A note from the writer: There are some spoilers here and there – just a fair warning to the reader. On the other hand, it might actually entice you to read the series.
“Although an imaginary world, Prydain is essentially not too different from our real one, where humor and heart-break, joy and sadness are closely interwoven. The choices and decisions that face a frequently baffled Assistant Pig-Keeper are no easier than the ones we ourselves must make. Even in a fantasy realm, growing up is accomplished not without cost.”
– Lloyd Alexander
The second of the series, The Black Cauldron garnered a Newbery Award Honor and much praise for becoming a wonderful sequel to The Book of Three. Though each book was written a manner that it can be read on its own, it is quite noticeable how the books are connected to each other in a special way – much like how things make more sense when you know what entirely happened and not just some parts of it.
A little more than a year has passed and during that span of time, peace reigned once again in the beautiful land of Prydain despite Arawn’s continuing existence. The story begins in Caer Dallben, the same place where it had all begun, where Taran has resumed his post as Assistant Pig-Keeper. Wanting adventure once again, the young man’s desire is quickly satisfied when the most important warriors of the land came together to meet as a council right there at his very home.
Prince Gwydion has called the meeting for a very important task – to steal Arawn’s cauldron and destroy it once and for all. The cauldron has only been used for evil by spawning Cauldron-Born, slain men given lifeless lives with no hearts or souls and the desire only to kill. The task is to be executed by all the valuable assets of Prydain including Taran, Coll, Gurgi, Doli the Dwarf, Fflewddur Fflam the Bard/King, and new people whom the party has finally come to meet: the arrogant and spiteful Prince Ellidyr, the peaceful and wise bard Adaon, the second-best war leader of Prydain King Morgant of Madoc, and the gigantic and powerful King Smoit.
Together, they set out a plan that was perfectly executed save for one thing – the cauldron is not in Arawn’s fortress anymore. As the division of the members grouped Taran, Adaon, and Prince Ellidyr near the outskirts of the Dark Gate to guard and secure provisions, they were separated from the rest except for Fflewddur and Doli who came running back to inform them of what had happened. Princess Eilonwy and Gurgi too had followed them from a distance and despite Taran and Ellidyr’s protests, they stayed with the party because of all that took place after.
The Hunstmen of Annuvin, traitors who have sworn allegiance to Arawn, attacked them and led them even farther away from the possibility of reuniting with Prince Gwydion. Journeying on, they encounter another dwarf by the name of Gwystyl and his pet crow Kaw who revealed the whereabouts of the black cauldron. Because of this, Taran decided to go the Marshes of Morva and look for Orddu, Orwen, and Orgoch, the ones who had taken the big ugly pot from Arawn so easily. They were separated from Ellidyr who out of his pride and desire to find the cauldron first decided to take off ahead of them while they were sleeping.
With this more obstacles came in their way and despite Adaon’s wisdom and dreams, he chose to remain silent and allowed Taran to make the decisions. Such choices were not without price and Taran paid dearly for it. A tragedy of a loss bears much grief yet there is no other path but to take the one that is already before them. Despite successfully finding and obtaining the the Black Crochan, Taran was always burdened with such choices. Which path will he choose – the one that will lead to glory as it seems or the other that would only render him the same as he was before he left? The choices he made this time however were weighed much more carefully and required much sacrifice than what was ever required of him before. Yet, he chose them and this led him eventually to become something more – a young man that is truly a hero in the making.
The Black Cauldron is filled with wisdom here and there. It is a little different than The Book of Three in a sense that it now includes death and betrayal, things that even real people living in a real world have to experience and accept to be true. Despite his young pride and continuous desire to be a glorious hero of Prydain, Taran shows too that he has grown a little more once again especially with all that he has experienced, witnessed, and done this time around, making him stronger in the end. He had discovered much about his friends and even more about life itself but more importantly, about himself. He has matured a little more than before much like we all do as we see more of the world and both of its good and bad sides.
And though this faithful reader and writer has read this book for the nth time, The Black Cauldron never fails to leave bits of wisdom here and there – perhaps some that have never been noticed before. Such things which make the Chronicles of Prydain even grow fonder in my heart.
To Taran and the rest of the beautiful characters who have taught me a lot every time I read and re-read the books, I have Lloyd Alexander to be thankful for.