The Black Cauldron, by Lloyd Alexander, was published in 1965 by Henry Holt.
In the imaginary land of Prydain, where “evil is never distant,” Prince Gwydion faces dangers more threatening than have ever been dreamed of. It has become imperative that the black Cauldron, chief implement of the evil powers of Arawn, lord of the Land of Death, be destroyed. For each of the warriors chosen to journey to Arawn’s domain, the quest has special meaning .To Ellidyr, the youngest son of an impoverished king, it means a chance to satisfy his bitter longing for fame. For Adaon, beloved for his gentleness and bravery, the quest is an omen whose significance he dreads to discover. And to Taran, Assistant Pig-Keeper, the adventure seems a glorious opportunity to wear his first sword, and be a man among men.
The Black Cauldron is probably the most well-known of the Chronicles of Prydain, likely due to the Disney movie. On my part, I always think of The Black Cauldron when I think of Prydain (although Castle of Llyr is close behind). It just seems to encapsulate Alexander’s work, although funnily enough, I don’t actually think the book is all that great.
The story is good, don’t get me wrong—but I found myself rolling my eyes more often than not at Taran’s speech patterns and all the melodramatic pronouncements of Ellidyr’s “black beast.” I do think the story itself is a good one, but it’s marred every time Taran opens his mouth and makes a fool of himself. Which, I suppose, is still part of his development—I don’t think Taran gets much better until Taran Wanderer when he goes off to figure out his past and grows up a little.
Fflewdur and Eilonwy also take a little more of a backseat in this novel, which is a bit of a disappointment. Eilonwy as a tag-along is not a good Eilonwy. I also don’t like how she’s the only female present for most of the series, not because of the lack of female representation but because she’s literally the only woman around who Taran could possibly fall in love with, which makes that development really boring. Who else is he going to be with if not for her?
But as I mentioned, I think the story is good: the temptations of pride and anger, the desire for glory, the importance of keeping one’s word, self-sacrifice, pity for the positions of others–these are all good themes present. And the best part of this novel is that Taran is not the ultimate hero of this book. Yes, he’s the main character and the majority of this book is him once again learning the lessons he learned in The Book of Three but with more people involved, but he is not the true hero.
Which, come to think of it, is probably why I—and undoubtedly others–always think of The Black Cauldron when thinking about the Chronicles of Prydain.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Warnings: Some violence, war, death.
Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade
“Our quest is urgent,” said Adaon, who had finished binding Ellidyr’s wound and had come to stand near Gwystyl. “We ask you to do nothing to endanger yourself. I would not tell you the circumstances that brought us here, but without knowing them you cannot realize how desperately we need your help.”
“We had come to seize the cauldron from Annuvin,” Taran said.
“Cauldron?” murmured Gwystyl.
“Yes, the cauldron!” shouted the furious dwarf. “You pale grub! You lightless lightning bug! The cauldron of Arawn’s Cauldron-Born!”
“Oh, that cauldron,” Gwystyl answered feebly. “Forgive me, Doli, I was thinking of something else. When did you say you were going?”