The army of the dead has been defeated and the black cauldron destroyed so what’s left to be done? Send Eilonwy to learn how to be a lady, of course. And so another adventure in The Chronicles of Prydain begins.
“I want to be recognized!” Eilonwy cried. “I want to be me!”
Eilonwy is not rotten, but she’s no lady either. She seems to have become a bit of tomboy so the enchanter Dallben sends her off to the Isle of Mona to be refined by Queen Teleria, though Eilonwy doesn’t see why refinement is needed. Taran and Gurgi accompany her on her journey overseas on the clumsy Prince Rhun’s ship.
The journey was horrible for Taran. Not only was he battling his feelings about Eilonwy’s leaving, but he often found himself at the receiving end of the prince’s clumsiness, which became more of a nuisance once they reached their destination. After being introduced to the king and queen, Taran and Gurgi are reunited with Fflewddur Fflam, who got bored of being king and went back to being a bard, for the time. He also meets Gwydion, who has disguised himself as a shoemaker while he inquires of Achren of the Spiral Castle, who’s still at large and a danger to Eilonwy.
Gwydion tells Taran that someone in the castle is a spy for Achren, and this is soon proven true when Taran sees the chief steward, Magg, sneaking out the castle and signaling Achren’s ship. While Gwydion seeks to gather more evidence against Magg to prove his crimes, Taran guards Eilonwy’s rooms. Despite his efforts, Eilonwy is kidnapped by Magg, and it’s up to Taran and his friends to rescue her before Achren can overpower her.
Unfortunately I did not enjoy this one as much as the first two in the series. It’s probably because I read the author’s note prior to reading the story which made me expect more from it. Since Alexander mentions that “what befalls the heroine is as important, and perilous, as the hero’s own quest,” I assumed that this installment would focus mostly on Eilonwy, despite Taran being protagonist of the series. However, that did not happen. Instead the story, though about Eilonwy’s safety, was dominated by Taran and the bumbling Prince Rhun. I was hoping for Eilonwy to save the day. But my enjoyment dampened because the complete opposite occurred: She was the helpless princess in the castle who needed rescuing.
“For each of us comes a time when we must be more than what we are.”
The plot’s progression also threw me off. Gwydion popped up too suddenly and the question of who’s Achren’s spy was resolved too quickly. I guess I craved more suspense. The plot moved along so quickly that I couldn’t empathize with the characters’ plight, and I think that quick progression affected the depth of the story. The message in this one, which is repeated a number of times, is that sometimes we must be more than what we are; sometimes we are pushed beyond our limits, or what we think our limits are. I think this is a fine message but I don’t think how it’s applied to the characters has a great impact on the reader. However, I liked seeing how it’s proven true of Prince Rhun, who is changed by the end of the book. I’m also eager to see how it applies to Taran, who learns various lessons throughout this story but who will surely be changed and become someone greater by the end of the series.
See, even though this lesson was first said to Eilonwy I focus more on Taran and Prince Rhun when discussing it because we spend the most time with them. Is Eilonwy changed by the end of the story? She is certainly affected by the events since she was controlled by Achren and also returned to the place of her birth, the Castle Llyr, which is destroyed by the end of the story. She is affected by the events but that fact does not stand out, at least not to me, so the heroine’s journey does not seem very important or of much substance though it should. I didn’t even fully appreciate that she gave up her chance to be a great enchantress to save her friends. So I don’t think Eilonwy changed much by the end; I think she just realizes the truth of Dallben’s lesson.
And the story wasn’t even funny. It was an okay read so I gave it 2 stars on Goodreads (I might change it to 3). I wasn’t looking for it to be funny but since Alexander mentioned in his author’s note that he was reaching for comical, I paid attention to the moments that he did and I don’t think they work. Maybe they work for the intended audience — middle-graders — but they did not elicit a laugh from me, or even a chuckle. Alexander tried for the comical through Prince Rhun’s antics but, like Taran, I sometimes found him a bit annoying though I like that he’s a good-natured soul. The group’s antics in The Book of Three were much funnier than in this one.
“Does his birth make him worthy of his rank?”
Prince Rhun also serves as another foil to Taran. Like Ellidyr, Rhun is born into royalty but he seems unworthy of his title. He is no natural-born leader and his clumsiness is a hindrance. When compared to him, it’s easy to see that Taran is worthy of being king one day. He is brave, kind, and though he makes mistakes, he learns from them. He’s even willing to give Rhun the chance to prove himself, hence showing he’s noble. With these qualities and the respect he gains from high officials, as well as his affection for Eilonwy, it’s easy to tell that Taran will be king one day with Eilonwy at his side. Still, I haven’t read the other books yet so that remains to be seen.
Overall: It’s an okay adventure story; something you can quickly get through.
Quotes from the book:
“The nature of fantasy allows happenings which reveal most clearly our own frailties and our own strengths.”
“We know least what we treasure most.”
“To go well-shod is half the journey.” [Ah! How true. This will echo in my head whenever I stupidly wear heels when flats would do.]
“For a man to be worthy of any rank, he must strive first to be a man.”
“A warrior’s life is one of hardship and it takes a stout heart to follow it.”
Other posts on The Castle of Llyr and Lloyd Alexander
- Lloyd Alexander: A Tribute Post (deborahocarroll.wordpress.com)
- The Castle of Llyr Quote (writingonthewallbooks.wordpress.com)
- 7.26.14 Alex Reads: The Castle of Llyr (narrativefriction.wordpress.com)
- 13 Fantasies Inspired by Mythology from the British Isles (tor.com)