Book excerpt

The Prydain Companion

A Reference Guide to Lloyd Alexander's Prydain Chronicles

Michael O. Tunnell

Holt Books for Young Readers

A**Achren (AHK-ren): Prince *Gwydion describes Achren as being “as dangerous as *Arawn himself; as evil as she is beautiful” (BT 24/41). Achren once wore the *Iron Crown of Annuvin as *Queen of Prydain but made the mistake of teaching her consort Arawn the secrets of her enchantments. “And he betrayed me,” says Achren. “He robbed me of my throne and cast me aside” (HK 17/28–29). However, in *The Book of Three she still seems to be in league with Arawn, for it is the *Death-Lord’s *Cauldron-Born who capture Gwydion and *Taran and deliver them to her. When the reader first meets Achren, she is described in this manner:
Her long hair glittered silver in the torchlight. Her face was young and beautiful; her pale skin seemed paler still above her crimson robe. Jeweled necklaces hung at her throat, gem-studded bracelets circled her wrists, and heavy rings threw back the flickering torches. (BT 45/63)
Achren’s power as an enchantress is exhibited immediately upon her first appearance. She touches Taran’s wounds and his pain is replaced by a comforting warmth. Angry when Gwydion scorns the offer to join forces with her, Achren resorts to dark *magic in this powerful scene:
Achren raised [Gwydion’s] sword above her head and smote with all her force against a stone pillar. Sparks flashed, the blade rang unbroken. With a scream of rage, she dashed the weapon to the ground.
The sword shone, still undamaged. Achren seized it again, gripping the sharp blade itself until her hands ran scarlet. Her eyes rolled back into her head, her lips moved and twisted. A thunderclap filled the hall, a light burst like a crimson sun, and the broken weapon fell in pieces to the ground.
“So shall I break you!” Achren shrieked. (BT 47–48/65)
It is in Achren’s stronghold, *Spiral Castle, that Taran meets *Eilonwy. Eilonwy believes Achren to be her aunt. However, Gwydion later explains that “Achren stole Eilonwy and brought her as a child to Spiral Castle” (CL 130/157). The sorceress had recognized Eilonwy’s *bauble as the *Golden Pelydryn, a powerful magical object that could unlock the secrets of the *enchantresses of Llyr. Because the Golden Pelydryn loses its power if taken forcibly from its rightful owner, Achren found it necessary to “take” its owner. However, Achren loses Eilonwy and her bauble when the girl escapes from Spiral Castle with Taran. Achren also loses Spiral Castle. It tumbles into a mountainous heap of stone because Eilonwy and Taran remove the magic sword, *Dyrnwyn, from the stronghold’s maze of subterranean chambers. The reader learns at the conclusion of The Book of Three that Achren has taken Gwydion to another of her castles, *Oeth-Anoeth, just before the destruction of Spiral Castle. From his prison cell, Gwydion fights the evil spells of Oeth-Anoeth, and his willpower destroys this stronghold as well. We do not see Achren in *The Black Cauldron and assume she may have perished when Oeth-Anoeth fell.
Achren surfaces in *The Castle of Llyr. Her power has steadily waned, Gywdion tells us, since the day she broke with the *Lord of Annuvin. She therefore makes one final bid to gain back what she has lost. For this she needs Eilonwy and the Golden Pelydryn. With the girl in her power, Achren need only find the *book of spells recorded by the *daughters of Llyr to fulfill her desire. Only a daughter of Llyr (and Eilonwy is the last remaining) can use these spells, which are only visible by the light of the Pelydryn. Robed in black now, Achren returns with a bewitched Eilonwy to the ruins of *Caer Colur, the ancestral home of Llyr. “Caer Colur shall rise more glorious than ever,” she says with passion. “The Lord of Annuvin himself shall kneel in homage to me. . . . Arawn of *Annuvin shall cower and beg for mercy. . . . He betrayed me and now he shall suffer my vengeance” (CL 148/177).
Finally Achren acquires the Golden Pelydryn and the book of spells, both of which had been lost. But again her plans are frustrated. Eilonwy is able to free herself momentarily from Achren’s spell and touch the Pelydryn to the pages of the book. The book of spells is destroyed and with it Achren’s power forever. Unable to face her loss, Achren uses the last of her magic to conjure a dagger from a piece of driftwood and tries to kill herself. Gwydion stops her and says, “Your enchantments have ever been the enchantments of death. . . . Seek life, Achren” (CL 163/193). She does then agree to come with the *Companions to *Caer Dallben and accept Gwydion’s offer of refuge.
By her own choice, Achren accepts the role of a commoner. At Caer Dallben she toils as a scullery maid and will sleep only upon a pallet of straw in the granary. Her time with *Coll and *Dallben seems to mellow Achren. She is more civil and even welcomes Taran home from his wanderings. However, she still harbors a deep hatred for Arawn and has sworn an oath of revenge. Achren betrays Arawn by revealing the Death-Lord’s most closely guarded secret. She explains that the Lord of Annuvin can shape-change to any form and that this is the time when he is most vulnerable. “Once he assumes a shape, his strength and skill are no greater than that of the guise he wears. Then he can be slain, like any mortal thing” (HK 17/28). Gwydion will not, however, allow Achren to leave Caer Dallben to seek vengeance against Arawn, even though she may know best where the Death-Lord would hide the stolen sword Dyrnwyn.
Achren will not be denied and leaves secretly for Annuvin. It is not until near the end of *The High King that she reappears. Near the gates of Annuvin, *Kaw and his band of crows save her from death at the talons of the *gwythaints. Taran and his Companions bind her wounds. For the first time, Achren offers words of humility and thanks. “Forgive me. . . . I am grateful to you for my life and shall repay you far beyond its worth” (HK 205/237–238). Achren then shows them the shortest route into Annuvin—a secret roadway that winds over *Mount Dragon and up to the *Iron Portals.
Making good on her promise to repay the Companions, Achren sees through Arawn’s final shape-changing guise and throws herself upon his serpent shape. The serpent sinks its fangs deep into Achren’s throat, but the moment of distraction allows Taran to cleave the snake in two.
Achren has received her death wound. “‘Have I not kept my oath, Gwydion?’ she murmured, smiling vaguely. ‘Is the Lord of Annuvin slain? It is good. My death comes easily upon me.’ Achren’s lips parted as though she would speak again, but her head fell back and her body sagged in Gwydion’s arms” (HK 222/257).
It is with some regret that we see Achren die. Yet it is best, for there is no future for her in the new Prydain. Achren is laid to rest in the *Great Hall of Annuvin. As the Companions leave her there, the stronghold bursts into flame and the walls crumble. It seems fitting that Annuvin, the kingdom she once ruled, becomes both her pyre and her *barrow.
In death the face of Achren, no longer bitterly haughty, was at last tranquil. Shrouding the woman in her tattered black cloak, the companions bore the body to rest in the Great Hall, for she who had once ruled Prydain had died not without honor. (HK 224/259)
The name of Achren was gleaned by Alexander from *Celtic mythology. In her notes to the *Mabinogion, *Lady Charlotte Guest recounts the tale of “The Battle of the Trees,” which served as Alexander’s inspiration for *The Book of Three. The story tells of a battle fought between Amathaon, brother to Gwydion, and Arawn, King of Annuvin (Hell). In the tale there appears a powerful woman named Achren. In fact, the battle is often referred to as the Battle of Achren. Not only was there a man in this battle who could not be overcome unless his name were known (as with the *Horned King) but “there was on the other side a woman called Achren, and unless her name were known her party could not be overcome” (M 280). As eventually occurs in the *Prydain Chronicles, this Achren was apparently aligned with Gwydion and his brother.
Elizabeth Lane (1973:26) states a strong case for similarities between another figure in Celtic tales and Alexander’s Achren. This character, Arianrhod, appears in several stories, primarily “Math the Son of Mathonwy” in the Mabinogion.
One senses an affinity [of Achren] with Arianrhod, however, in various small ways: both share castles with well-known dungeons, for one thing. . . . The similarity is borne out in Robert Graves’s book The White Goddess. The names of Achren’s two strongholds, Spiral Castle in The Book of Three and Caer Colur in The Castle of Llyr, do not occur anywhere in the Mabinogion, but both appear in Graves’s work—and in connection with Arianrhod and her castle. All are death symbols and labyrinthine fastnesses associated with the Ariadne myth, according to Graves. Alexander’s Spiral Castle is just such a maze . . . , and his ruined Caer Colur lives up to its meaning, which Graves gives as “gloomy castle.”
Lane (1973:26) points to another similarity. “Throughout the Prydain books Achren and Gwydion show a solicitude for each other that would be a little shocking if the old brother-sister relationship didn’t come to mind.” Arianrhod and Gwydion are indeed brother and sister in the Celtic myths of the Welsh Triads (WG 56).
See also Characters—fantasy, Magic.
(M2 80; WG 49, 341)
Adaon (ah-DAY-on): Adaon is the son of the *Chief Bard, *Taliesin. He is introduced in *The Black Cauldron with this description:
Adaon . . . was tall, with straight black hair that fell to his shoulders. Though of noble bearing, he wore the garb of an ordinary warrior, with no ornament save a curiously shaped iron *brooch at his collar. His eyes were gray, strangely deep, clear as a flame, and *Taran sensed that little was hidden from Adaon’s thoughtful and searching glance. (BC 11–12/23)
“He is one of the bravest men I know,” says *Fflewddur of Adaon. “That and more, for he has the heart of a true *bard. Someday he will surely be our greatest, you can mark my words” (BC 12/24).
Adaon is a gentle man, yet firm. His wisdom, a mark of greatness in Alexander’s books, is evident in statements such as this one to the quarreling Taran and *Ellidyr: “We hold each other’s lives in our open hands, not in clenched fists” (BC 22/36). Repeatedly, Adaon speaks against rash action with wise words. “I have learned there is greater honor in a field well plowed than in a field steeped in blood” (BC 27/43). It is this statement that Alexander (1964b) feels is “a perfect expression of one theme of [the story].”
As Taran comes to know Adaon, he sees a truly well-rounded man.
There was little Adaon had not seen or done. He had sailed far beyond the *Isle of Mona, even to the northern sea; he had worked at the potter’s wheel, cast nets with the fisherfolk, woven cloth at the looms of the cottagers; and, like Taran, labored over the glowing forge. Of forest lore he had studied deeply, and Taran listened in wonder as Adaon told the ways and natures of woodland creatures. . . . (BC 27–28/43)
The *Brooch of Adaon, given him by his beloved and betrothed *Arianllyn, gives power to dream prophetic dreams and see all things more clearly. However, when Taran is bequeathed the brooch and experiences similar visions, he says that Adaon’s greatness was surely not because of the clasp alone. Adaon understood things without the aid of the brooch, but it probably served to heighten his already keen awareness. Adaon sees in a dream the “black beast” on Ellidyr’s shoulder, the consuming beast of pride that destroys him. He also foresees his own death, which will occur as he rides with Taran to search for the *Black Cauldron in the *Marshes of Morva. Yet, Adaon does not try to dissuade Taran from this quest and dies from a *Huntsman’s dagger in his breast. The dagger was meant for Taran; Adaon chooses to take the blow instead.
Adaon leaves all his possessions to Taran—his brooch, healing herbs, and his horse *Lluagor—along with a final word of wisdom. “Is there not glory enough in living the days given to us? You should know there is adventure in simply being among those we love and the things we love, and beauty, too” (BC 75/99). Adaon is laid to rest in the glade in which he perishes.
The Brooch of Adaon becomes Taran’s most prized possession, though the gift of “seeing” is a heavy burden. It is the brooch that makes possible the acquisition and eventual destruction of the *Black Crochan, *Arawn *Death-Lord’s *cauldron of death. Taran must trade the witches *Orddu, *Orgoch, and *Orwen the brooch for the *Crochan.
The figure of Adaon appears in the story, “The Dream of Rhonabwy,” in the *Mabinogion. He is called “the most eloquent and wisest youth that is in this island [Britain]; Adaon the son of Taliesin” (M 304). *Lady Charlotte Guest speaks of Adaon in her notes following the story.
Adaon or Avaon, son of the chief of the bards, and a bard himself, was also celebrated for his valour. He was one of those three dauntless chieftains who feared nothing in the day of battle and strife, but rushed onwards regardless of death. This courage and daring supported him through all the dangers of war. He fell at length by the hand of an assassin. . . .
The bold and determined character of Avaon appears to have continued even after death. . . . Avaon is spoken of as one of the grave-slaughtering ones, so called from their having avenged their wrongs from their graves. (M 325)
See also Characters—fantasy.
(BC 11+/23+; HK 12/23; M 304, 325)
Adaon’s (ah-DAY-on) brooch: See Brooch of Adaon.
Aedd (EED): Aedd was the father of the farmer, *Aeddan. The name Aedd appears in the *Mabinogion various times: Odgar the son Aedd, king of Ireland; *Prydain ab Aedd Mawr; Prydain son of Aedd the Great. (TW 25/39; M 238, 386, 390)
Aeddan (EE-dan): Aeddan is one of the first new faces *Taran meets as he begins his journey in *Taran Wanderer. The old but stout farmer of *Cantrev Cadiffor wields his oak staff in Taran’s defense, driving off Lord *Goryon’s henchmen. Alexander describes Aeddan as “a man in a sleeveless jacket of coarse wool girt with a plaited rope. His bare arms were knotted and sinewy, and his back bent, though less by years than by labor. A shock of gray, uncropped hair hung about a face that was stern but not unkind” (TW 25/39). Aeddan has the look of honesty and good nature in his weathered face.
His farm does not yield much, so Aeddan must also work in a neighbor’s field. He admits to Taran that he lacks the knowledge to be productive and explains that the knowledge and skills of husbandry were stolen years ago by *Arawn *Death-Lord. In fact, Aeddan’s crops have failed two years in a row. He has lost his ox and his cow. But worst of all, his son *Amren was killed in a battle against raiders. Now Aeddan or his wife *Alarca must pull the plow themselves, and they have only planted one field. “Indeed, it must not [fail]. This season our livelihood hangs on it” (TW 28/43).
Taran works for a while on Aeddan’s farm, and the kindly farmer offers him a home. Though Taran is grateful, he must go on to seek his parentage.
Aeddan’s field is later destroyed by the feuding Lords, *Gast and Goryon, in a battle over the prize cow, *Cornillo. Taran urges King *Smoit, the angry chieftains’ monarch, to restore Aeddan’s losses. Gast and Goryon relinquish Cornillo to the farmer and must labor in Aeddan’s field to mend the damage.
In the final battles to be waged against the *Death-Lord, Aeddan is one of the first to throw his lot in with Taran. Taran is grateful but points out that Aeddan owes his allegiance to King Smoit. When Taran is crowned *High King of *Prydain, Aeddan is among the throng that comes to hail their new leader.
The name of Aeddan appears in the *Mabinogion, though briefly, and is spelled Aedan or Aeddon.
(TW 25/39,33/49, 52/70, 56/74; HK 82/100, 247/285; M 125, 281,437)
Alarca (ah-LAR-kah): Alarca is the farmer *Aeddan’s wife. She is described as a tall, work-hardened farm wife with features as lined as her husband’s.
See also Amren.
(TW 26/41, 58/77)
Alaw (AH-law), River: The River Alaw is located on the *Isle of Mona. *Taran and the *Companions are directed by *Kaw to follow the Alaw in order to find the abducted Princess *Eilonwy. *Caer Colur, where Eilonwy is imprisoned, is on an island located just offshore where the Alaw empties into the sea.
The River Alaw is mentioned in *Celtic mythology. It was upon the banks of the Alaw where the mythical Branwen, *daughter of Llyr, was buried.
(CL 43/62, 73/95; M 382,387)
Amren (AHM-ren): Amren was the son of the farmer *Aeddan and his wife *Alarca. “He was of your years,” Alarca tells *Taran, when “he rode with the battle host” (TW 28/42–43). Amren died fighting to drive away the raiders who sought to plunder *Cantrev Cadiffor. (TW 28/42)
Amrys (AHM-riss): Amrys is an old shepherd who lived in the days before *Taran. His sheepfold gate is broken by King *Rhitta during a royal hunt. The *King of Prydain promises to mend it, for Amrys is too weak to do it himself. When the king forgets, Amrys’s sheep stray and a lamb dies. Repeatedly, Amrys comes to Rhitta’s court to ask that the gate be mended. In a fit of temper, Rhitta slays the shepherd with the sword *Dyrnwyn for questioning his honor. It is Amrys’s blood that slowly stains the blade of Dyrnwyn black.
Amrys’s murder corrupts Rhitta’s ability to rule. He guards his possessions jealously and wars with his own trusted nobles. The ghost of Amrys appears on the battlefield and later in the king’s bedchamber. Clutching the dead lamb, the ghost warns Rhitta of his fate. “Remember the lost sheep. The path you follow leads you, too, astray” (F 59/69). Again he appears and pleads with the king to “find yourself before you lose yourself (F 60/71).
To escape the ghost, King Rhitta hides himself in the maze of passages below *Spiral Castle. Amrys appears once more, expressing pity for the king, and Rhitta draws Dyrnwyn to strike the shepherd. But he is no longer of noble worth, and fire from the *magic blade destroys him and all his guards.
No one in the kingdom knows of Rhitta’s fate, and “only the shepherd Amrys ever grieved for him” (F 62/74). Alexander (1985b) finds Amrys’s grief from beyond the grave “a very poignant thought.” “In fact,” he says, “[it gave me] a sort of shock when I thought of [it].”
(F53+/63+)
Angharad (an-GAR-ad): Angharad’s existence predates the story of *Taran. *The Foundling tells us the first part of her story. Angharad was a *Princess of Llyr in the days when *Caer Colur still stood as the *House of Llyr’s stronghold. With her red-gold hair and sea-green eyes, she was considered the most beautiful of all the Princesses of Llyr. Her physical characteristics were passed on to her daughter, *Eilonwy.
When Angharad came of age to be married, her mother, Queen *Regat, sent throughout the land to find an appropriate suitor. *Daughters of Llyr were enchantresses and therefore were only allowed to marry enchanters. The enchanters, *Gildas and *Grimgower, came to vie for Angharad’s hand. To prove themselves each was asked to perform a feat of *magic: Gildas turned day to night, and Grimgower conjured monsters. As imperturbable as her daughter, Angharad was neither impressed nor alarmed by Grimgower’s horrible beasts. And displaying the same wit so familiar in Eilonwy, she said to Gildas:
“My dear enchanter, I don’t doubt for a moment you’ve gone to a great deal of work and strain. I only hope you haven’t done yourself harm. Not to say anything against your spells, you understand, but frankly, I don’t see the point of going to such trouble for the sake of turning day into night. All anybody needs to do is to be patient a little while and night will come along very nicely by itself, with a far better quality of darkness than yours—much more velvety. Not to mention the moon and a whole skyful of stars for good measure.” (F 32/36)
A third enchanter, *Geraint, was then brought into the *Great Hall. But he only posed as a wizard. He produced magical effects by sleight of hand and through the art and power of storytelling. Angharad fell instantly in love with the handsome young impostor. Queen Regat refused to let them marry, but Angharad defied her mother. The two star-crossed lovers ran away together. Gildas and Grimgower tried spells to bar their leaving, but the love of Geraint and Angharad for one another overcame the enchantments.
Angharad’s decision was as ill fated as that of Romeo and Juliet, and her story ends as tragically. *Gwydion explains that “Caer Colur was abandoned and fell into ruins after Angharad Daughter of Regat fled the castle to marry against her mother’s wishes. The *book of spells, which she carried away with her, was believed lost” (CL 129/157). The book of spells and the *Golden Pelydryn, keys to the enchantments of *Llyr, were both in Angharad’s possession when she left with Geraint. Perhaps with these secrets gone it was impossible to sustain the House of Llyr and Caer Colur.
More is revealed of Angharad’s fate when *Morda, the evil enchanter, explains to Taran how he came to possess the emblem of the House of Llyr. He says that “the Princess Angharad is long dead” and the secrets of her emblem are now his. It was he who received the book of spells (though he never understood its use) and the emblem with its magic gem when Angharad wandered into his keep. She begged refuge on a winter’s night as she searched for her stolen infant daughter. Angharad was weak and “did not live out the night” (TW 91–92/112–114). In her wretched condition, Angharad barters the emblem, a bright gem held in the horns of a *crescent moon, for food and lodging. It becomes the source of Morda’s power.
Of the intervening years between Angharad’s departure from Caer Colur and her death, nothing more is written. There is no clue concerning the fate of Geraint. But we do know that Angharad’s infant girl, Eilonwy, was stolen from her by the evil enchantress, *Achren, and that the Golden Pelydryn was the cause of the abduction. Gwydion explains that “the Golden Pelydryn was not lost” as was believed. “What better way to hide it than to put it as a shining toy in the hands of a child?” (CL 130/157). Eilonwy’s *bauble was recognized by Achren. She knew it to be a key to the enchantments of Llyr. But she needed a daughter of Llyr to make the Pelydryn operate; therefore, she took both bauble and child.
The name of Angharad is one that Alexander borrowed from *Celtic mythology. In the story “Peredur the Son of Evrawc” from the *Mabinogion, Angharad Law Eurawc is a lady in Arthur’s court at Caerlleon. She and Peredur, one of Arthur’s knights, pledge their love to one another and stay to live with the King.
See also Angharad’s gem, Llyr Half-Speech.
(BT 55/73; CL 129/157; TW 91/112; HK 17/28, 163/192, 229/265; F29+/33+;M100,131)
Angharad’s (an-GAR-ad) gem: This magical gem was originally from the *Fair Folk realm. “We always honored the *House of Llyr and gave the stone to Princess *Regat as our wedding gift,” says *Doli of the Fair Folk. “She must have handed it down to her daughter [*Angharad]” (TW 109/133).
All *daughters of Llyr wear the emblem of the House of Llyr, a silver *crescent moon. However, the emblem worn by Angharad was unique because of the stone. “The horns of the crescent held a strangely carved gem, clear as water, whose facets sparkled as though lit by an inner fire” (TW 91/112).
The evil enchanter *Morda possesses the emblem and stone in the *Prydain Chronicles. He obtains it when Angharad, Regat’s daughter and *Eilonwy’s mother, seeks refuge one winter’s night in Morda’s keep. She offers him the crescent moon and its stone in exchange for food and shelter. Weak and unhealthy, Angharad dies before morning, but not before she tells Morda that “the gem would lighten burdens and ease harsh tasks” (TW 93/115). Morda discovers the gem’s secrets and uses it to dwindle “the heaviest fagots to no more than piles of twigs,” raise the *wall of thorns around his cottage, and locate a hidden spring (TW 93/115).
Morda then discovers how to use the gem in evil ways. The jewel leads the sorcerer to a Fair Folk treasure trove. It is with Angharad’s gem that he is able to turn *Fflewddur Fflam into a hare, *Gurgi into a field mouse, and nearly reduces *Taran to an earthworm. Morda even turns Doli into a frog, and no enchanter before has possessed the power to bewitch the Fair Folk. But the most shocking enchantment accomplished with the gem is evidenced when Taran plunges a sword into the sorcerer’s breast. Unharmed, Morda mocks Taran, explaining that with the jewel he was able to draw out his life and hide it safely away. If *Kaw had not discovered the hiding place, the *Companions would yet be forest animals.
Michael O. Tunnell is the author of several books for young readers, as well as educational books in the field of children’s literature. A longtime scholar of Lloyd Alexander’s work and a professor of children’s literature at Brigham Young University, Mr. Tunnell lives in Orem, Utah.