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, June 26, 2017

The High King, Chapter 5 – The Watcher

You. Guys. I am thunderstruck by the unprecedented liberty that Alexander takes in this chapter: He shifts the action to Fflewddur, Eilonwy, Rhun, and Glew as they leave Avren Harbor to rejoin the rest of the party. For the first time in the series, we follow events that happen without Taran. Great Belin! Imagine if we’d known (or remembered) this was possible all along. I probably would have spent most of these recaps complaining about why we’re always stuck in Taran’s POV and never get to witness the action that takes place during his frequent lapses in consciousness.

So, what happened to delay Fflewddur and company? Not much, as it turns out. A series of mundane mishaps, mostly involving Rhun’s clumsiness, caused them to miss the scheduled rendezvous with Taran and the others. They stop to camp for the night, and the next day brings them within sight of Caer Cadarn. Eilonwy notices that the castle is flying “Smoit’s jolly old bear” banner, when it should be flying the standard of the Sons of Don, since Gwydion is there. Fflewddur says that’s likely because Gwydion wants to keep a low profile. Next Eilonwy notices that the gates are shut, instead of open to greet them, and Fflewddur mansplains that that’s how things are always done on secret missions. Finally, Eilonwy points out the party of bowmen on the walls, and Fflewddur finally agrees that perhaps something might be amiss. You think? He leaves Llyan with the others and goes forward alone on foot to check things out.

When Fflewddur is not back by nightfall, Eilonwy is alarmed. Finally the bard appears in the thicket where they have taken cover. He tells them that he went into the castle as a wandering bard to sing for his supper, and learned that Magg had taken their companions captive. Eilonwy tries to think of a plan to save them, and suddenly notices someone else is lurking among the trees, watching them. It’s Gwystyl! He does his usual schtick, saying, “It’s been delightful running into you. Of course I’ll be glad to help. But perhaps another time. When we’re not feeling so upset.” Ah, Gwystyl, how I’ve missed your passive-aggressive, clinically depressed self. You’re not as much fun as Eiddileg, but you’re much less tedious than Glew.

Eilonwy wrings out of Gwystyl the knowledge that the Cauldron-Born and the Huntsmen of Annuvin are gathering in great numbers, along with the war leaders of the cantrev lords who are loyal to Arawn. He’s on his way to tell King Eiddileg what’s afoot. He tries to leave with a large bundle, but Fflewddur stops him and starts to go through its contents, revealing a bird’s nest, water flasks, some camping equipment, and a small sack full of eggs. Fflewddur gets excited about the eggs, declaring he’s hungry enough to eat one raw. Gwystyl anxiously stops him and says they aren’t really eggs, they’re smoke. It’s an odd end to the chapter, but I’d bet my bottom dollar we’ll learn more about these smoky eggs in the next chapter.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

The High King, Chapter 4 – King Smoit’s Castle

In the morning, the party splits up, with Rhun, Fflewddur, Glew, and Eilonwy detouring to the harbor: Rhun to let his shipmaster know of the change in plans, Fflewddur as a guide, Glew so Fflewddur can watch him, and Eilonwy because she’s left some things on the ship she needs to get. Fflewddur says they will catch up with the others by midday. This seems like a forced plot point to me – why don’t they all just go together, then? – and sure enough, the group fails to reach the rendezvous at the appointed time. (They clearly have not heard that you never split the party.) So, Gwydion, Taran, Coll and Gurgi continue on, and reach Caer Cadarn the following morning.

When they arrive in the Great Hall, eager to greet King Smoit, they instead see Magg on the throne! Guards disarm and restrain the companions, while Magg boasts that he now serves Arawn himself. After escaping the Castle of Llyr, he went to Annuvin and told Arawn how to regain Dyrnwyn. In gratitude, Arawn made him second in command and named him successor to his throne. Gwydion says Magg is deluded if he thinks Arawn will keep his promises. (Seriously, did Magg learn nothing from when Achren promised him the exact same thing?) Gwydion asks if Smoit is dead. Magg says no, he kept Smoit alive so that he could rally his liegemen to serve Arawn, but Smoit has proved resistant. Magg then throws the companions into the chamber where Smoit is being held, so they can reason with him: “Your lives hang on it.”

Smoit embraces them all heartily, calling Taran “the Pig-Keeper,” which seems a little formal after he was all set to adopt Taran in the last book. Smoit explains that Magg’s warriors ambushed him the day before, on his way to moderate yet another cow-stealing dispute between Goryon and Gast. Oh, those two! After Taran’s last visit, Smoit says, he walled up all of his dungeons, so the cell they are in is actually a spare larder, but unfortunately not stocked with provisions. Smoit says the two days since he’s eaten feel more like two years. Gwydion grimly says the larder may prove to be a tomb for them as well as for Fflewddur and the others, who are on their way.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

The High King, Chapter 3 – The Prophecy

Taran urges Gwydion to let him ride after Achren, who has departed on one of Rhun’s horses. Gwydion doesn’t really say no, but says that he can’t delay his own quest to protect Achren, though there is “no safety for her beyond Caer Dallben.” He then asks Dallben to reveal Hen Wen’s prophecy. Dallben says the prophecy says a Gelfling will heal the Dark Crystal at the time of the Great Conjunction. No, actually, he asked how to recover Dyrnwyn and the first letter stick’s prophecy was “Ask, sooner, mute stone and voiceless rock to speak.” Pretty eloquent symbols they have on those letter sticks. Did it include the punctuation and all? Even better is the second letter stick’s prophecy, which is a whole five-line poem referencing the quenching of Dyrnwyn’s flame, night turning to noon, and rivers that “burn with frozen fire.” I really want to know how a pig’s snout pointing to a few symbols on an ash rod resulted in this narrative. Do the symbols stand for words or for concepts? Is there a symbol that means “Dyrnwyn”? Or are they actual letters/phonetic symbols, and if so, wouldn’t that poem have taken a really long time to spell out and write down, like Ralphie’s Little Orphan Annie secret decoder ring message?

Anyway. The companions briefly discuss how disheartening the prophecies are, and how impossible it is that rivers can burn or stones can speak. I have a feeling we’ll learn that it’s not at all impossible, before all is said and done. Gwydion prepares to ride to Annuvin, and says he must go alone. Taran suggests sending Kaw ahead first as a scout. Gwydion approves of this plan and says that he will wait for Kaw at King Smoit’s realm, which is on the way to Annuvin. Taran says they will all go with him as far as Cantrev Cadiffor. Glew grumbles about the inconvenience, while Eilonwy uses a technique she learned from Queen Teleria to bargain her way into going along: “A lady doesn’t insist on having her own way. Then, next thing you know, it all works out somehow, without one’s even trying.” Hee.

Kaw departs for Annuvin, while Taran reflects on the gwythaint he helped years ago. They saddle their horses, and Fflewddur mounts Llyan, who growls at the sight of her former captor, Glew. Coll outfits them with old weapons from the tool shed. Sparrows are using his leather helmet as a nest, he says: “I shall not disturb them. But my own old pate is as tough as leather.” Coll is good people, y’all. Because everyone is reminiscing today, he recalls when Taran would have wanted nothing more than to ride for glory with Lord Gwydion. But now, Taran is fearful for Gwydion’s chances against Arawn.

That night, having traveled far from Caer Dallben, they make camp and share some lembas and jerky from Gurgi’s wallet. Taran helps Rhun revise his plans for the seawall at Mona, until Gwydion warns them to be quiet in case the Huntsmen are nearby. Taran muses on the prophecy some more, and says that he doesn’t think Arawn could even draw Dyrnwyn to be able to quench its flame. Gwydion says that if Dyrnwyn is locked in a treasure hoard, it would be as good as vanquished. Glew’s ears perk up at the mention of treasure. He says that he forgives them all for mistreating him and that, instead of waiting on Rhun’s ship as planned, he intends to journey with them. Gwydion throws Glew a sharp look, then thinks about it and then says quietly, “Perhaps you shall.”