The Black Cauldron (Chronicles of Prydain, book two), by Lloyd Alexander, 1965, Book Review

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:

27 thoughts on “The Black Cauldron (Chronicles of Prydain, book two), by Lloyd Alexander, 1965, Book Review

  1. I can tell you are certainly excited about this series! I’m not familiar with the series, so I appreciated learning a bit about the first book first. I bet the tweens really like the series as it is action-packed, deals with good and evil, yet has a lot of great messages. Great review.

    1. I was really excited to find out this series is as top-notch as I’ve been hearing. Should have read it years ago. 🙂 It’s almost 50 years old now and doesn’t seem to be as popular as, say, Narnia. Hopefully this will prompt some new readers.

  2. Thank you so much for reviewing these! I actually read The Book of Three back in 5th grade as part of an honors reading class. I fell in love with these books, dug up the entire series in hardback form and dragged them through my classes the rest of the year along with my other homework. I just couldn’t bear to part with them! This is always my #1 suggestion to friends, family and strangers for their kids 8-12 years old, and I’m glad it has become your highest recommendation as well. Thank you, again!

  3. i absolutely LOVE the Prydain Chronicles, being an adult and still have the love i developed as a kid for books i can truly say that when reading books like these or Narnia i might even enjoy them more than i did when i was young..
    Because now i really get the messages and take more time to think over the details left in the book, it’s amazing how books like these indirectly make us the people we are today.

    I really enjoyed your review, greeting from Belgium!

    1. Thanks for contributing, Thijs. I love what you said about books helping to make us who we are today. That’s so true. These great stories really do make themselves a part of us. Belgium? Awesome! 🙂

      1. I recently got through some bad times and when i do, i turn to C.S. Lewis first to make me see the beauty of life again, when things go bad i just need Aslan to comfort me and make me feel that everyting is going to be alright, it’s quite akward because i started reading The Chronicles of Narnia for the first time when i was nineteen and had devoured books when i was a kid.
        But this, or rather these, books made my life the life i’m living today, and when i recently picked up The Prydain Chronicles again because i adore them very much i started googling for some reviews and other people’s thoughts about these books and that’s when i stumbled upon your review wich moved me because you’re an adult and capture the meaning and feeling of these books very well in your review and by your other comments i can see that you clearly understand what books really do to us 🙂

      2. Thanks for your very kind comments, Thijs. Narnia has a very special place in my heart, as well. I read them when I was eleven for the first time and fell in love with the characters (especially Aslan) and the fantasy. Then I read them again in college and my eyes were opened to some of Lewis’s deeper meanings. I, too, find great comfort in them, because they so closely represent my faith. Lord of the Rings is another series that made a huge impression on me, though I was in my early twenties by that time. I sure wish I had found Prydain much earlier. All these books celebrate such much that is GOOD that it’s easy to get swept away by them. I love to get swept away by them!

  4. Very true indeed :), though they do not introduce us to only the good but also the bad things in life and for instance bad people, so that when we read these books we get a good view of how some people corrupt others in stories but also in this modern world today.. Characters with their own mind and opinion and stories with their own heroic situations layed out so beautifully that you can relate to them perfectly and can’t let go of them and carry them with you the moment you finish the last chapter 🙂
    But back to the Prydain Chronicles, haven’t you finished The High King? Because it’s the only book in the series you didn’t reviewed 🙂

      1. I’m very glad you enjoyed this series as much as i did 🙂 but it’s not a shame you didn’t discover them sooner, sometimes with books i find that it’s more appropriate to discover them when you’re older and wiser like i had with Narnia. Btw have you ever read Lewis’ “A Grief Observed”? I read it when my grandfather passed away who i loved very much and this book made me get through those times but also for just reading i find it very deep and emotional, i really recommend picking it up and give it a quick read 🙂 But back to Prydain now, (i’m sorry my comments are always so long but i can’t help it i just happen to have so much to talk about with people that get same feeling from books as i get) Now that you’ve read the complete Chronicles wich one do you like most? I’m currently re-reading them and just finished the the tenth chapter of Llyr but still cant decide after all these years wich one i love the most 🙂
        Anyway thanks for this conversation about these books, i enjoyed it very much 🙂

      2. Thijs, I love your long comments. Anytime, my friend. It’s a pleasure to talk books!

        No, I haven’t read many of Lewis’ works outside of Narnia. A few, but not this one. I’ll put it on my tbr list. Lewis completely defies that stereotype that faith and intelligence/logic can’t go hand-in-hand.

        My favorite Prydain book? Probably the last one. I’m a sucker for a good ending, and I love the way the whole series comes together. I also like seeing the new maturity of Taran and Eilonwy. Just today I started reading “Book of Three” with my homeschooled. Smiles so far. Enjoy your rereads, and I will too! 🙂

  5. It’s about Lewis’ expierence with losing his wife to cancer, he questions God very often in this one, i think you really find it a deep one 🙂
    It’s sooo great to know you’re reading the first novel again with your homeschooled, everybody that know of the Prydain Chronicles should share it!
    As for my favorite, i still can’t pick one 😀 i’m at the last chapter of Llyr now and still can’t decide wich one i enjoyed most, maybe when i finish Taran Wanderer and The High King again i can finnaly decide but for now i can’t 🙂
    I read many reviews and came to notice that most Prydain readers don’t like the first one as much as the rest, well i can say i find it a very nice beginning to a series and enjoyed it very much tghe first time i had read it..
    Now i’m afraid to post any spoilers containing the books because i’m not familiar with this website i just found it by googling for some Prydain books reviews and came across yours and felt the need to post a comment because your review was the one i was searching for when i started in the first place, there are just some people that expierence some things exactly the way you yourself do and that made me want to post a reply on yours and not the others i read before 🙂 so let’s just say i really like what happens to Achren and another one is, by my first read through i was scared already since the first book , that if something were to happen to Gurgi in one of the following books that i just couldn’t have lived with it

    1. Lol, Gurgi grew on me, too. It’s hard when any great character falls.

      I like the first book just as much as any of the others. Like you said, it’s a great way to start the series. Taran can’t mature unless he starts out immature. And the horned king evoked just the right amount of dread. Like all the books, it was chock full of beauty, wisdom, and poetic prose. I was thrilled to find the series as good as I had always heard and quickly devoured the remaining four books. If Book of Three hadn’t been worthy, I probably wouldn’t have moved on. But it was, and I did. And they rate among my all-time favorites.

      Let me know when you finish the series and settle on a favorite! 🙂

  6. Chapter 5 of The High King at the moment, i can’t remember this happened to Rhun, i really don’t like it he of all people didn’t deserve that!
    The only thing i DO remember is that i was a bit dissapointed by the way Arawn was finally killed, i always expected an intense confrontation but i remember something with a snake that i really didn’t expect and didn’t really like as much as my expectation of the final confrontation, but we’ll see when i get to the end! 😀

    1. Specifics of book five are escaping me right now. Good thing I’m rereading, too! I just finished book one with my son on Friday. (I forgot how much I like Eilonwy!) On to the next one Monday. I do remember Arawn’s end not being as climatic as I thought it could be, but I need a refresher there, too. Enjoy the rest of it!

  7. I liked Eilonwy very much too from the start of The Book of Tree :D, i finally finished the last chapter of The High King and to be honest i could have finished it much earlier but just didn’t want it to end 🙂 Things finally explained like the book of tree itself and when Taran learns of how Dallben came across him and Orwen, Orgoch and Orddu when they come to him the night before leaving of to the Summer Country.
    This series and it’s characters will always move me and i will always remember, there are many books, but not much that can make me feel about them the way these do 🙂
    I regret finishing it for the second time without a chance to re-read them a third time because i made myself a list of all books i should read again who did give me that feeling.
    The Chronicles of Prydain were up first because i read them when i was really young but now i’m going to re-read others that made me feel the same way like this one did and Narnia, so now i finished Prydain next up is The Foundling and Other Stories of Prydain (because i didn’t read this one when i was young and i couldn’t just let go of the series :D) then it will be The Chronicles of Narnia themself ofcourse followed by The Magicians and The Magician King by Lev Grossman
    Then i’m going back to read The Neverending Story once more because this book really is ONE of a kind!
    Next up i have The Once and Future King by Terence H. White, a book (or series rather because it consists of 4 books) i will never ever forget.
    Then i’m going to pick up Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell, a book wich i think puts a spell on everyone that reads it!
    At the last of my list i got The Magician by Raymond Feist, i read this when i was just a kid, i was the only one of my age that loved it 😀 and ofcource the Potter series by Rowling and The Wheel of Time with at the very end The Hobbit by Tolkien.

    Again Michelle, i’m so sorry for this abnormal long post, i just enjoyed our conversation about the Prydain series and will be sure to read your novels too as i became very interested in your work over time 🙂
    I know you understand books the way i do and that’s why i just felt i needed to post the list of books that started this conversation about Prydain at all so if you got the time and some of the books that made me feel like Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles made me feel sound good to you, you should make a review about one of them, i would love to see that!

    I wish you all the best, and keep enjoying the books!

  8. I love your long post, Thijs! It is fun to get excited about books with someone who understands.

    You’ve mentioned a few that I’ve never read but I’ll be adding them to my tbr list. I did reread the Potter series this year, and I reviewed all of them. Find the “search” feature, fifth item down on my sidebar, and you can look them up. I also reviewed The Hobbit this year in preparation for the movie (which came out AND I saw yesterday :)). Narnia reviews will be up early next year–I’ll be reading them with my son right after Prydain. (Just finished Black Cauldron.) After that I’m not sure what. I have a tbr list a mile long, lol, and I’ve got two manuscripts in the works. (Thanks for expressing your interest in my work, btw. I’ve got one complete book posted on here by chapter if you’d like a free, sneak preview and a second novel in the process of posting a chapter each week. Look in my categories under “Tales of a Serial Novelist” and you’ll find them.)

    One book I’d recommend to you is The Princess and the Goblin, by George McDonald. (My review: http://wp.me/pFR7E-16o) It has some theology/fantasy elements similar to CS Lewis. In fact, Lewis admits he was strongly influenced by McDonald. I first read it in college and loved it. I reread it this year and loved it again.

    Been great talking with you, Thijs, and I hope to again! 🙂

  9. Hi Michelle!

    Yes it really is nice to talk with somebody who understands books the way i do and not only movies! 🙂
    People that read books nowadays are rare, people that understand what books do to you like us are even more rare..
    And i didn’t see The Hobbit myself yet, because with movies that are based on a book i read like Narnia or the Potter movies i normally wait for the hype to pass, so i can enjoy the movie with the movietheater not stuffed with people 😀 or what i mostly do is just wait until it gets released on DVD so i can watch it at home for the first time so i can prepare and enjoy it more 😀
    But i don’t have high expectations of The Hobbit though, at first when i first heard they were finally going to adapt it into a movie i was very excited ofcourse, and when i heard they would be doing it in 2 parts i got even more excited because they would have the chance to add more from the book because movies mostly don’t include all things that were in the book.
    But then i heard it would be a trilogy, i was like: come on people, really? 😀
    This is Tolkien’s first novel meant for children and young adults and it is really short in comparison to The Lord of The Rings so i expect a lot of visual stuff and scenery with things from the book re-arranged and given a little twist of the directors to make it longer and action-like and that’s just not what i want to see in a movie about a book i read when i was a kid and still love reading because it brings me back to those memories 🙂
    But then again, i haven’t seen it YET! So maybe they did a really good job on it and maybe i’ll enjoy it very much, i’ll let you know as soon as i see it!
    Did you enjoy the movie? 🙂

    As for books, i honestly can’t wait to read your reviews about Narnia because these are the books that have done it all for me, they really shaped my life as to say and i would love to discuss them with you 😀
    And keep enjoying Prydain, i will too! Because i ordered The Prydain Chronicles in english so i can re-read them in their original language and i just read The Foundling and Other Stories of Prydain, i tell you, a MUST to read if you love the Prydain Chronicles, it just gives so much insight, to know how Dallben got by the Book of Tree, how Coll saved Hen Wen from Annuvin and the history of Dyrnwyn and many other stories is just a really nice bonus and an even more enjoyable read because you’ve read the whole series before it!

    And i already read the sneak preview and immediately put your books on my list so you don’t have to ask if i liked it or not 😀
    The Prince and The Goblin, i saw the animated movie when i was young and remember that kept on renting it whenever my mom would take me out to rent movies 🙂 really a coincidence that of all books you pick this one to recommend me 😀 but i never read the book really i didn’t knew it was based upon a book so this is a reading priority for me thank you very much! 😀

    And you should really read The Magicians by Lev Grossman (an really good adult version of Harry Potter you could say, but reallyyy good 🙂 ) , The Neverending Story by Michael Ende (i think this one will stick to you like, forever, trust me) i’m sure you’ve seen the movie long ago? Well the movie is only like the first 80 pages of the book while it really contains 300 or 400, i can’t remember how many exactly but what this main character expierences in this book is something that every kid growing up should read before i think they will always remember this book when they finish it, i said it before but this one really is one of a kind 🙂

    Looking forward to reading your Narnia reviews Michelle, i really do!

    Take care!

  10. And now i think of it, you should really read Arthur: The Once and Future King too as the first part of it was adapted into the animated picture of Disney The Sword in The Stone named after the first part of the book too!
    I was just reading your Harry Potter reviews and when you said They reminded you of the movie i thought of this book also wich i enjoyed very much as i had seen the animated movie too before reading it!

    Take Care Michelle 🙂

    1. I just put all those books on my tbr list. I hadn’t actually done it yet, and last night I was looking through my list and ordered three books from the library to read over Christmas break. I wish now I had remembered your recommendations! My reading slows down when I’m also writing, but I’ll read your list early next year. I’m really interested in them! I want to read the Prydain back stories as soon as I’m done rereading the books. And I’m very curious about The Neverending Story. I did not grow up with movies. My parents chose to spend leisure money on family vacations instead, which I’ve never regretted, and we didn’t get a VCR until 10th grade. I only saw this one with my kids a few years back. I didn’t realize it was based on a novel.

      The Hobbit movie: I had the same reaction as you when I heard they were making it into so many movies. I was expecting a long, drawn out plot with a good deal of back story and “exciting” adjustments, which is exactly what they did (and what you predicted also). But I was also expecting great special effects, the thrill of seeing a favorite come to life, and the “flavor” of the book, as was the case with the LOTR trilogy, and this they also delivered. So it is a mixed bag, but I thought it was worth seeing. I’ve always liked LOTR better than The Hobbit because the stakes are so much higher. The survival of Middle Earth is dependent on Frodo’s quest, while The Hobbit is more of a treasure hunt. And the friendships are so much deeper in LOTR. I wondered if they’d try to modify these two things in The Hobbit movie, and they do try. Instead of focusing on the dwarves’ gold, they emphasize their desire to reclaim their homeland. They also add an arch nemesis of the dwarf King–the Pale Orc–to up the stakes. And they try to make more out of the friendship of the dwarf King and Bilbo than is really in the book. All in all, not bad, but I do still like the LOTR movies better. (And all four books best!)

      Thijs, I’m curious where you live. I may come off as a stupid American :), but I’m guessing Denmark or Norway, based on the spelling of your name? Your English is phenomenally good. It’s absolutely perfect. Were it not for your name and your mention of language in your last post, I would guess it was your native language.

      Now that I’ve recommended The Princess and the Goblin to you, I need to read the sequel, The Princess and Curdie. I never have! I found the Kindle version free on Amazon, so that one is also on my reading list for Christmas break. Ah, so many books… I have to set a word count goal so I also get some writing done! At least there will be no homeschool for two weeks. 🙂

      Have a Merry Christmas, Thijs!

  11. Hi Michelle, first off i wish you a very late happy newyear!
    I’m sorry i didn’t reply sooner but i’ve been really occupied lately with all sorts of things, again i’m sorry for this late reply 😀 still, there’s no one that i can talk books with like i can with you so i quite missed these conversations about them 🙂

    I still haven’t seen The Hobbit, i plan to do it right after i finish the book for the 20th time or so 🙂 but it’s really nice to have your oppinion on it too, LOTR on itself is really epic, but of all the books there’s only one special to me and that was and still is The Hobbit, maybe because it was the first one i read when i was really young or maybe it’s because i extremely love the tale or story itself. I know it’s not because i read more Young Adult fantasy novels than Adult novels because i really, really enjoyed The Magicians by Grossman and the whole Wheel of Time series by Jordan or White’s The Once and Future King which are all Adult fantasy novels and i still love those books, i HAD to have them in my book closet so you can imagine how much i liked these 🙂
    But still, i read more Young Adult novels and my favorite series is Narnia which are written for children.

    As what i’m reading now is the Harry Potter series again, i’m at the last chapter of Chamber and really keep enjoying them the way i used to when i first read them and that’s a really long time ago 🙂 by Christmas i finished The Neverending Story (can’t explain how epic this book is, it’s really hard to imagine it’s written for children/young adults because some things in this book you only understand fully when you’re an adult) and got my boxed set of the original Chronicles of Prydain, i really love them in english i like them even better in their original language!

    I’m from Belgium remember 😀 and you don’t come off as a stupid American to me honestly, i enjoy talking with you and now that i come to think of it i mostly enjoyed talking to American people! And thank you for the compliment on my english i really appreciate it!
    I think it’s because i did grew up with movies unlike you, which to me isn’t a bad thing at all, i wish i could let my kids grow up in the future without all that much television and gaming and more books.
    But when i look around me nowadays and see all these kids staring at their little screens instead of reading books i think i’m gonna have to put a lot of effort in it..

    Again greetings from Belgium Michelle, i really like to hear what books you’re reading at the moment!

    1. Great to hear from you again, Thijs. I figured you’ve just been busy. I have been too. I’ve been pounding out my new book all month and haven’t taken much time to read. I do have The Never Ending Story right now and I’m having a hard time getting into it. I may save it for summer when I have more free time. I also picked up Arthur (long! might also have to be summer), Other Tales of Prydain, and The Magicians. I want to read them all, but this is the time of year I write best, so whatever I can’t get read now I WILL read later. (They’re all library books. I have six weeks. :))

      We have tv and ipod/game limits and reading minimums in our house, but it’s still tough to keep kids on track. They just gravitate to the former and see what they can get away with. I have to stay on them. But I think it’s worth it. I wish they’d gravitate to the books!

      Oh, I really want to read Harry again! I love that series. I read it with each kid when they turn 12 and then watch the movies, just that kid and me. It’s fun mom and kid time. It sure takes a while!

      My son and I are almost done with Taran Wanderer. Christmas break and snow days off school have set us back a bit. (Two of my kids go to public school. When they close for weather, we skip homeschool too. We’ll make them up at the end of the year together.)

      Thanks for writing again, Thijs. I’m off now to finish the cover image for my new book. I’m only 17,000 words into what will be a 50,000 MG adventure, but most of that I did this month. Hope to have it out in May or June, but I’ll be revealing the cover soon. It turned out so cool!

  12. I really want to begin reading your novels but i can’t seem to find the time with all these books i still got to read, it’s frustrating at some point because when you finish a book, the list doesn’t seem to get any shorter at all, and i’m not even adding books to it i just plan to finish the ones that are on it so i can move on 😀 every couple of years or so i just need to read all books that ever were special to me and that’s what i’m doing right now with this list, it kinda keeps me on track or how do you say it, i can’t explain fully i’m not THAT good in english 😀
    But ofcourse i already got tons of books on another list that i plan reading when i finally finish this list, first up is the Princess and The Goblin 😉

    It’s great to hear you picked up The Neverending Story, Arthur AND The Magicians! I ensure you that you will love every one of them, i think you’ll like Story best, already can’t wait to hear about it!
    I already told you about Story, and The Magicians is in fact a book that Grossman wrote asking himself the question: “what if Harry Potter and Narnia would be more realistic and mature like this world we currently know is.
    Narnia are also his favorite novels and when you read it you know he did an excellent job.
    It really feels like Harry Potter and Narnia very much realistic and for grown ups, when you love Narnia and Potter you really want to read this one over and over again 😀
    White on the other hand deals with a completely different story, one everybody knows, starting with Arthur’s childhood and him maturing under the teachings of Merlin by turning him into all kinds of animals, well, you’ve seen the animated movie 🙂 The way White tells the story of King Arthur from his childhood to his deathbed is magnificent!

    And it’s really nice to read a book before seeing the movie, enjoying this with your kids must be fun! 🙂
    Mostly when i don’t find the time to read throughout the day, i make sure i read at least one chapter right before going to sleep, that way i still read when i’m busy 🙂

    I can’t wait to see the cover and can’t wait even more to begin reading your novels!

  13. I think I know what you mean about needing to reread your favorite books. Let’s see if I can put the thoughts in English for you. 🙂 In the same way we recall old memories with those we love, we also revisit those old books. They become just as much a part of us. Sharing them with others, re-experiencing them ourselves keeps them alive. To let them extinguish would be as tragic as senility or memory loss, so every so often we sharpen them up with a reread. At least that’s how it is with me.

    I always read right before bed, too, no matter what. It relaxes me and helps me sleep. And I love to do it. It’s slow going, though, when I only read a chapter or three at a time.

    My books will keep. Read through your list and enjoy yourself! 🙂

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