Cauldron makes for easy, light reading

Patrick Grode

Patrick Grode

As Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets draws crowds of every age to the movie theaters and convinces fans to reread J.K. Rowling’s novels, I decided to reopen another children’s fantasy. Lloyd Alexander’s The Black Cauldron is second in the Chronicles of Prydain, and it was one of my favorite books as a child.

I write about the second book of the series because many people are more familiar with the Disney adaptation of The Black Cauldron than the original novel, and the film version is an animated featherweight that does grave injustice to Alexander’s engaging tale. Disney’s team transformed warrior dwarves into incompetent pixies, enchanted brooches into possessed swords, and insightful sorceresses into bumbling busybodies, as well as eliminating the second most important character from the story. I advise you to avoid the movie.

I encourage you instead to read The Black Cauldron, or rather, all five books in the series.

Exaggerated but interesting characters are part of the style, and Lloyd keeps such extreme characters as Gurgi and Fflewddur ridiculous at times, but still believable.

Like many great children’s stories, The Black Cauldron and its companions are about growing up. Consider The Chronicles of Narnia, A Wrinkle In Time, Johnny Tremain, Peter Pan, The Phantom Tollbooth, Charlotte’s Web, or even arguably Alice in Wonderland.

These books all depict a character or characters in transition between childhood to adulthood in some way.

The converse of these books, of course, is a work like Tom Sawyer, where the ending leaves the reader wondering if Tom ever will grow up–and we find out in Huckleberry Finn that he doesn’t.

In The Black Cauldron, the hero, Taran, makes two painful sacrifices to achieve the goal of his quest.

In doing so, he learns that doing the right thing is often not easy or immediately rewarding. He also learns compassion for those he does not understand. These lessons earn Taran both wisdom and scars, the bittersweet badges of a child who has grown up.

As Gwydion tells Taran, “Manhood may not be all you believe.”

Aside from pure enjoyment, recapturing childhood is a wonderful reason to read children’s books like The Black Cauldron.

The reader views the world from Taran’s eyes and becomes a child yearning to grow up. The Chronicles of Prydain glow with the hopefulness of unexpected possibilities and achievable dreams, which is a way of thinking that jaded ex-children so often discard.

This hopefulness envelopes the reader even during the tense moments of the book, as the Huntsmen chase Taran and his friends or the Cauldron sits in evil hands. One sees the growing potential in Taran and wonders just what his future holds.

Incidentally, The Black Cauldron and its fellows carry an educational side benefit. Alexander based his work on Welsh mythology, so the thoughtful reader will receive a crash course in the old Celtic world. Gwydion, Arawn, and even the Cauldron itself are directly lifted from old Celtic tales.

As finals loom, The Black Cauldron should be a welcome and easily-read escape from the wonderful world of academics, as well as a chance to re-experience the transitions of childhood.

Send comments to Patrick Grode at [email protected]