Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Review - The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander

Short review: Arawn has a cauldron that can bring the dead back to life to serve as his soldiers. Taran and his friends have to find a way to take it away from him, even as their own allies betray their cause.

Deathless cauldron born
To destroy the black cauldron
One hero must die

Full review: In the second book of the Chronicles of Prydain, Taran sets out for adventure once more, slightly more prepared than he was in The Book of Three. He is once more accompanied by Gurgi, Fflewddur and Eilonwy, and the whole group is led by Gwydion. Some new characters are introduced: the chief bard Aadon, the cunning King Morgant, the jovial ham-handed King Smoit,  and the egotistical prince Ellidyr.

Gwydion has learned that since the Horned King was killed Arawn has been using the magical device known as the Black Cauldron to produce more and more of the deathless cauldron-born warriors. The plot of the novel revolved around the heroes' attempts to recover and destroy the object, preventing Arawn from increasing his army. It turns out that the cauldron has been stolen from Arawn already, but eventually Taran locates it, and bargains with its new owners to obtain it. After various betrayals and deaths, the cauldron is destroyed, but at a significant cost.

For a book aimed at young adults, the book is quite somber. Several notable characters die, characters one thought would be allies turn out not to be, Taran is forced to give up something very valuable, and the Cauldron itself can only be destroyed if someone willingly gets in it while still alive, which will kill them (which draws directly upon the original Welsh legend the cauldron is based upon). Unlike the crappy Disney hack-job movie in which Gurgi came back to life after destroying the cauldron, in the book, the death is irrevocable. While The Book of Three was more of a romp, this book seems to up the ante, showing that defeating Arawn will be neither easy nor painless.

Previous book in the series: The Book of Three
Subsequent book in the series: The Castle of Llyr

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  1. What did you think of the darkness of the story? I agree that it's way different from the first book, but as a kid, I loved that the story didn't shy away from the difficult things -- like you said, death is irrevocable, so there are real consequences in here.

    1. @Alyssa: I think that the tone of the Chronicles of Prydain is pretty much spot-on throughout. It is dark where it needs to be dark, and it is light and cheery where it needs to be light and cheery. The most important thing is that the story is honest with the reader in a way a lot of young adult fantasy is not.