The Black Cauldron, Part 1: Fate and Flaws

The Prydain Group Read continues into Book 2, The Black Cauldron! Join me for wild flailings, high amusement, some helpless yelling, and Something In My Eye…

In other words, a regular Muskedragons Saturday night.

Spoilers below!


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So Taran’s epic quest continues, and so do the obvious nods to The Lord of the Rings. This is clearly the one where the Fellowship properly assembles, though there isn’t much that’s humble or courageous about Taran’s desire to be part of it. Frodo Baggins, he’s not. But there’s an evil artifact that requires destroying, and there’s only one place to do it, so it’s off into Mordor – sorry, Annuvin – they go, to destroy the ring Cauldron and keep Arawn from creating more fodder for his undead army.

I’m still finding Taran a bit irritating, to be honest. I’m glad he has so many interesting friends and allies, because if this story relied solely on his own naturally heroic exploits I doubt I’d have made it this far. But therein lies the beauty of the story. Taran wants to be a hero, but he starts out with very little idea of what that truly means, and you can’t just learn the knack of it overnight. You certainly can’t do it alone. If The Book of Three was his eye-opener, then this is where the harsh lessons really begin. And thanks to the addition of Ellidyr to the ensemble cast (he’s basically Boromir with about ten times the ego, isn’t he?), there’s another lesson for Taran to learn about the difference between pride in one’s accomplishments, and narcissistic self-importance. Ellidyr might be a prince in name, but put him next to Gwydion, and … well. I’m sure you get the picture.

Taran. One brush with death at the hands of Evil’s henchmen doesn’t make you a hero, a warrior, or even all that tough, son. No matter how “brave” you think you were at the time. And no, to be quite honest, even with an asshole like Ellidyr for comparison, you are not All That. Not yet.

Story-wise, things are still rattling along at high speeds here, and again I’m having a slight problem with it, in that I wish a) it would slow down; and b) that there was more of it. But we are getting the important parts, and I’m certainly not wishing for 800-page epics on every outing. Past a certain point, I’ll take adventurous over academic every time. Sorry, Tolkien.

Also, we’re still getting all of the character banter, and if anything it’s getting sharper. Doli makes a surprising but welcome return to the fold here, and given the interactions between him and Fflewddur I’m pretty sure we’ve got our Legolas and Gimli present and accounted for along with our Boromir. The Snappy Exchange of the Week goes to:


“A Fflam never hesitates!”
“A Fflam never hesitates to open his mouth.”


I love me some good sass. I want more.

Beyond this, there’s a new face among the fellows to balance the irritable mood I’m left in whenever Taran and Ellidyr have to share the page. Adaon is handsome, wise, kind and gifted with a prophetic talent that makes him mysterious as well. And in keeping with the darker undertones of this story, it doesn’t take long for him to die. But he does it heroically. Taran, take note! Stop picking fights with Ellidyr and get your self-interrogation on. This is how you want to be!

Though I’m not sure, in light of the ‘gift’ Adaon leaves him with, that Taran would have wanted to be quite so literally like him. But the passing of Adaon’s prophetic torch should at least teach Taran to use his head, if nothing else. And judging from his quick thinking in the Marshes, he isn’t averse to doing just that. The boy will be all right, if he can just straighten out his priorities. (And his manners. Eilonwy really is going to smack him one day very soon, or at least I hope she is.)

Oh yeah – the Marshes! More specifically, who (what?) is waiting for them there.

So, quick recap: They got to the bad guy’s lair. Cauldron wasn’t there; somebody else nabbed it before they could. Squirrelly dude in a way station maintained by the Fair Folk eventually told them where it was taken, so off they go. Bad things happen along the way (the nicest one dies while the one that most annoys me most goes swanning off to Be A Hero by himself and honestly, Ellidyr*, good riddance to you) but they mostly survive, though the Fellowship is a bit scattered by then (naturally), and it looks like Taran and friends are about to get squished. Literally.

… But it’s the nature of the beings in that weird little cottage that I want to talk about. If they aren’t witches, which their talk of transmogrification and squishing might indicate, then my theory is that we’re dealing with the personification(s) of Fate here. And if that’s the case, I am made of squee. I WANT THIS TO BE TRUE. I mean, Taran turns up on their doorstep not very long after acquiring prophetic powers? DIS GON B GUD.

<Thinks> I just hope whoever’s in that cottage isn’t spiderlike in any way. I might be eating this up with a spoon but even I have my limits. In this case, it’s a phobia. Please don’t be spidery. Shelob wasn’t nice. The Tolkien homage can only go so far. Right?

So that’s what I’m putting my money on. They have entered the Weird Cottage of Crotchety Fate. They have also clearly never read a fairytale before. Seriously, who finds a cottage in the middle of a creepy marsh that’s populated by monsters and goes “hello what’s this, looks like it’s empty, let’s go in without permission”?


Damn boy.


*He’s totally Gollum, isn’t he. Maaaaybe don’t let him get near that Cauldron, chaps.

3 thoughts on “The Black Cauldron, Part 1: Fate and Flaws

  1. I’m not entirely surprised that in my memories of this book, I’d completely forgotten about Ellidyr, Morgant and Gwystyl. I took great joy in Gwystyl, even as he felt enormously familiar (and I still haven’t quite figured out who he reminds me of, so perhaps it’s just himself).

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