Assistant Sheep-Keeper” and becomes devoted to tending the sheep, who follow him around worshipfully like he's some kind of cult leader. Baa-Ram-Ewe!

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Taran Wanderer, Chapter 12 – The Wager – and Chapter 13 – The Lost Lamb

Happy New Year, folks! Let’s get back into recapping the Prydain series, shall we? Some tough times are ahead for Taran, but we’ll get through them together.

After thwarting Taran’s attempt to sneak off, Dorath alleges that he and his men are owed a fee for feeding and sheltering the companions, and for guiding them to the Lake of Llunet. Taran says they’ll reimburse Dorath's company for the food and shelter, but when it comes to “your protection on our journey, we neither ask it nor want it.” Dorath says that Taran has broken their bargain, and demands Taran’s sword as payment. Taran says no way, the sword was a gift from Dallben and girded on him by Eilonwy. Dorath, scoffing at Taran’s sentimentality, challenges him to an unarmed fight, and the winner will keep the sword. Taran can’t see a way to get out of it, given that the companions are outnumbered, so he agrees.

The two men start fighting. Taran begins to get an advantage, so naturally Dorath cheats, pulling a dagger from his boot. Once again, Taran considers sounding the Fair Folk horn, but instead he uses his cloak to defend against the dagger, ripping it from Dorath’s hand. Dorath cheats again, throwing a handful of dirt and pebbles into Taran’s face. He then kicks Taran in the ribs, laughs at him, and leaves with Taran’s sword. All things considered, I think it’s safe to conclude Dorath is not very nice.

The only cover art to feature Craddoc.
Guess he's not as photogenic as Morda.
Gurgi bandages Taran’s wounds, and the companions ride deeper into the Hill Cantrevs. Taran is smarting from the loss of his sword, but Fflewddur and Gurgi agree he was wise not to play "Hot Cross Buns" and waste the battle horn’s single call. Llyan spots a lost lamb trapped in a bramble bush. Fflewddur distracts by playing his harp, while Gurgi and Taran free the lamb. A scarred, weathered-looking herdsman appears, leaning on a crutch, and says the lamb is his. Taran immediately gives it to him, and the man, who was expecting a fight, is surprised and grateful. He introduces himself as Craddoc and invites the companions to his home to share a meal.

Gurgi carries the lamb, while Taran helps the limping Craddoc up the steep path. They come to his humble cottage, which is full of weeds and showing signs of various half-done repairs. He needs the “House Crashers” TV crew! Taran notices that a spinning wheel, abandoned in a corner, “betokened a woman’s tasks” but that there is clearly no woman living with Craddoc anymore. I can’t tell if it’s Taran or Alexander being sexist here, but either way, why does spinning have to be women’s work? Ah well.

Craddoc says that the land used to be much fairer and that “certain lords” tried to claim it for themselves. He and his friends fought to defend what was theirs. Many of them died, and Craddoc’s leg was maimed, but he was too proud to leave his land and go into service somewhere else. Taran tells Craddoc of his quest to find his parents. Craddoc seems about to respond, then abruptly goes out to check on his sheep. Taran tells Fflewddur he wishes he could help Craddoc, but “he needs more than I can give.”

Craddoc returns and urges the companions to stay the night. They eat some lembas and jerky from Gurgi’s magical wallet, then Craddoc tells a story of another “lost lamb.” Years ago, his wife died in childbirth, and he felt guilty for insisting they stay on the land, instead of taking her somewhere she could have had an easier birth. Her dying wish was for him to take the baby elsewhere, but he was too stubborn. In a few months, his son became sickly, and Craddoc was sure the boy was going to die. Then a passing stranger came along and, with Craddoc’s consent, took the boy away for a chance at a better life. And the stranger’s name… wait for it… was Dallben! Boom! Craddoc is totally Taran’s dad!