The wonderful group of companions that overcame danger and evil in book one of the Chronicles of Prydain return for a second bold adventure in The Black Cauldron. This time, Taran is called away by Prince Gwydion on a quest to seize the cauldron that belongs to the evil Lord Arawn. Within this vessel the Dark Lord creates his cauldron-born, those “mute and deathless warriors who serve the Lord of Annuvin. These are the bodies of the slain, steeped in Arawn’s cauldron to give them life again.” To diminish the evil that threatens all of Prydain, the cauldron MUST be destroyed.
Taran, ever ready to prove his budding manhood, leaps at the opportunity. So, too, does the ever-faithful Gurgi with his poor tender head and Princess Eilonwy whose mouth never does stop running, even though the two have been commanded to stay behind. They join Fflewddur Flam, who is still having a great deal of trouble with snapping harp strings, and the dwarf, Doli, who has at last mastered the art of becoming invisible, though it does make his ears buzz something terrible. (“Hornets! Wasps! A whole swarm of bees!”) Yet our companions soon learn the Black Cauldron can only be destroyed at the highest cost, that of a life willingly given.
And so, Taran Pig-Keeper’s second adventure proves as dangerous, fun and rewarding as the last. Maybe it’s even meant to be, “for there is a destiny laid on everything; on big, ugly Crochans as well as poor ugly ducklings, and a destiny laid even on us.” And through it Taran learns some valuable lessons about friendship, honor, betrayal and forgiveness. “It is easy to judge evil unmixed,” Gwydion tells him, “but alas, in most of us good and bad are closely woven as the threads on a loom; greater wisdom than mine is needed for the judging.” Wisdom, perhaps, that we all need to keep in mind when we’re wronged.
The Chronicles of Prydain is turning out to be absolutely remarkable and worthy of its legendary status. (And they’re all newly on Kindle!) This volume won Newbery Honors in 1966. This series is highly, highly recommended–my very highest recommendation–for middle readers 8-13.
My reviews of the other books in this series:
- Book one: The Book of Three
- Book three: The Castle of Llyr
- Book four: Taran Wanderer
- Book five: The High King