No matter how I think I have grown up, some books manage to put me back in the head of the little girl I once was. The Black Cauldron is one of those books; it’s a pity I didn’t manage to read it when I was young.
I was, unfortunately, one of the kids who only knew about The Black Cauldron through the Disney movie adapted from The Chronicles of Prydain series. I absolutely loved that movie. Now, with two of the five sequenced books under my belt, I see how poorly that movie treated such rich material.
We pick up with Taran and the crew after they have resettled in Caer Dallben and are living normal lives once again. In the first couple of pages, the entire population of the estate has been agitated into participating in a dangerous venture: stealing and destroying the Black Cauldron.
Taran, eager once again for adventure, readily agrees to go along. Unfortunately, he is paired with unpleasant Prince Ellidyr, who frequently and unceasingly maligns him and his other companions, goading Taran into angrily confronting him on a regular basis. He appears to have no checks on his behavior, nor remorse for his mistakes. Ellidyr eventually runs off to find honor on his own, leading to the scattering of the group when they are left without someone on watch one night, only to return to cause further harm later.
The wonder of Lloyd Alexander’s second book about Prydain is that it provides nice lessons for children around the age of Taran without seeming to preach about them. He writes on how to treat those who treat us badly, on what honor truly is and what your word means, on how to think on the greater good while ignoring your own wishes. These are valuable lessons, and they’re presented in a remarkably approachable way. Even I, ostensibly an adult, have a wish to act in a more honorable and admirable fashion after reading one of his books.
Alexander provides us with a hero who is a work in progress, which I think most of us can relate to. He has big-name warriors to look up to, villains to escape from, odd characters to negotiate with, and companions who are as imperfectly charming. He learns throughout his story, becoming less and less foolish and more admirable. This is probably the most valuable lesson Taran has to offer: no matter who you are, if you learn from your experiences, you also learn to be a better person.