Friday, February 10, 2012

Book Review: The Black Cauldron

The second novel in the Chronicles of Prydain series is The Black Cauldron. In the first novel (reviewed here), the cauldron was in the possession of Prydain's big bad, Arawn, who used it to build an army. He'd take dead people, put them in the cauldron, and they would come back as soulless slaves that did his every bidding. Fearless and deathless warriors are horrific opponents. They obeyed Arawn and his minions with alacrity and severity. After the defeat of Arawn's champion warlord, the Horned King, his forces retreated to his kingdom Annuvin to plan his next move. Thus far the story goes in the first novel.

The second novel opens with a summoning of Prydain's good warlords by Prince Gwydion to Caer Dallben, the farm where the story's main hero, Taran, is the Assistant Pig-Keeper. The prince presents a bold plan: mount a large assault on Annuvin while a small group sneaks into the Arawn's castle to steal the cauldron. It will then be brought back to Caer Dallben to be destroyed. The heroes gathered agree and the adventure begins.

Taran's mission is to guard the "back door" where those who steal the cauldron will come on their way out of Arawn's kingdom. He is partnered with a haughty young prince named Ellidyr and they are under the command of Adaon. All the characters from the last story are involved: Gurgi goes with Taran's group; Princess Eilonwy follows Taran's group at a distance, getting involved when the action starts; dwarf Doli uses his invisibility power to infiltrate Arawn's castle.

The story is full of wonderful adventures in imaginative settings. Plans go awry when someone else steals the cauldron first and everyone goes in different directions. We follow Taran into the Marshes of Morva as he and Ellidyr vie to recover the cauldron first. The end of the story was a little predictable but satisfying nonetheless.

The characters are well-drawn just as in the first book. I especially enjoyed the similarities and contrasts between Taran and Ellidyr, both ambitious and pig-headed (pun intended) but not entirely competent. I'm looking forward to the next book, The Castle of Llyr.

1 comment:

  1. I first read these in grade school in the early 80s and then re-read them a few years ago after I found a bound volume of them. This and the High King are my favorites.

    But I think I liked them even more as a read-aloud for my son. Just great stuff!