No, your eyes do not deceive - two updates in three days! I know, it's like Christmas.
I love this page. The emotional entanglement, all the feels...what, you want to know my thought process in pulling this much drama out of a few lines of dialog? I'm so glad you asked.
Briefly, this exchange is one of the most angsty in the book - ironically, because it doesn't turn into a full-blown fight. Taran is about as downright rude and stupid here as he ever gets at any other time. In his defense, he's exhausted, miserable, and anxious, probably second-guessing his decision to come this way, and just wants to get off this mountain into a safer traveling area. Meanwhile Eilonwy, though sensibly questioning the wisdom of deviation from the instructions of the one person who actually knows this area, does it in the most aggravating way possible and just plays on all his insecurities. This is such a perfect, efficient summing up of the growth they both need to undergo.
Because really. "Who found the way out of the barrow?" What barrow? The one she led you to after navigating through a labyrinth of underground passageways? The one she had to prod you into investigating when you wanted to go back to a useless dead end? After she sprang your helpless butt out of a four-foot square cell? THAT BARROW, TARAN?
But does she say this? No. She says nothing. His arseholery-level just cranked to ten and she says nothing. And we all know how likely Eilonwy is to say nothing when she's upset. What does this mean?
It means she's so devastated by this level of insensitivity on his part that she's literally stunned speechless for a hot second - long enough for him to head down the mountain. And it means she has started to care what he thinks, because he wouldn't have the power to hurt her like this otherwise.
And look at his face in that turn-away panel. He knows it. He's already thinking...WOW I'M A JERK.
And Fflewddur? Fflewddur's just bewildered and sad that his kids are so unhappy. And a little low-key shocked at Taran, too.
But it's ok. They're gonna be ok, you all. They just gotta grow up and almost die a few more times.
(This zealous character analysis brought to you by my exhaustive overthinking of everything in service of writing fanfiction, you're welcome.)
He is being a darn fool. You should always listen to those who know better than you do.
You should. But I'm not 100% sure I wouldn't be looking for an out in that same situation either. I mean the horse almost fell down the mountain.
I agree with MK_Wizard that you should always listen to those who know better than you do, but listening doens't always mean following. Being a good leader requires taking stock of the situation, listening to input, and then making the best decision available as far as you can determine it. Sometimes that means you make mistakes, but assuming it doesn't kill you, eventually you learn from it. Taran has the fundamental qualities of a good leader, he just needs to work on his social skills and judgement. Considering he's still a kid though, I think he's doing a pretty good job.
Also, notice how no one else seriously challenges him? Being the only adult present, and a king to boot, why hasn't Fflewddur taken charge of their little group? Why hasn't Eilwony asserted her nobility and made a push to lead them? My guess is that, primarily, neither of them want the job, but I always had the impression that they sensed Taran -needed- to learn how to lead, even if the experience wouldn't be a pleasant one for anyone involved. Sniping and griping can be explained away by collective discomfort and on Taran's & Eilwony's youth, but inaction is harder to defend. ;)
Good points; remember that Taran took ownership of this quest back in chapter...I want to say six or seven, with Fflewddur agreeing to follow him as though he were under Gwydion's authority. Being a man of his word we can assume he will do that whenever possible but I think you're right - he has a sense of the importance of it to the kid.
Eilonwy never even mentions that she's royalty, so clearly she never has any intention of pulling rank; but she's in it for the companionship and survival; this girl has nowhere to go so she's going with them; where they are headed is actually immaterial as long as it's not back to Achren.
I think Fflewddur doesn't speak up here because he's really jonesing for a way off the mountaintop himself, and on the surface of it, it does look like a sensible plan. He's not taking it personally that Eilonwy doesn't approve though, and Taran is.
I am hard pressed to think of many times during which F-dog is oversensitive. I know there are some, but I don't have the whole series memorized, unlike some. ;P
What I am still thinking about is the difference between how Taran and E handle belonging and being in a group. I keep reworking the strings of my thoughts here into new patterns, but I'll just list some thoughts/observations haphazardly, and at random:
1) Taran has grown up in a home that accepts him, but without knowing who he is, both in the sense of knowing how he fits into the world as a whole (as opposed to Caer Dallben), and yet he seems to have been raised with stories about people who fit into the world in grandiose ways. (Which raises some questions. Where is Taran hearing these things? From The Book of Three? Than what is Dalben doing reading to him stories that actively work to fire his imagination, and yet reinforcing the sense that he should attend to pigs and turnips? Crafty old fox indeed.)
2) Eilonwy has grown up ostensibly knowing who she is (lineage and status), and having a vague but basic sense of how she fits into the world, but without love or affection, or any real companionship. She's grown up in manipulation, and obviously has been locked up and physically punished plenty of times. (We can extrapolate form TBoT.) But she is starved for love and real friendship, afraid she won't get it, completely unsure of how to do so, and likely also just trying to figure out what a boy really is or is like. (She's also trying to just survive and stay with them so she's got somewhere to go.)
3) Taran seems to vacillate in first three books between not really caring what other people think of him most of the time (because he's grown up with real love and affirmation, and hasn't needed to think about it), to being horribly offended when people underestimate or insult him. (This doesn't work mesh well with E's way of being in the first book, especially.)
4) Eilonwy has probably never had to think much about what others thing of her, beyond not wanting to suffer too much at Achren's hands. Did she care what Achren's henchmen thought? Probably not. She obviously doesn't care what Achren thinks of her, considering how derisively she speaks of the enchantress. But now she's got the chance at having real friends, and Taran vacillates between regarding her as an ally, or as a traitor, as brilliantly being able to navigate Spiral Castle, to getting them lost there, as being useful and amazing to being just a girl--and he hasn't yet expressed enough interest in just HER as herself, as she wants. How infuriating.
It IS like Christmas! Not just another page but all this delicious character analysis! I never saw this as Taran's moment of peak jerkishness in BoT. Trying to kill Fflewddur when they first met, accusing Eilonwy of treachery, and his casual sexism in their fight over Dyrnwyn all seems worse to me than shutting down Eilonwy's objections to a plan that does, on the surface, make sense. Referring back to the barrow seems a more minor meanness to me, a very ordinary conversational stupidity for a kid of Taran's age and current character. But it's fascinating to see your interpretation here. And it does make sense that what I see as Eilonwy's worst moment in BoT comes directly after what SHE perceives as Taran's. And her face here and rejection of Fflewddur's comfort is poignant. You show a real sense of how small, alone, unheard, and rejected Taran's made her feel in this moment.
Re: Fflewddur and Eilonwy's submission to Taran's leadership (even if Eilonwy doesn't always like it sometimes), that is my FAVORITE part of probably the first three books of the Chronicles. As Saeriellyn pointed out, Taran's snapping at Eilonwy reveals more self-doubt than he probably wants to. Alexander doesn't state it outright, but their actions through the books make it clear that though Taran doesn't believe in himself yet, Fflewddur and Eilonwy (and Gurgi) believe in Taran. Fflewddur does, I think, initially agree to let Taran lead (in name, at least) because Taran is absolutely crushed over Gwydion's presumed death. Fflewddur reads in an instant that Taran feels responsible, and that if Taran doesn't feel he plays his part in putting everything right again, what's happened at Spiral Castle will be a trauma that casts a shadow over the rest of his life, never mind what happens to Prydain as a result of the Horned King's attacks. So--help the Sons of Don and save a young man's wounded spirit and future self-respect in one go. Fflewddur's a kind man. But I believe Fflewddur does also see something in Taran that he doesn't possess himself. Fflewddur inherited a kingdom, but he isn't a natural leader. It costs him something he can't always spare to lead. Taran has more capacity TO take responsibility than Fflewddur does, as young as he is, and I think that by the end of BC, even if Fflewddur hasn't articulated it to himself as such, he's loyal to Taran as his leader in a very real and very significant way.
Eilonwy follows Taran for love, even before she knows what love is. She likes him. He's kind and good, and she sees that immediately, even if he is rough around the edges right now. She's seen so little that is kind and good that he means more to her than anything else does at once. She's his friend already, even though he might not consider her one yet. She follows him because he's her friend--and because, like Fflewddur, she might know, deep down, that he can lead better. She can be smarter than he is, but I think she prefers to advise. She might freeze if the responsibility were on her to choose for others. Taran doesn't, even when he chooses wrong.
Ha! I was waiting for you to get here.
The initial gaffes you mention are all, on the surface, more severe than this one. However, they were all made within a few hours of meeting Fflewddur and Eilonwy, and though Taran’s behavior was poor, he was working with relative unknowns, after major trauma. For all he knew Eilonwy DID betray him and Fflewddur had just murdered Gwydion and hid the body.
But here...here they’ve been together a week or so, and begun to develop bonds. They’ve just had a lovely hiatus in the valley and even a nice evening of mutual reminiscing until the weather got bad. She’s proven herself brave, resourceful, loyal and smart, and now he cuts her down, in a moment of impulsive frustration, by taking credit for an escape that she almost single-handedly pulled off. She saved his life and he just negated her contribution because he’s...cold and irritated. It’s inexcusable, and really his one instance of true pettiness I can find in the book.
Hence my analysis! When he accused her of treachery she was just flat out shocked and angry. But here she’s really hurt. As you point out: She is already attached to him, without even understanding it, and he just belittled her. That’s an incredibly painful experience.
More to say, but I have carpools to make!
"Why hasn't Eilwony asserted her nobility and made a push to lead them?"
And why would she? With her in charge, the mission would be even worse disastrous than it is now, and she must be self-critical or insecure enough to see that. Nor is she - or at least was in the beginning - really dedicated to it: She adopted it chiefly because at least it gave her some orientation back. It constitutes a preliminary escape from confronting the bleakness of her future after having unintentionally performed the loudest door-slam in the history of Prydain. Secretly she may even admire Taran's dedication to Gwydion's cause though she does not really understand it; but at least he pursues a defined objective while she has known none at all in her life. So why not follow it as far as she is allowed to? Not as if she had that much else to do right now!
(Worried about length above. Also, why do I type so fast that I leave out entire words accidentally? Dang, you guys. Excitement.)
5) Although I can think of notable instances where this isn't true, Taran doesn't usually try to fit in by showing other people "their place." Because he both knows his own (at Caer Dallben), and knows what it's like to work towards a common goal: everyone matters, everyone helps. And because he also *doesn't* know his place, and is sensitive about this. I like to think he both doesn't want his own standing pointed out, shaky as it is outside of Care Dallben, and that he simply isn't wonted to tear others down or react in an insulting way.
6) How would Achren treat her underlings? How would she likely treat E? And what sort of interactions with others has E seen modeled? Achren-like interactions. InterAchrens. (See what I did there?) So, as I think Saeriellyn pointed out on an earlier occasion, or something close to this: what she knows is that you show your worth by questioning the worth of others, or making them question their worth, or see that they're nothing without you, or just generally feel foolish and bad about themselves. AND YET YOU CAN STILL SEE HER KINDNESS SHINING THROUGH. Plus, how many other levels of frustration with Taran, specifically, need to be included here as kinds of, I dunno, force multipliers?
Their interactions in the first book make so much sense.
I wonder what else one could unpack from her repeated insistences that--when Taran is a jerk or at least does something she interprets as jerky or rude, or not sufficiently attentive to needs she can't articulate--she isn't speaking to him. And then can't help but speak to him anyways, because she just is garrulous. She tries to withhold her companionship as punishment--to make him actively seek it out by apologizing, and thus prove in a manifest and palpable way that it matters to him?
They really do make beautiful sense...there is so much to work with there, one of the things that made rewriting tBoT from her POV so delightful and has been difficult about giving TBC the same treatment; their behavior is so much more subtle and less confrontational. Good for them, harder for me!
I have, in the past, noted one commenter muse that when E calls him an Assistant Pig-Keeper it’s not really a class insult as much as it’s just she thinks of him as almost a different species and needs a label for him.
Had to go put my kids to bed, returning here...I think your last paragraph is spot-on. In my story I remember writing her first time giving him the silent treatment and being terribly frustrated because he basically ignored it. Taran seems to know instinctively that she can't keep it up so he doesn't take it seriously - but to his credit, he does apologize to her once he realizes his gaffes (and at least once when he actually didn't do anything wrong but she got offended anyway, which is a Level of Humility most of us never get to).
I feel I might be catching a cold from the panels.
I like the water rivulets on cliffsides. Did you immediately try for that effect, or did you test different styles?
I was totally lazy and used a custom brush that comes standard in clip studio. Works, though, doesn’t it? I’ve used it before and knew what I wanted, so no experimentation necessary.
Oh, you’re so right! And what about Eilonwy’s “If you don’t follow the directions you’re given” line (how much direction-following did she do under Achren?) and the “For an Assistant Pig-Keeper who’s done almost no traveling” line – she’s done even less, Medwyn clearly doesn’t leave his valley, and Fflewddur, who’s traveled the most, just agreed with Taran!
I’ve been reading “Prince Caspian” to my 6-year-old son before he goes to bed, and last night we read the chapter “What Lucy Saw,” where, coincidentally, the kids must also decide whether to go up or down as they’re tromping through the wilderness. At the end, he asked, “Daddy, why didn’t Peter believe Lucy?” (i.e., when she said she had seen Aslan) And I just shook my head and said, “Sometimes it’s hard being a leader.” I think maybe Peter and Taran make their choices for similar reasons.
True. He’s doing his best, no question, and not wanting anyone second-guessing him, particularly someone just as inexperienced as he is. But it’s still a super low blow to take credit for getting out of Spiral Castle...an escape he was about 10% effective at compared to her 90.
Saeriellyn may have carpools to make, and turnips to bake, but I am under deadline pressure, so of course I read this as a break ... and I actually have an insight I believe everyone else has missed.
I've hiked me a lot of mountains, and while we're all obsessing about the reactions of our two young heroes, and even the horse, we've left out that Fflewddur suggested the alternate route when Taran was only wondering about it. He too disliked the danger, and after he just warned Taran not to get downslope of the warhorse among them, perhaps he wanted to take a more subservient role in accordance with his oath and his nature. More likely, he's tired, chilled, and miserable.
The sodden exhaustion likely explains some of our heroine's reaction as well.
The zealous character analysis is spot on, and quite welcome to this reader. I knew our lad was being an entitled snot when I read this, but having it explained to me as it was … well that was downright helpful.
Oh indeed - the weather and their resultant physical and mental states are the biggest drivers here! People have the most revelatory behavior when under duress, after all. It’s interesting to watch what gets pulled out.
Leo Strauss and his parade of ancients would surely agree that extreme situations reveal character, but the Jewish and Christian observation that how we behave in the little things matters too is something I suspect you and Lloyd Alexander would agree with. It's just ... they're little things ... and we LIKE drama!
All of this discussion is really building an urge to reread the book, just so I can keep up. It's been so long since I've read it that I can barely offer anything that isn't already in Saeriellyn's beautiful work or comments.
The terrible thing about being an adult, that I'm sure you can all relate to, is prioritizing what's important in your "free time". ;)
You might be surprised to find how much of my work is not in the book. Even I am sometimes surprised when I go back and read, and find that details I was certain were accurate turn out to be my own invention. This thing has taken on life of its own in my head.
What a fantastic piece of analysis. Whew!
Interesting that Medwyn didn't mention the lake, as in "avoid that lake." Maybe he had some foresight on what was the next necessary journey for the travelers?
I think he was more focused on telling them where to go rather than where NOT to go, but really it doesn't give his instructions in detail so who knows.
I also like the idea, posted below, that it's possible Eidilleg moves the lake periodically, and it wasn't there the last time Medwyn passed that way.
To stick up for my boy Taran here, I don't necessarily think his comment about getting them out of the barrow is an attempt to take credit for the whole thing. Rather, my (admittedly charitable) interpretation is that he's trying to say it's hypocritical of her to chastise him for not knowing anything about traveling and quests, when he had to drag her out of an exploding castle because she grabbed the one sword that was obviously not to be grabbed.
Ahhh, but they don’t yet know that Dyrnwyn’s removal is what caused the castle to collapse! That info is revealed at the end of the book.
I get what you’re saying though, and it’s a valid interpretation...it’s just not mine. ;)
Now that I think about it, if we accept your assessment that this is one of Taran's worst moments, then we really have to question how it played out. If not for this decision, Taran would never have seen Hen Wen again. And in the grander scheme, her absence would probably have doomed Prydain. If this is a bad decision, the story, and author, are kind of rewarding Taran for making it. No wonder he learns so slowly!
Oh I’m not making the case that this shortcut is his worst decision ever. I’m talking about his treatment of Eilonwy here. As usual their relationship dynamics are the most interesting part of the scene for me, trumping even the plot point made, haha.
So yes there are positive ramifications to the actual decision. It’s not going to look that way shortly however...
It also occurs to me, as SKYBOY91 pointed out, Medwyn doesn't mention the lake. I checked the actual book to confirm this, and to be honest it's very vague what his instructions actually were, so maybe we should assume it was at least mentioned in passing. But could it not be possible Medwyn didn't warn them of the lake, because it wasn't there the last time he passed that way. It is pretty common in fairy folklore for their "courts" to move from place to place; and based on what we see of them in the series I don't think moving a lake would be outside the power of the Fair Folk.
Oooooh, that is a VERY good point! I'd never thought of that. As it fits in with my concept of the power and mystery of the Fae (sadly underused in the chronicles), I wholly approve of this notion.
It is a very interesting notion, and fits well with what the Fair Folk decide to do at the end of the series. And thinking about my earlier comment later, I decided that Medwyn and the Fair Folk are very different powers, they exist on very different planes of reality. His the magic and power of the natural world, and theirs of course something very different. So it is perfectly plausible that they are for the most part unaware of each other.
Great page and even better character analysis. I love how you are able to pull out all this emotion from a small line of dialogue and illustrate it so well. The discussion above has been great (I'm late to the party) and I think you're spot-on. A key moment for the characters' relationship at this point in the story.
Also, this scene has one of my favorite Eilonwy analogies, so bonus points for that!
I second that... it is a classic Eilonwy-ism... :-)
It is a particularly good one.
Oh teenagers. On a side note the climber in me cringes with the drop down in elevation to then go back up.
True. You'd think Fflewddur at least would be familiar with that phenomenon of: "Hey, guys. That mountain on the other side? Is neither as close nor as climbable as it looks from here."
First time reader/viewer of your work. And I'm in awe - you've helped me recapture the first time I read this... so long ago. Thank you!
I’m so happy to hear it! How’d you find me?
This Vox article. I was curious who might have the film option and if anything was happening with it. Fantasy is such a hot commodity these days...
Your ability to capture the essence of a scene is awesome. And I love your take on Taran's relationship with Eilonwy. Also the scenery you've drawn in really is another character. I really felt Taran's decision to move on when Medwyn offered him a place in the valley.
Ah, yes, the David Roberts article, I love that!
I’m currently heading up an audiodrama adaptation. If we never have a film, we will have literally everything else.
So glad you are connecting with this so well! That’s always my goal.
One more comment on this page, as I've looked at it a few times now and I don't think anyone else has quite mentioned it...I feel for Fflewddur when Eilonwy jerks away from him, she seems to make a point of it. The look on her face, Wow. I know she's upset that Fflewddur didn't support her In the argument with Taran, but still it seems harsh, especially after the scene from the night before when she was looking at him in more of a fatherly way. Like she's telling him, that's over, and don't ever expect it to happen again. Just thought I would mention it, it's one of the main takeaways I get from this page.
Now that’s an interesting take. In my head she’s not mad at Fflewddur at all. She’s just hurt, and responds the way distrustful, hurt people do, especially emotional teens - by pulling away from everyone, even those who are trying to help. This comes largely from my own interpretation of Eilonwy as a traumatized child digging her way out of a lot of wreckage, of course, and isn’t the only valid interpretation. Good observation!
Yeah, maybe it is being the father of two teenage daughters (well one more than teenage now) that makes me look at it from Fflewddur's point of view...he knows the anger and hurt is not really directed at him, but it's still felt.
All of the character analysis is very interesting to read. Everybody makes such well thought out points I wish I wasn't so late to the party and had read more of the books to have more of an opinion on what everyone is discussing.
You’ll get there! We’re just all a bunch of nerds, haha. You’re almost up to where I’m working currently, so once you get there and have to wait for new pages like the rest, you’ll have time to read the books (which in all honesty read faster than these comment sections - Lloyd talks way less than we do!)
Well, it doesn't turn into a full-blown fight this time because Taran cuts the argument short before it can escalate to that point. Besides, Eilonwy is old enough to predict that another kick at the shin would send him straight off the ledge they are standing on.
But in fact, Taran has a point about Medwyn not necessarily being the best of travel advisors under given conditions. When has the man been last time here? He does not seem willing to leave his valley at all for even briefly, and erosion can completely modify mountainsides within hours and days. Lest he gathered reports by local animals, but mountain goats naturally have a different opinion about accessibility than humans.
Of course, the way he presses his case, that's Taran at his best again, as our artist keenly observes. "Who found the way out of the barrow?" Seriously? If the same objection had come from Fflewddur, he would certainly have considered it, but since it's from Eilonwy she just better shut up. Not that her "suddenly you know all about it" was very helpful, either, given her own amount of practical experience in this matter. And has she forgotten how she questioned Taran's initial decision to trust Medwyn for the moment in the first place, and now she is all for it? Even to the point of opposing Fflewddur's support of trying the lakeside, of the only real traveler in their little band of lunatics? (BTW, Gurgi, what do you thi... nah, forget it.)
There is something important going on here which has not yet been mentioned in above commentaries. Eilonwy not only strives for being accepted as a member of their band who is heard, she also utterly wishes for them to be her family, with Fflewddur as a father character, Gurgi as pet and Taran as her big brother. Though not like that! - not that he would treat her the way he does, like his little sister who has nothing to say because he is the older one, etc., a routine pattern down to the point of denigrating her most valuable contributions. (My son likewise never accepted offers by his younger sister to help him at his homework even though she was a class higher than him.) But in Medwyn, she has met a person who in her eyes expresses utmost authority and wisdom, not as destructive as Achren's but gentle, patriarchalic in the truest sense - the grandfather she has not known. And she doesn't want her idealised image of him be shattered by Taran putting the value of his advice in doubt. That's why she defends Medwyn even against reasonable arguments and is so dismayed when she finds nowhere support.
Beautiful as always, thank you and keep it up!