Probably the best known of the series, THE BLACK CAULDRON follows the Companions as they seek to stop Arawn from acquiring more cauldron born. It is very different from the Disney movie version. The silent, stalking soldiers cannot be slain but weaken the further they get from the land of the dead. The companions have a mission—steal the cauldron and destroy it. That’s not as easy as it sounds. However, the one who jumps in must know it will cost his life. One of Prince Gwydion’s main allies turns traitor, and one of Taran’s new companions is out for his own glory. The companions also meet the trio of witches that feature in the later books. Ultimately, Taran and company destroy the cauldron by one of them, Prince Ellidyr, jumping in it.
The running themes of this book are betrayal and sacrifice. Gwydion and the companions are betrayed by Morgant, the king with the strongest army. Morgant, in turn, betray Arawn. As Morgant says, if Arawn cannot hold the cauldron, he does not deserve to have it back. Morgant intends to surpass Arawn in power and tyrannical hold.
Taran and the companions themselves are betrayed by Prince Ellidyr. After striking out on his own for the cauldron, he finds them with it and feels beaten. But they need his help, and he provides it, as long as they give him credit for the cauldron.
Ellidyr is the youngest son of a king. He stands to inherit almost nothing and must make his own name and honor. This galls him, as Taran is friends with Gwydion and has earned his own honor. Taran and Ellidyr have a running rivalry in the book.
Far from blameless, Taran antagonizes and kids Ellidyr, at first. He can’t stand Ellidyr because Ellidyr constantly seeks to put him down. Taran gives back but then is told Ellidyr’s story.
Ellidyr is the one who makes the final sacrifice to jump in the cauldron. He does this to save the other companions and to stop Morgant. He knows how much it will cost him. After all, if you don’t know the cost, it isn’t a sacrifice.
Also a newcomer to the party is Adon. Adon is the son of a bard and wears a brooch that gives him dreams symbolizing the present and future. He gives this brooch to Taran who trades it to the witches for the cauldron. Taran at first sees this as a great sacrifice but later sees that the dreams were never really his.
There is another side to sacrifice and betrayal. After betraying, you have to sacrifice to make up for it. Ellidyr does this when he jumps in the cauldron.
The book has a bittersweet ending with the cauldron destroyed but the price being great. This is one of my biggest complaints about the Disney version. The sacrifice of Gurgi (yes, they kill off Gurgi instead of introducing Ellidyr) is reversed by the three witches. This gives the party a victory without cost, completely at odds with the victory in the book.
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