Review: “The Black Cauldron” by Lloyd Alexander

The Black Cauldron, the second volume in The Chronicles of Prydain series, follows Taran’s further adventures in Prydain.  The Black Cauldron is an evil tool of power used by Arawn, Lord of Death, for the creation of his Cauldron-Born, deathless warriors whose sole purpose is to murder others.  Taran takes part in a quest ordained by his friend, Prince Gwydion.  He is entrusted to a group of miscellaneous persons that have a single objective: to steal the Black Cauldron from Annuvin and destroy it.

 Still longing for glory and honor, Taran sees this journey as an opportunity to prove himself as a warrior.  To his dismay, he finds a rival in Ellidyr, an ill-tempered conceited prince.  Balanced by the companionship of wise Adaon, Princess Eilonwy, Fflewddur Flam, Gurgi, and Doli of the Fair Folk, Taran must once again venture into unstable territory to save Prydain from one of its greatest dangers by means of great sacrifice and sorrow.

In The Book of Three, Prince Gwydion is the mentor and teacher aside from Dallben who initially guides Taran in his journey until circumstances forcefully separate them.  Adaon is the wise leader in The Black Cauldron who is placed in charge of Ellidyr and Taran.  He serves as a friend and a teacher to both young men, while Prince Gwydion does not appear often in the course of this novel.  Ellidyr is similar to Taran in his character and temperament.  Although both are young men striving for honor, they endure heavy lessons that have a lasting impact on them by the end of their quest.  Betrayal and loyalty are contrasting behaviors exhibited among the many characters portrayed.

The Black Cauldron is even more profound and serious than its predecessor due to its emphasis on self-sacrifice, mortality, and the sorrow caused by death.  It is intriguing that Orddu, Orgoch, and Orwen are the equivalent of the Three Graces in Greek and Roman mythology.  Fflewddur Flam’s exaggerations of the facts pleasantly increase, providing some rare moments of humor.  Adaon’s wisdom, Gurgi’s altruism, Eilonwy’s honesty, and Doli’s goodness counter the antagonists, but Taran’s personal discoveries of wisdom and nobility strengthen the novel’s morals.  Destiny is shown to be fickle, and evil is destroyed at a great price, as in Taran’s and Ellidyr’s case.  Gwydion states in The Book of Three that when evil is seen for what it truly is and it is called by its true name, it can be destroyed.  The Black Cauldron deepens that message with Lloyd Alexander’s wise insights and personal philosophy.

Original review: Part 2: Lloyd Alexander’s ‘The Chronicles of Prydain’,


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