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, July 23, 2017

The High King, Chapter 7 – The King of Mona

Eilonwy rescues Taran, Gurgi, Gwydion, Coll and Smoit from their captivity in the larder. She hurriedly fills them in on the uses of the mushrooms, eggs and powder, and tells them “Fflewddur’s trapped in the courtyard. Everything’s gone wrong. Our plan has failed!” I’d say she’s selling herself a little short, considering she’s just managed to free the five of them. Plus, it irritates me that no one even thanks her for this; they all just spring into action in a very manly fashion. The Eilonwy of a few books ago would have called them out on their ingratitude with a “Humph!”

The courtyard is filled with smoke and dotted with columns of fire. Taran runs into an armed guard, but is able to blind him with a handful of powder. Smoit tries to rally his men with his war cry, “A Smoit!” Coll and Taran fight off a pack of swordsmen and save Fflewddur. Fflewddur says he doesn’t know what’s become of Rhun. The heroes fight their way to the stables, where a phalanx of warriors seems ready to finish them off for good. But suddenly, Rhun rides in on his horse, swinging his sword and shouting orders to an unseen army of bowmen and swordsmen. The ruse succeeds in confusing Magg’s warriors, and then Llyan enters the fray, allowing Smoit’s men to gain the advantage. Gwydion, Coll and Smoit pursue the retreating enemy.

Taran is heading to the stables to free Melynlas, when Eilonwy calls to him: “Rhun is badly hurt!” Rhun has been wounded by an arrow, and greets Taran for the last time, with a whispered “Hullo, hullo!” He tells Taran he’s sure that his seawall plan will work well: “And I think – I think I shall be glad to be home.” And then he dies. It’s so completely unexpected (unlike most of the good-guy deaths in the series, which are foreshadowed more heavily) that I barely have time to be sad about it … and I suspect that was exactly Alexander’s intent. Gwydion even says as much: “Arawn Death-Lord gives us little time for grief.” And you know that things have gotten serious when Gwydion is speaking for me, you guys.

The companions – including Gurgi, Gwystyl and Glew, who are all unharmed – bury Rhun. Taran vows that the seawall will be finished if he has to build it himself. After Gwystyl departs for King Eiddileg’s realm, Gwydion announces that the gathering of Arawn’s hosts are a more pressing danger than Arawn’s possession of Dyrnwyn. So, change of plans: instead of going to Annuvin, he will ride to Caer Dathyl to rally the Sons of Don. Taran asks if there’s a way to do both. Gwydion tells him going to Annuvin now will mean wasted lives and wasted time, and they need to focus on raising the largest army they can. He says he will send word to King Pryderi in the West, and asks Fflewddur to rally the Northern realms, including his own subjects (conveniently remembering that Fflewddur is a king). He then tells Taran to journey to the Free Commots and recruit as many men as he can. Gurgi, Coll and Eilonwy will go with Taran, since it’s too dangerous to send Eilonwy back to Caer Dallben.

Before dawn the next day, they all set out. Taran has a nice little moment with Aeddan, who only has a rusted sword but says he will follow Taran anywhere. I think the Taran of a few books ago would have wanted as many men in his host as he could get, so it’s a sign of his growing maturity when he tells Aeddan he should ride with his king instead. Eilonwy attaches her needlework of Hen Wen to a spear to make a banner for their little war party, and they ride out into the frosty morning. Winter is coming, y’all.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

The High King, Chapter 6 – A Clutch of Eggs

Sure enough, this chapter picks up right where the last one left off (meaning we still haven’t shifted back to Taran’s POV). Gwystyl explains that each egg is filled with smoke that, when the shell is cracked, will come out “in considerable quantity.” He tells the companions to keep them as a gift, then tries to take his leave. Eilonwy thinks Gwystyl’s hiding more than eggs and threatens to squeeze him. He reveals that he also has mushrooms that “make a handsome puff of flame, if you should ever need such a thing.” And finally, he gives them a powder that can be used to cover their tracks or to blind an enemy for a short time. This chapter is starting to feel like we’re in Super Mario World, not Prydain.

A chuffed Fflewddur immediately starts making plans to storm the castle under cloak of smoke and fire. Rhun very sensibly points out that the smoke and fire would blind them just as much as their opponents. Eilonwy agrees with him and says they need a better plan. Rhun, pumped up with pride from her validation, confidently suggests they attack the castle from different directions, with the others creating a diversion from the far wall while he rides through the gate. Eilonwy says it’s too risky and that now that he’s King of Mona he has an obligation to his people to keep himself out of the fighting and stay safe. I guess no one cares about Fflewddur’s duty to his subjects?

Near dawn, they set their plan in motion, deciding that Gwystyl will create a mushroom fire at the rear of the courtyard, and while the guards are distracted by the fire, Eilonwy and Rhun will force the gates open and Fflewddur will release the prisoners. One by one, they scale the castle wall using fishing hooks and line. Eilonwy and Rhun wait for Gwystyl’s fire signal. But then they see a fire in the Great Hall, and Magg’s warriors are headed to that fire instead of to Gwystyl’s diversion! Rhun runs off to open the gates. A bowman tries to shoot Eilonwy, so she throws a flaming mushroom at him. Then she’s off to save Taran! Even though I’ve complained about sexism in these books more than once, it’s cool that Eilonwy gets to rescue her man here instead of the other way around. It’s a pity the rest of the book isn’t told from her perspective, but alas, dear friends, we’re back to Taran’s POV in the next chapter.