The Black Cauldron (The Prydain Chronicles #2) ★★★★★

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Title: The Black Cauldron
Series: The Prydain Chronicles #2
Author: Lloyd Alexander
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 108
Words: 47K


More than a year after the defeat of Arawn Death-Lord’s army and death of his warlord the Horned King,[5] Prince Gwydion calls allies to a council hosted by Dallben, one of Taran’s guardians. Men are disappearing throughout Prydain, while an increasing number of the undead Cauldron-Born have joined Arawn’s forces. At the council, Gwydion reveals an elaborate plan to steal the Black Cauldron, the magical artifact used to create the Cauldron-Born, from Arawn. King Morgant will lead the main force in an attack on Arawn’s stronghold of Annuvin, while a smaller raiding party led by Gwydion breaks off to enter by a mountain pass known only to Coll that will allow them to steal the cauldron undetected. Three men have been designated to remain behind with pack animals to serve as a rearguard and secure the retreat: Adaon, the warrior son of chief bard Taliesin; Taran; and Ellidyr, Prince of Pen-Llarcau, who is arrogant, wiry, strong, and threadbare. Ellidyr disdains Taran for his place on the farm and his unknown parentage. Taran envies Ellidyr for his noble birth, despite Dallben’s counsel that that youngest son of a minor king has only “his name and his sword”.[6] Both are dismayed to share a role with no chance for glory.

In spite of the growing feud between Taran and Ellidyr, all goes smoothly until Gwydion’s raiders find that the cauldron has disappeared. The company rejoins the rearguard in haste to escape the newly-deployed Huntsmen of Annuvin. Meanwhile, the uninvited Princess Eilonwy and man/beast Gurgi have caught up with the quest from behind. Gwydion and Coll are split off from the party but, thanks to Doli of the Fair Folk, all others find refuge underground in a Fair Folk waypost maintained by Gwystyl. From Gwystyl and his pet crow, Kaw, the companions learn that the cauldron has been stolen by the three witches Orddu, Orwen and Orgoch, who reside in the bleak Marshes of Morva.[a] When they depart the waypost, Ellidyr rides southward,[a] determined to retrieve the cauldron single-handedly. With the Huntsmen abroad, Adaon leads Taran, Eilonwy, Gurgi, Doli, and the wandering bard Fflewddur Fflam in pursuit of Ellidyr. When they are attacked and scattered, Adaon is mortally wounded and Taran inherits his brooch, whose gift and burden is prophetic dreams and visions. With its guidance, he gathers and leads all but Doli toward the Marshes. From the fringe, Taran guides his small party through the Marshes to temporary safety and leads a pursuing band of Huntsmen to their deaths.

Orddu and her sisters refuse to give up the cauldron unless Taran and his companions offer something of, in their judgment, equivalent value. After the sisters reject the magical artifacts offered by his companions, Taran is compelled to barter Adaon’s brooch. The companions then try to destroy the cauldron, but learn from the witches that it can only be destroyed by a living person who knowingly and willingly climbs in to die. Horrified, the companions resolve to take the cauldron to Dallben to seek an alternative solution.

At the ford of the river Tevyn, the heavy and cumbersome cauldron sinks into the riverbed. Ellidyr arrives and offers to help extricate the cauldron if the others will credit him for the whole enterprise. Taran agrees, but Ellidyr reneges on their bargain and rides off with the cauldron alone when they have freed it. The companions then encounter Morgant and his army. In Morgant’s camp they see Ellidyr beaten and bound and realize Morgant has betrayed them, seeking to claim the cauldron for his own and generate his own army of Cauldron-Born to conquer Prydain. Morgant offers to spare the companions’ lives if Taran will enter his personal service. Doli arrives invisibly and cuts the companions’ bonds. Mortally wounded, Ellidyr rushes the cauldron while Taran and the others engage Morgant and forces himself inside, destroying the cauldron. Gwydion, King Smoit, and his army arrive and defeat Morgant in battle. As Taran, Eilonwy, and Gurgi take leave of Gwydion at the verge of Caer Dallben, Gwydion observes that Ellidyr has, in death, found the honor he so dearly sought in life.

I thoroughly enjoyed this. I remembered the uppity prince and his sacrifice but the whole thing with the three witches and the swamp? Didn’t remember that at all. It was rather delightful.

This had a lot of growing for Taran as he is now the one in charge, at least nominally, partway through the story. He begins to realize that being a leader isn’t all swinging swords and glory. It is hard work, it is unrewarding work and it is work that HAS to be done.

I thought the author handled the tension with the forces of Arawn just right. The wolf warriors who grew stronger with each one that was killed were awesome. Sadly, their interaction with Taran and Co wasn’t as fully explored as I could have hoped for. But for a book that is only 108 pages, I can’t really complain. They were scary, they were powerful and Taran managed to outwit or outrun them.

Eilonwy continues to be a really funny character to read. She’s not meant to be funny and it’s not a comic kind of funny, but her absolute conviction that she is right and her I told you so’s just amuse me. She’s the quintessential teenager but without being completely in rebellion to authority. It’s a breath of fresh air to have a heroine who is feisty but can’t lift a sword like Taran. She’s a real female, not a female while actually being a man. She’s certainly not helpless, she just has to approach things differently.

I would say this re-read is going smashingly. Both books so far are 5stars. That’s a really good track record.


35 thoughts on “The Black Cauldron (The Prydain Chronicles #2) ★★★★★

    1. Hey, what are you still doing up? I thought it was past your bed time? How else are you going to get enough sleep to get up at 2am?

      Waaaaaaaaaait a second. You get up early, make a lot of noise and then disappear during daylight hours, only to reappear during twilight and then show up at night. Are you a flipping vampire?


  1. My remember watching Disney’s The Black Cauldron many times and definitely could see the potential it had, which got me interested in reading the original Chronicles of Prydain novels. Haven’t yet, but I do plan to sometime soon.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. thankfully, even if you’re a slow reader, you should be able to get through one of these books in the same time as watching one of those 3hr monstrosities they now call movies 😉
      And if you liked the old animated story, then you should like The Book of Three and The Black Cauldron pretty well.

      Liked by 1 person

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