In all honesty, I almost skipped this bit.
Alexander is such a spare and efficient writer that it is very rare for him to include anything that isn't 100% necessary for plot and character, usually both, but this scene, a scant page or so in this chapter, is one of those that just seems superfluous. For the sake of telling us that no one but Dallben can decipher Hen Wen's predictions, we didn't need it - we accept that on the word of the author (and of Coll in chapter one). The only other purpose it seems to have is to reiterate again that Eilonwy, though she wants to be helpful, can't actually do any useful magic. I think this is why it fundamentally irritates me. Her continual failure at every spell is, I think, a weakness in the series; it undermines her claim to her heritage, makes Achren's plans for her seem oddly misplaced, and renders her eventual sacrifices far less meaningful.
So I've taken to reinterpreting this scene with an implication that something is going on here. Eilonwy doesn't have the training or tools to interpret Hen's prophecies, but there's still magic happening, still some form of communion, however brief. It's the only way I could stomach including the scene, and I didn't want to excise it entirely for the sake of the purists. :)
I like the thought here, and share your frustration on this...if you remember the bit in my fanfic where Eilonwy aided Dallben, when he launched the enchanted arrow to aid Gwydion. I don't think Achren's plans for her were misplaced though...with the pelydryn and the book of spells to complete the enchantress side of her, she was almost a different person, and she very easily /could/ have kept the powers of Llyr and forgotten her loyalty to her companions...it's what Achren would have done, so why wouldn't she think Eilonwy would do it? It was a testament to her character that she did not.
I like the lighting of this scene, such a nice firelight feel...and the enchanted glow in Hen Wen's eyes.
Interesting the spell for summoning toads...makes me think Achren must have learned it from Orgoch... 😉 The spell for opening locks could have probably come in handy from time to time too!
Oh sure, I don't think Achren's plans were misplaced at all - if anything, as you know, I think they were prophetic. :P I just think as it's written, we're not given much textual evidence to go on if we are to believe Eilonwy has that kind of potential, and it's, frankly, a weakness. I wish LA were alive so I could ask him about it.
Hen Wen's prophecy: Good fortune comes to those that feed the pig!
It's rarely a bad idea to make friends with the animal sidekick this way. ;)
I like the pause this scene creates. It shows Prydain can't be crossed in a day. There were simply walking days and quiet moments around a fire.
Agreed. This scene, in the books, happens while they are on the march through the woods. I chose to move it to fireside for exactly the reason you mention - here, it's a pause at a moment it makes sense, rather than an interruption in the action.
Wow...I didn't realize Hen was so big...no wonder Taran couldn't keep her penned up!
"She's certainly a great deal of pig," as Eilonwy said...
That a lot of work to make picture like that.
Indeed it is! That's why this comic updates slowly. :)
How to get a pig to prophesy:
Whisper in it's ear, "Another name for a pig that doesn't prophesy is bacon."
LOL I always wondered exactly what she was whispering!
Ohhh I 100% agree with your critique! It’s always irked me too. If she comes from a long line of extremely powerful enchantress, was trained by Achren, potentially Dallben as well, and was destined for all that comes later, why on earth does she fail at every spell? It’s a typical male author failing to neglect to include real competency and agency for their (usually token, main-male-character-supporting) female characters. And yet, he included Llyr as a powerful matriarchy, if lost. How strange. I wish I could see his reply to your inquiry as well. I love the way you ‘ve tweaked the scene while also technically sticking to canon here. One of the things I’ve always loved most about your writing is the way you flesh out LA’s sparse writing with delightful details and lovely moments between the characters.
LA was remarkably progressive in how he handled his female characters, for his time - besides Eilonwy we have many strong and competent girls in his series, so I do want to give him credit where it's due. It just seems to me that he rather missed a chance to make her arc even stronger, by giving her something truly meaningful to give up, rather than making magic a throwaway trait that never really did anything for her anyway.
Oh I agree he was quite progressive for his time, and I appreciated how Eilonwy fought for herself and had a complex characterization. I’m not sure we got that many strong and competent female characters though… Achren and Orddu/Orwen/Orgoch of course, and Teleria in her way. Perhaps I’m missing some, but I can’t think of any others. It’s hard to count the ladies of Llyr given their absence (goodness did I love your Llyr fic!). Eilonwy states how much she hates the ladies at both Caer Dathyl and Mona, and bemoans all things feminine on numerous occasions. I quite related to this feeling as a young tomboy in a society that deemed anything “girly” lesser, but it makes me sad now as an adult.
I agree that her giving up her magic would have felt much more impactful if it were something more useful and if she’d gotten to learn more about her heritage rather than magic being a mostly uncomfortable sensation for her.
Ah, sorry, when I mentioned other strong girl characters I meant in the rest of his books! He’s got so many good ones but they do tend to be isolated - one girl in a sea of males.
Another possibility (I listed one in a reply to her authoressness) is that by perverting her place in the world to her own ends, Achren made Eilonwy's gift stillborn.
Eilonwy's power seemed evident to me when I read the books, but her training came from someone who tried to twist it to her own ends and away from it's proper path. Thus it became as useless as Lewis' White Witch's "practical" ability to make a hundred years of winter without Christmas.
Male characters condemned to impotence in what they most want to achieve are quite normal in literature, with their abilities in other areas serving to highlight those failings, and those include Spidey and Cap, as well as Superman and Batman. Their abilities didn't save what mattered most to each, after all.
Oh absolutely - Achren’s perversion of Eilonwy’s abilities is a major plot point in much of my fanfic; I’ve always opined that the reason Dallben doesn’t further her magical training is because Achren has corrupted her power so much that she either can’t use it properly or would, like someone under the influence of the one ring, be corrupted herself.
“Her authoressness”. Lol I like it. Can we insert a “royal” in there? ;)
Achren having tainted it... Now that's interesting.
That would work for me as a thread, and even tie in somewhat nicely with the idea of her rebelling even harder at the situation in Llyr. Her thinking the only way to get it is to find a way to steal it back from Achren there. (Sure she knows something is up but what if it is more than "some guy being sketchy".)
It is such a missed opportunity to not having it be more of a thread in the series.
Maybe you did not interpret the scene properly. IMO it underlines LA's purpose running through the series that in Prydain, magic does not provide solutions. Eilonwy was bound to fail because she tried to bend it for a good purpose. Yes, Achren still has her plans for Eilonwy - but under the prerequirement that Eilonwy must succumb to its inherent evil!
As evidenced by numerous, thorough essays on the subject elsewhere, I was the first to publicly elucidate LA's theme that "magic is never the ultimate solution". But to say it's never used for good purposes isn't true at all - Dallben and Gwydion both use it in limited ways, and we have implements like the Pelydryn and Adaon's brooch that are fundamentally good. So there is nothing inherent in the theming that makes it necessary for Eilonwy to fail at every spell she tries, and particularly not this one, since we have evidence from the text that getting Hen Wen to prophesy is "good magic" as long as you're doing it with good intentions.
I actually think it would have made the theming stronger if Lloyd had made Eilonwy more able to use her powers before ultimately realizing that they weren't what shaped her identity. Maybe it's my daughter's current obsession with the movie Encanto talking, but the whole idea that you are "more than your (magical) gifts" would fit right in here.
That said, I don't really think the author had any specific point to make in this scene and thus there really is no "proper" interpretation. That's precisely why it feels, for Alexander, a little out of character. Adapting the story makes me carefully evaluate the subtext, and I can usually make a good guess about exactly what he was telling us, backing it up with a solid argument. But this one is a cipher.
That's ... an interesting take worthy of a master ... but she has repeatedly shown her use in ways not appreciated by those of us wishing for a magical solution ... by casting light, by helping to liberate a spell and escaping from the ruins of Achren's usurped spiral castle ... et cetera.
I suggest to you that his point is akin to Jewish rebuttal to Western Christians and atheists of the author's day who overly denigrate the material, pedestrian creation and revelation given unto God's Chosen and the rest of us (to whom they serve as a light Unto the nations and revelations to others are explicitly referenced repeatedly in the Old Testament).
Also an interesting take! And yes, of course she has proved her usefulness many times! Sorry, didn’t mean to infer otherwise - I just would have liked to see more done with this aspect.
This is my first time leaving a comment, but I've been enjoying your storytelling and artwork for years now. Thank you for bringing the PryChron to life. Decades ago, as the oldest brother, I read this series to my younger sibs after we conquered Narnia together. Such rich, wholesome, personal adventures that make for nostalgic memories so many years later.
And this page reminded me of that--it's not the action scenes or the epic reveals of Welsh lore so much. It's the quiet moments in the stories that set the tone for what a cool night in Prydain would be like in front of the fire, hearing the crackle of flame on wood and maybe the twang of a over-scrupulous harp string, the oink of a pig, the very relatable dialogue of our all-too-human characters. *That's* what makes these stories endearing--none of us have faced off against Cauldron-Born or woven a magical web from a meshing of grass, but all of us have had moments like these: loyal company, camping under the stars, the smell of wolf-hound, and trying something courageous only the experts can do. Basically, you bringing this particular moment to life reinforces why Alexander's books hold our attention with each passing generation in a literary genre where fantasy motifs change over time.
Oh, many many welcomes, Captain! I so appreciated hearing from the lurkers! (Well, I appreciate hearing from anyone, but there’s something nice about knowing I have longtime readers yet to declare themselves.)
I agree with your sentiments. Prydain has epic moments, but it’s not really an epic, itself. The quiet intimacy of the character relationships and the inner world of Taran himself are what drive the story and speak to its fans, I think, and they are what I love to draw out.
Eilonwy not having useful magic is the single biggest change I would make to the series. Especially if it was picked up to be a prestige tv multi season thing.
Like you say, it just makes her sacrifice so much less meaningful. (I can always justify Achren's interest. She can unlock it even if Eilonwy can't and blood as power is a solid trope with a long heritage.)
The bit where she does the web spell and it doesn't quite work is more on target for me. Flashes of power that are there but not yet formed. Have Dallben be teaching her, even if it is in the weird "old Master seemingly gives nonsensical chores" method a-la Mr. Miyagi.
But the more she is also coming into herself and her power the better. That Taran doesn't see it into he books is ok - he is kind of clueless and she is always a mystery to him because his heart gets in the way.
But if we are seeing it from the outside and not as tightly focused on Taran then we need to see that her power *is* there - even if dormant - so that it hits when it needs to.
Yes! Complete agreement here and very well-expressed.
Thinking about your "tainted by Achren" idea, I like my "indirect teaching" idea more and more.
That chores and simple life on the farm as a teaching method is a way to rebalance it. Rather than magic as dominance over the natural world (Achren's way), he is easing her back into Magic as Harmony with the magical world. (And with herself).
Keeps the "magic as shortcut doesn't work" theme while we can slowly see her start to flash potential but her streak of wanting it too much (parallel to Taran's desire to be a hero) is what needs be tempered. She gets a similar maturation journey (with different details) because in the end, don't we all need to learn that we are just who we are, as the mirror shows us?
(Stealing a break from work because I just noticed new page. )
I’ve played with this some in my fic adaptation of The Black Cauldron, where I have Dallben teaching her some rudimentary things but mostly how to control her emotional outbursts. It’s very Yoda/Luke in the dynamic, with the same caution about not wanting to become another Vader or Achren - yet that very caution is actually detrimental to her because it attempts to bury her valid anger over her childhood traumas…now I’m thinking of Xavier/Phoenix. It’s been an interesting delve into her character, theme of victim-silencing, self-empowerment, etc. I think the question of what magic really means to her and how she processes it related to her heritage and identity are going to be the main themes when I get to Castle of Llyr.
(I should really register at some point)
Yoda/Like also works, with he explicit demand not to feel anger at what happened backfiring.
Now I'm not sure which I would like more - fear of her anger warping the teaching or the "teaching without teaching". Both offer interesting story potential.
Of course we don't see her for whole chunks of books 3 and 4, which is where I would always put the actual struggle she has with the magic if I was feeling this. Splitting focus from Taran alone would be essential in a modern adaptation and that's where it would go.
The missed opportunity in Taran seeing it is book 2 I suppose.
Your fan fic version of it sounds fantastic and is clearly exploring the right themes.
Yes! I never really understood why Eilonwy's magic was so underwhelming when it is a big part of who she is. I am glad that you reinterpreted the seen. It makes more sense this way, knowing how important of a role Eilonwy's magic is to the plot of all of the books and to her.
Indeed! Glad you like this. :)
Amazing that you were able to make the scene so beautiful, even though you considered leaving it out! Eilonwy's inability to use magic effectively doesn't bother me so much in Book of Three because I see her arc mirroring Taran's here, and they are both kind of bumbling along and figuring things out. But it does seem to be a lost opportunity to not see her grow in her magical abilities - and in her wisdom about how to use them - as the series goes on.
So I know to be patient, but I am SO EXCITED to see how you interpret the rest of the book. So much good action and emotion coming up.
True enough - you don’t expect her to do much here but the absence becomes rather glaring later.
I always interpreted her spells like that because of the reasons you mentioned.
Glad this works then! ;)
I'm glad I found someone else who is as obsessed with this series as I am.
There are more of us than you think. ;)
I know this is years and miles away, but based on your comments about this page, I'm really curious about what you do with Eilonwy at Caer Colur.
YES. Me too. :)
Hi there nice to see new pages!
Maybe Eilonwy is not comfortable at all with magic in the form.of spells, and maybe even not too much interested in it?
I forgot about the whole scene actually. The need fore it is debatable, but I think E just tried her best to be helpfull here. T+E come together in this book and both there communication is not that handy to say the least. She just tries to be helpfull here.
I can also imagine (from the documentary you mentioned before) there was quite some editing in this book. It also did set the start for the rest of the books. I don't remeber Gwydion using actual magic later, or any of the 'good side' characters except for Dallben, Aeddon and the fae. Taran is only involved later in defeating, or loosing magic.
I’ve played with that, too - that overall the use of magic is not a pleasant one for her, largely because Achren has ruined it. But I think a few of her lines indicate that it is important to her - even in Castle of Llyr, we are expected to believe that the struggle between saving her loved ones and hanging onto the possibility of becoming an enchantress is a hard one. But of course that’s the difficulty - we’re expected to believe that, but the books up to that point don’t give us a lot of reason to think so. We never see her use magic beyond lighting up her bauble, so when she gives it up, nothing fundamentally changes.
It’s obviously supposed to be more of a thing she hangs into because it gives her a kind of identity and link to her past. But I think that would be a more interesting and emotional link if it had been developed a lot more.
Also: welcome back!!! :) I hope you are doing well!
Thank you! All fine here now, lots of work to do, so i have to keep a bit off here and specially writing unfortunately, for now.
You have a good point there too. Dallben would have know but he doesn't tell us as usual! ;-)
In which Taran is subconsciously jealous of a pig.
An oracular pig, true.
I’m reading this on a device where typing is painful, it this is a placeholder to jump in on the discussion vis a vis E’s magic and he general place of magic in he series. With soft magic systems it’s difficult to not make it solve problems too easily—not just “all problems,” though I think that is a part of it, but even “this problem”. It’s one of the weird and mysterious things about Gandalf that works in TLotR, but it still is odd. It’s something that is odd about Dallben, too, in that *when* we see him use magic he uses it to devastating effect (in THK), but he almost never uses it. Gwydion uses magic successfully, but sparsely, and almost as a slight aid, not a game changing power (not saying more at this point, for those who haven’t read the original—there’s one instance that tests my analysis here). Even Arawn’s magic seems restrained. We generally don’t see the sort of power that would utterly tip the scales, at least not manifested in a single moment.
And Adaon’s brooch, while good, is analyzed in an ambiguous way. Eilonwy says she didn’t think he really *needed* it, and it is implied that it’s ultimately not good for Taran, even if it saves them. That’s why she tells him he didn’t seem quite himself, yet. His need for it is part of the “problem,” and later on we see a wiser mature Taran closer to Adaon, who doesn’t need virtue-supplementing “technology” but just has virtue. E’s strength doesn’t lie in her magical heritage, and I think that’s part of the point. In this it’s similar to Taran and the brooch, though it obviously is more “intimate” as being part of her heritage. It’s more of a sacrifice for her, in some way, but it’s still external to her insofar as it’s a book of spells, not just intrinsic power.
Oh, yeah, this absolutely hits on one of Alexander's main themes (and forgive me if I'm repeating something you've read elsewhere, because this is one of my favorite topics and I theorize about it often). He uses magic as his metaphor for immaturity, in this series and in other of his books - it's always something that is seen, by either the bad guys or the green heroes, as something desirable because it's the easy, quick way. But the good guys, the mentors, the sages, even those who use magic when they must - all hold to the idea that it's a crutch at best, and ultimately not as valuable as plain old hard work, sacrifice, wisdom, and decency.
So while yes, E's strength is not in her heritage, I maintain that it would have been a stronger character arc if she had more of a chance to figure that out, rather than it being denied to her from the getgo. In the same way that Taran had to strive for glory and realize its emptiness before he actually became a hero, I'd have liked to see her actually use her powers before realizing they didn't have any bearing on her identity. There's nothing wrong, per se, with how it's done - it would have just been more interesting had it been done differently, IMO - but that's my fixation and insistence on centering her character talking. ;) It is technically not relevant to Taran's arc, and that's the one we follow in the books.
Tried to respond. Was marked as spam. I'll come back after a walk and some other things.
In short, we agree, and I think that Alexander's tendency to emphasize how his young female leads are more mature than the young male leads actually lends itself to the very problem you're describing. It downplays their own need to grow in maturity.
Hmm. Tried to respond several times. Not working. Length problems??
In any case, I guess the TLDR version is:
1. Overall, we agree.
2. I think there's a bit of a problem with the comparative characterization of LA's male and female leads.
3. I made a lot out of Joy-in-the-Dance vs. Lucian in The Arcadians. She barely has an arc, and doesn't seem to need to grow at all, whereas Lucian seems even duller and denser than Taran (can be).
4. Still love LA and the books!
I'm getting your responses! Don't know why the site is giving you grief. And yes, we agree - I hope I don't look like I'm debating you, I'm just enjoying the discussion. All these things are true, and could be considered flaws, but they do not detract from my enjoyment of the books (it could be argued they add to my enjoyment, since they give me things to think, converse, and write about. If the books were perfect where would I get my fic ideas? :) )
No, I relish these discussions, too! No shade or disputatiousness detected! Just having trouble responding because the site is giving me trouble.
Oy. How was that just a placeholder, self??.😮💨
On rereading the series recently I took this scene slightly different. It's a moment where he witnesses a peer failing in something as well. Taran wrestles with his destiny throughout the series and often feels the weight of failure, or what he believes is failure, (very teenage like) and it makes him feel alone. He knows Eilonwy is someone "important" but this little moment helps make her a bit more relatable to him.
I'd like to think Alexander would have wrote it a bit differently today but I believe it still would have the same result. There is no special power that is going to see them through other than courage, determination, and steadfast fellowship.
I wish I could figure out where my copy of the series is hiding. My book shelves are such a mess of books and other assorted odds and ends that it'd be a minor miracle to find them. Not that I'm likely to have anything new and exciting to contribute, but at least I wouldn't be in the dark on the actual text.
For what it's worth, from a generalized perspective I agree with CM's interpretation regarding the relative maturities of Taran and Eilonwy. I am very fond of both and as a man can obviously better identify with him than her, but that's one of the reasons for my perspective. Taran has had a very sheltered, safe and happy life up to Hen Wen's escape into the wilds, which is something I can also relate to more than perhaps I could have admitted when I was his age. Conversely, Eilonwy has been a prisoner basically all her life and has been forced to mature more rapidly because of her need to be her own person outside of Achren's influence. While her social development may have been stunted and possibly misdirected, her powerful will and keen intellect have given her insights on matters that Taran could never have imagined or encountered until leaving the safety of his home. I think one of the reasons they make such a great match over the course of the series is how complementary their strengths are and how they can teach and learn from each other on relatively equal terms.
As was mentioned, the books are following Taran's story, so it's understandable why his growth as a character is explored more deeply, but I share the desire to know more about Eilonwy as a character even if I understand the books didn't include much of her story. Perhaps the author felt she was strong enough a character to stand without further elucidation, perhaps he didn't even consider her role beyond her support of the main character, I don't know and am not qualified to speculate on. My personal feeling is though, based on the strength of the love for Eilonwy shown by fans, that Alexander knew exactly what he was doing and has likely inspired many girls reading the stories to adapt the strengths of her character: intelligence, wit, determination, loyalty, compassion and patience to name but a few virtues, and find their own paths mirroring her own development.
Then again, I might just be clueless and over-romanticizing everything out of a desperate need to be positive and guard cherished memories from the encroaching darkness.
Well said! She’s inspiring as-is, which is exactly why I crave more about her. And after all, if it were all spelled out for us, I would lose the fun of speculating about it.
Thank you so much Saeriellyn i have been waiting for this for a long time its amazing !❤
My pleasure! :) thanks for reading!
I have re-read the passage in question, and it looks to me now that Eilonwy had no hope or even intention for any spell to work in the first place. She was merely trying to comfort Taran by demonstrating to him how he keeps asking for things beyond their power instead of sticking to what they can do, thus expressing her growing affection in a way that would not compromise her appearance of total autonomy. Also, her extensive rambling about Achren's teachings sounds like she would really strongly prefer to keep her hands away from them regardless of innate power or bloodline, but when pressed like that ...
(Why would Achren want to summon toads, by the way? And did Eilonwy in her boredom repeatedly flood Spiral Castle with them?)
It is not stated in the book, but given your interpretation of this chapter, this scene could even be construed as a conscious attempt to make up for her previous rude behaviour towards Doli: "See? You are not the only one here who fails in performing acts of magic, but I don't complain about it."
Those are valid interpretations. They’re just not mine. ;)
Regardless of how the scene works, it’s not my main complaint but a symptom of it: Eilonwy, series-wide, doesn’t get to do enough magic to make us care overmuch when she gives it up. I think the reader would be more upset had she been required to, say, chop her hair off, because as written, it’s a more crucial identity trait than her magic is.
wow, I love the colors and atmosphere you created with the deep oranges and purples, it sets the mood of a nighttime campfire - Tricky to make that look realistic, but you pulled it off extremely well! Impressive!
Lovely firelight effects! Hen Wen looks radiant. In the last panel I cannot help but imagine a spider web spun in the space overhead with the words "SOME PIG" glistening in the firelight. :D
An interesting parallel with this scene, perhaps related to the discussion of Eilonwy's magical powers, is that by the time of The High King she IS able to communicate with animals. Specifially, Byrnach and Briavael. She describes it as "hearing with her heart" (which is almost exactly how Gwydion describes communicating with Hen Wen at the end of this book: "we could speak as one heart and mind to another"). It is interesting that she discovers the ability to do so at that later time, while she is not able to communicate with Hen Wen here (or Byrnach and Briavael a few chapeters before for that matter). Her magical powers certainly are not extinguished at Llyr, but rather perhaps they grow in a subtle way as she learns to listen with her heart more and more (as perhaps ultimately demonstrated in her turning night into noon).
Thank you for the new page! So nice to see an update.
P.S. I think it is cool how you had Eilonwy speak in runes.