The Black Cauldron (novel)

The Black Cauldron (1965) is a high fantasy novel by American writer Lloyd Alexander, the second of five volumes in The Chronicles of Prydain. For 1966 it was a Newbery Honor book, runner-up for the year's "most distinguished contribution to American literature for children".[1]

The Black Cauldron
The first edition
AuthorLloyd Alexander
Cover artistEvaline Ness
CountryUnited States
SeriesThe Chronicles of Prydain
PublishedAugust 5, 1965 (Holt, Rinehart and Winston)
Media typePrint (hardcover & paperback)
ISBN0-8050-0992-2 (first edition, hard)
LC ClassPZ7.A3774 B1
Preceded byThe Book of Three 
Followed byThe Castle of Llyr 

The story continues the adventures of Taran, the Assistant Pig-Keeper, as he joins in a quest to capture the eponymous Magical Cauldron from Arawn Death-Lord.

The book provided a title and many elements of plot for the 1985 Disney animated feature The Black Cauldron.


The series was inspired by Welsh mythology and by the castles, scenery, and language of Wales, which the author experienced during World War II combat intelligence training.[2][3]

At one stage of planning it was a trilogy with titles The Battle of the Trees, The Lion with the Steady Hand, and Little Gwion.[4]

Plot summary

The story opens at Caer Dallben where Dallben the enchanter and Coll the farmer and retired warrior have raised the orphan Taran from infancy. It is early autumn more than a year after the defeat of Arawn's army and death of his warlord the Horned King which ended The Book of Three.[5] Taran has returned more or less contentedly to farming and studying under the tutelage of his mentors. However, weightier matters are afoot.

Prince Gwydion has called allies to a council hosted by Dallben. Men are disappearing and more and more of the undead Cauldron-Born have joined the forces of Arawn the Death Lord. Evidently the Black Cauldron is active: Gwydion proposes to capture it. King Morgant of the kingdom of Madoc[6] will lead the main force in an attack on Annuvin after a smaller raiding party led by Gwydion has broken off to enter by a mountain pass known only to Coll.[7] If all goes as planned, Gwydion's party will slip into Arawn's stronghold and steal the Cauldron without being detected. Three men have been designated to remain behind with pack animals to serve as a rearguard and secure the retreat: Adaon, the warrior son of chief bard Taliesin; Taran; and Ellidyr Prince of Pen-Llarcau, who is arrogant, wiry, strong, and threadbare. Ellidyr disdains Taran for his place on the farm and his unknown parentage. Taran envies Ellidyr for his noble birth, despite Dallben's counsel that that youngest son of a minor king has only "his name and his sword".[8] Both are dismayed to share a role with no chance for glory.

Leaving aside the feud between the two youths, all goes smoothly until Gwydion's raiders find that the Cauldron has disappeared. That company rejoins the rearguard in haste because the Huntsmen of Annuvin have been deployed. Meanwhile, the uninvited Princess Eilonwy and man/beast Gurgi have caught up with the quest from behind. Gwydion and Coll are split off from the party but, thanks to Doli of the Fair Folk, all others find refuge underground in a Fair Folk waypost maintained by Gwystyl. From Gwystyl and his pet crow Kaw, they learn that the Cauldron has been stolen by the three witches Orddu, Orwen and Orgoch, who reside in the bleak Marshes of Morva.[lower-alpha 1]

When they depart the waypost, Ellidyr rides southward,[lower-alpha 1] determined to retrieve the Cauldron single-handedly. With the Huntsmen abroad, Adaon leads the others in pursuit: Taran, Eilonwy, Gurgi, Doli, and the wandering bard Fflewddur Fflam. When they are attacked and scattered, Adaon is mortally wounded and Taran inherits his brooch, whose gift and burden is prophetic dreams and visions. With its guidance, he gathers and leads all but Doli toward the Marshes. From the fringe he both guides his small party through the Marshes to temporary safety and leads a pursuing band of Huntsmen to their deaths.

Orddu and her sisters explain that Arawn once paid them a great price to borrow the Cauldron; they retrieved it only when he held it beyond the agreed-upon time. In their way, they welcome friends of "Little Dallben",[9] but they refuse to give up the Cauldron unless they accept the offer in exchange for something of (in their judgment) equivalent value. Thus, they refuse the offer of Gurgi's wallet with its inexhaustible supply of food, Eilonwy's magical bauble, or Flewddur's falsehood-detecting harp. Having had the offer of his sword and horse refused, Taran is compelled to barter the brooch of Adaon. The companions then try to destroy "their" Cauldron but learn from the witches that can be achieved only by a living person who knowingly and willingly climbs in to die. Horrified, the questors resolve to take the Cauldron to Dallben to seek an alternative solution.

At the ford of the river Tevyn, the heavy and cumbersome Cauldron sinks into the riverbed. Ellidyr arrives and offers to help extricate the Cauldron if the others will credit him for the whole enterprise. Taran agrees, yet Ellidyr rides off with the Cauldron alone when they have freed it. Soon the companions meet the army of Morgant, who welcomes them. Unfortunately, he is a traitor. In Morgant's camp they see Ellidyr beaten and bound, and the Cauldron waiting to generate Morgant's own undead legion. He offers to spare the companions' lives if Taran will enter personal service. Later, Doli arrives invisibly and cuts everyone's bonds. Ellidyr determines to rush the Cauldron and make the sacrifice himself. Although wounded, he is able to force himself into the opening and the Cauldron shatters.

Gwydion, King Smoit, and his army defeat Morgant in battle. The story closes as Taran, Eilonwy, and Gurgi take leave of Gwydion at the verge of Caer Dallben.


The Black Cauldron was loosely adapted by Walt Disney Productions and released in 1985 as Disney's 25th animated feature film. The Black Cauldron film was based primarily on the first two Prydain novels with elements from the others. It was the last Disney film produced before corporate reorganization created Walt Disney Feature Animation (later Walt Disney Animation Studios) as a separate division within the company, and the first to be rated "PG" rather than "G" in the United States by the MPAA. Disney's adaptation of The Black Cauldron was considered a commercial failure because its gross receipts did not match production cost.[10]

Lloyd Alexander's reaction was twofold: "First, I have to say, there is no resemblance between the movie and the book. Having said that, the movie in itself, purely as a movie, I found to be very enjoyable."[2]

The movie inspired a 1986 computer video game with the same title.


  1. According to maps by Evaline Ness, the witches live on the opposite fringe of the Marshes, near the south coast of the southwestern tip of Prydain, far from people and Fair Folk.
    • Ness prepared one map of Prydain for each of the five novels. The last, best-informed, and largest scale map illustrates book five, The High King (1968), and the expanded edition of The Foundling and Other Tales of Prydain (1999).


  1. "Newbery Medal and Honor Books, 1922-Present". Association for Library Service to Children. Retrieved 2011-01-11.
  2. Lloyd Alexander Interview Transcript Archived 2011-10-03 at the Wayback Machine (1999). Interview with Scholastic students. Scholastic Inc. Retrieved 2011-12-17.
  3. About the author (1973). The Foundling and Other Tales of Prydain, Henry Holt and Company, first edition, page 88.
  4. James S. Jacobs; Michael O. Tunnell (1 January 1991). Lloyd Alexander: A Bio-bibliography. Greenwood Press. ISBN 978-0-313-26586-0.
  5. The Black Cauldron, pp. 5, 15.
  6. Tunnell, Michael O. The Prydain Companion: A Reference Guide to Lloyd Alexander's Prydain Chronicles. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1989. The name "Madoc" or "Madawc" is associated with several characters in the Mabinogion. However, in a personal interview with Tunnell, Lloyd Alexander stated that in his novels, the name is merely a place name for Morgant's kingdom.
  7. Decades earlier, an owl and a stag had taken the farmer Coll by that route to recover his pig, the oracular Hen Wen. See the picture book Coll and His White Pig, also published in 1965.
  8. The Black Cauldron, p. 22.
  9. "The Foundling" tells of Dallben, raised from infancy to manhood by the witches. The Foundling and Other Tales from Prydain.
  10. Stewart, James B. (2005). DisneyWar (1st ed.). Simon & Schuster. pp. 68–70. ISBN 0-7432-6709-5.
  • Alexander, Lloyd (1999). The Black Cauldron. New York: Henry Holt and Company. ISBN 0-8050-6131-2.
  • Alexander, Lloyd (1999). The Foundling and Other Tales of Prydain. Enlarged edition. New York: Henry Holt and Company. ISBN 0-8050-6130-4.
  • Tuck, Donald H. (1974). The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy: a bibliographic survey of the fields of science fiction, fantasy and weird fiction through 1968. Volume 1: Who's Who, A-L. Chicago: Advent:Publishers. ISBN 0-911682-20-1.
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