Review: The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander

The Black Cauldron is the second book in the Chronicles of Prydain series by Lloyd Alexander.


Taran, Assistant Pig-Keeper, is ecstatic when he realises another quest will soon be under way; people of importance are gathering at Caer Dallben. But when he finds out what their mission is, that feeling immediately subsides. For they will set out to steal the instrument that creates Annuvin’s Cauldron-Born, the undead warriors everyone so rightly fears. The Black Cauldron.


So, I realised while reading this book that the previous book, The Book of Three, and The Black Cauldron are the books the movie The Black Cauldron are based on. Sure the movie leaves a lot out, and a lot of important characters, but I recognised a lot of the elements.

The Black Cauldron is a lot darker than The Book of Three – though with the scariness of The Horned King and children being set upon by undead warriors that book is plenty dark. Things happened that I didn’t expect to happen, the protagonists don’t get out of their precarious situations unscathed, and certain characters died.

One of those deaths was telegraphed pretty quickly in the beginning (or at least I picked it up quickly), but it still smarted when the time came. Another was both expected and unexpected. I expected how it would happen, but I didn’t really think it would happen. Or that the character would be brought back even if it did happen. I certainly didn’t expect to be as sad about it as I was.

Taran keeps growing over the course of these books, and though he is still, at times, a young boy quick to anger, he’s becoming wise and formidable. You understand what people like Prince Gwydion see in him, especially when he corrects his own bad behaviour, or sees the error of his ways.

Princess Eilonwy is still perhaps braver than she should be in certain situations, and her babbling is still entertaining. Her heart’s in the right place, and though she’s not the strongest, or the best swordsman, or the best archer, or the smartest, she has an enormous amount of will.  She knows her strengths and she knows her limits; most importantly, she knows the strengths and limits of her friends and acts accordingly.

These books might be for children, but there are many adult themes that are explored. These books never ‘talk down’ to their audience, and presents things as they are. That is the kind of writing that I admire, both in children’s and adult books.




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