The Black Cauldron
by Lloyd Alexander
Taran is back at his pig-keeping and garden-weeding duties when Gwydion comes to Caer Dallben in this, the second book of the Prydain Chronicles. This book was a "Newbery Honor Book," which I guess is the young readers' literature equivalent of an Oscar nomination (but no statue).
Gwydion has decided that it is time to take away the foul Black Crochan, or Cauldron, which Arawn uses to brew up his terrible Cauldron-Born warriors. These are more or less zombies, created by steeping the bodies of the slain in Arawn's cauldron until they become silent, unfeeling, unthinking, unkillable monsters. Arawn is using these fearsome killing machines, along with other creatures nearly as terrible, to gather strength for another attempt to conquer all Prydain. And lately he has even turned to murdering the living and enslaving their corpses to do his foul deeds. This is quite a chilling evil to contemplate, isn't it?
And to go right into the heart of Arawn's realm, and steal the Cauldron, and take it out again to be destroyed so that he cannot make anymore Cauldron-Born--that is Gwydion's plan. Obviously they have to be prepared to face the Cauldron-Born, but there are also the Huntsmen, bands of heartless killers magically bound to each other so that, if any member of the band is killed, the surviving Huntsmen become proportionally stronger.
Among those Gwydion picks for this complex and risky campaign are, of course, Taran the Assistant Pig-Keeper, his dwarf friend Doli (who now can become invisible), and the bard Fflewddur Fflam. Somehow Taran also ends up thrown together with the Princess Eilonwy and Gurgi again, as well as a brave and wise hero named Adaon and an arrogant piece of work named Prince Ellidyr.
Naturally things do not shake down as planned. The Crochan has fallen into the hands of three gnarly enchantresses who live at the far end of an evil swamp. All the great kings and war-leaders who have joined in the enterprise have been separated from Taran and his companions in the confusion, and it falls to Taran to make the decisions to go after the cauldron and bring it back to be destroyed.
Taran has not yet learned all that being a man, much less a hero, is about... and in this much deeper, richer, and darker tale than The Book of Three, he finds out a great deal. Before he completes his mission he experiences grief and betrayal the likes of which he had never imagined before going on this quest. He also witnesses redemption and self-sacrifice. And though he doesn't always have the strength or the wisdom he needs to do what a hero ought to do, he is always brave, honest, and kind. So there is never any doubt in your mind that, win or lose, Taran is a hero to pull for!
Recommended Age: 10+
If you would like to contact Robbie, you may do so here.