The third book of the chronicles begins 18 months after the destruction of the Black Cauldron and details the Princess Eilonwy’s journey to become a proper young lady and magic user. Not understanding why she must learn court protocol and leave Caer Dalben, she is understandably upset. However, she goes, as is her duty. Things quickly turn upside down as she is kidnapped by agents of the defeated Queen Achren! Taran and friends set out to rescue her. Along the way, they will make new friends and new enemies.
This book shows Taran’s young emotions for Eilonwy growing. He isn’t aware of what is happening, but we readers know. The other companions do not let on they know his friendship is becoming more. One of the new companions is Prince Rhun, the hapless prince of the island kingdom Eilonwy has been sent to. To Taran’s dismay, Prince Rhun also plans to become engaged to Eilonwy.
The major theme of this book is growing up. All the companions have aged. Fflewddur Fflam, however, gives no indication of having matured. Of course, it’s hard to change the habits of years, so he still… uh, helps the truth along by coloring the facts.
Eilonwy shows us how maturity brings the necessity of duty. She doesn’t want to join the court at all, but she sees it as the price to pay for growing in magic. She would prefer to remain at Caer Dallben but does as ordered. She is the last enchantress of her line and must learn how to use it.
A good story isn’t just words on a page. It has a moral. The characters we read should act in ways to emulate. They shouldn’t be perfect[link to Cost of Hero], but they should be heroic. For this reason, I rarely care for antiheroes. The learning and becoming are part of the story.
No companion shows growing up better than Prince Rhun. Though hapless and easily distracted, he recognizes that he is such and determines to become a better man. He takes risks, not all of them panning out, but he tries. He resolves to not just be handed the kingdom but to earn it. For that, we salute him.
Lloyd Alexander also shows us the other side of the coin. Just because one has grown up doesn’t mean that one is a better person. I’ve already mentioned Fflewddur still exaggerates. Who I mean now is Glew the giant. Originally a diminutive human being, he experiments with potions using a wild cat as a guinea pig until he finds one that will grow him to giant stature. But inside, he remains small. He also shows that sometimes the having is not as pleasing as the wanting. He tells us how when small, he obsessed over becoming big. Now, all he can talk about is becoming small again so he can get out of the cave he is trapped in.
Taran’s main growth in this portion of his coming of age series is to stop judging by appearances. He almost ignores Prince Gwydion in disguise and despairs of Rhun ever seeing past the nose on his face. No one is more surprised that Taran when Rhun returns to rescue them.
This middle book of the series is my least favorite yet still earns a solid 4 out of 5.