I picked this up because I thought the kids would want to listen to it (and they didn’t have Book of Three) on our recent vacation. But, when we put it in, there was much complaining and whining. And a couple of the kids, after listening to the first disc, said they were lost and confused. I guess after Harry Potter, even the simplest of books are boring. Either that, or The Black Cauldron starts out too slow, and there are too many characters to keep straight. Which does make sense.
The plot is simply this: Taran is still the Assistant Pig Keeper at Caer Dallben, even though he’s fresh from his journey with Gwydion. He’s basically content (though he still longs to do things “men” do), but that changes when Gwydion shows up with a bunch of other lords and military men to hold a council. Their agenda: going after Arawn’s black cauldron and destroy it so that he doesn’t make any more of his undead cauldron born soldiers.
Sounds easy enough: go into Annuvin, get the cauldron, and get out. Except it isn’t that easy: someone has already come in and gotten the cauldron, and now it’s missing. So, the band — including Taran and his faithful friends, Fflewder Fflam (the reader actually said it “Flewdur Flam”! And here I was thinking it was some weird Welsh pronunciation), Princess Eilonwy, and Gurgi — splits up, and sets out looking for the cauldron.
Taran and his bunch get saddled with the most annoying character in the book: Ellidyr. He’s the worst kind of character: and annoying, proud, brat who thinks he’s too good for everything. I wanted to smack him whenever he came around.
Which brings me to the narration. I actually liked the was Langton read the book — he gave Eilonwy a slight Scottish accent, which suited her nicely (and she wasn’t terribly whiny, either), and he made other characters suitably menacing. And while I thought his Gurgi was off at the beginning, the way Langton portrayed him grew on me over the course of the book.
One more thing: as I listened to the story, it occurred to me just how much Alexander drew on Tolkein’s world to create this little series of books. It’s not just the similarities in names or the magic, but the whole feel of the book. The quest that Taran has to go on. The fact that he’s mostly reactive rather than proactive (much like Frodo). The Big Evil Bad Guy lurking in the background with the Lesser Evil Bad Guy that they have to deal with immediately. It’s not a bad thing that this book felt a lot like Lord of the Rings. It’s just an observation.
I remember these books being some of my favorites as a kid. And while I’m not sure I ever found them brilliant, this one, at least, is still a good, entertaining adventure tale.