David Bruce: Lloyd Alexander’s THE CASTLE OF LLYR: A Discussion Guide — Chapter 1: Prince Rhun

Chapter 1: Prince Rhun

  • What do we learn from the very first paragraph of The Castle of Llyr?

This is the first paragraph of The Castle of Llyr:

Eilonwy of the red-gold hair, the Princess Eilonwy Daughter of Angharad Daughter of Regat of the Royal House of Llyr, was leaving Caer Dallben. Dallben himself had so ordered it; and though Taran’s heart was suddenly and strangely heavy, he knew there was no gainsaying the old enchanter’s words. (9)

The main thing that we learn is that Eilonwy will be leaving Caer Dallben, her home, where she has been living with her friends: Taran, Dallben, and Coll.

We also learn that Taran is upset by Eilonwy’s leaving. We can guess that the two will be apart.

Finally, we learn something about Eilonwy’s genealogy and heritage.

  • What are the genealogy and heritage of Princess Eilonwy?

We learn (or this is a reminder of what we have learned from previous books in the Prydain Chronicles) that Eilonwy is a princess and her mother was Angharad. We also learn that her grandmother was Regat. Eilonwy’s family is a royal family: the Royal House of Llyr. The castle of Llyr will be the ancestral home of her royal family.

Lloyd Alexander’s The Foundling and Other Storiesincludes a story about how Eilonwy’s mother and her father (Geraint, a commoner) met and married.

  • How many belongings does Princess Eilonwy have?

Princess Eilonwy has few belongings.

We read:

On the spring morning set for Eilonwy’s departure, Taran saddled the horses and led them from the stable. The Princess, looking desperately cheerful, had wrapped her few belongings in a small bundle slung from her shoulder. At her neck hung a fine chain and crescent moon of silver; on her finger she wore a ring of ancient craftsmanship; and in the fold of her cloak she carried another of her most prized possessions: the golden sphere that shone at her command with a light brighter than a flaming torch. (9)

Her belongings are few and will fit in a small bundle. Some of her most precious belongings are heirlooms: “a fine chain and crescent moon of silver” (9), which is an emblem of the House of Llyr, “a ring of ancient craftsmanship” (9), and “the golden sphere that shone at her command with a light brighter than a flaming torch” (9). This last item, of course, is what she calls her bauble.

Note: A bauble is an item of trifling worth, although Eilonwy values it highly, as I would guess most students (and adults) would.

  • How does Dallben say goodbye to Eilonwy?

Dallben is courteous, and he tells Eilonwy that she “will always have a place at Caer Dallben” (9-10). He also explains why Eilonwy needs to leave Caer Dallben for now.

  • Why is Princess Eilonwy being sent to the Isle of Mona?

In Chapter 1, we read:

Dallben, whose face was more careworn than usual and whose back was bowed as though under a heavy burden, embraced the girl at the cottage door. “You shall always have a place in Caer Dallben,” he said, “and a larger one in my heart. But, alas, raising a young lady is a mystery beyond even an enchanter’s skill. I have had,” he added with a quick smile, “difficulties enough raising an Assistant Pig-Keeper.

“I wish you a fair voyage to the Isle of Mona,” Dallben went on. “King Rhuddlum and Queen Teleria are kindly and gracious. They are eager to stand in your family’s stead and serve as your protectors, and from Queen Teleria you shall learn how a princess should behave.” (9-10)

Princess Eilonwy needs to learn to how to behave the way a princess should behave. Since Dallben cannot teach her that, she needs to go to the Isle of Mona to learn that from Queen Teleria.

A woman is needed to teach a girl things that the girl should know.

  • Princess Eilonwy is an interesting thinker. What is her reaction to being told that she needs to “learn how a princess should behave” (10)?

Eilonwy makes the point that because she is a young lady, she cannot act any other way than the way a young lady acts. This reminds me of this anecdote: Choreographer Bella Lewitzky is her own person. When Rose Eichenbaum was ready to take Ms. Lewitzky’s photograph for her book Masters of Movement: Portraits of America’s Great Choreographers, she asked her if she needed to fix her hair or put on lipstick. Ms. Lewitzky replied, “No, I’m fine as I am.” And when Ms. Eichenbaum told her to be herself for the photograph, she replied, “I don’t know how to be anyone else.”[1]

Dallben, of course, is saying something different. Eilonwy needs to learn to act the way a young lady or a princess ought to act. The way that we act and the way that we ought to act are sometimes different things. We may try to do the right thing, but instead do the wrong thing.

Eilonwy does not dress particularly well at this point. One thing she needs to do is to dress better.

  • What does Taran say at first about how he feels about Eilonwy’s leaving Caer Dallben?

Taran says a few things:

“She never stopped talking for a moment,” Taran said gloomily. “Now, at least, it will be quieter in Caer Dallben.”

“That it will,” said Coll.

“And less to worry about. She was always getting into one scrape or another.”

“That, too,” said Coll.

“It’s for the best,” Taran said. “Eilonwy is, after all, a Princess of Llyr. It’s not as if she were only an Assistant Pig-Keeper.” (11)

The first things that he says about Eilonwy are negative, but we soon find how he really feels.

  • Does Taran have a bit of an inferiority complex?

Note that Taran has a bit of an inferiority complex. He thinks of himself as “only an Assistant Pig-Keeper” (11).

One theme of The Castle of Llyris social status. Eilonwy is a princess. Taran, so far as we know, is a commoner. (Taran does not know his parents’ names.) We definitely know that he is an Assistant Pig-Keeper.

  • How does Taran feel about Eilonwy? What does he tell her about the way he feels?

Taran says, “I shall miss her” (12).

Unfortunately, Taran does not tell Eilonwy that even though Coll strongly hints that he should.

  • How will our heroes get to the Isle of Mona?

They will sail there. Coll will accompany Taran and Eilonwy as far as the ship. Then he will leave them. Taran will make sure that Eilonwy reaches the Isle of Mona safely. Then Taran is supposed to return to Caer Dallben.

Although I am referring to these characters as heroes, which they most definitely are, a better word to refer to them may be “companions.”

  • First impressions are important, although they can be misleading. What is our first impression of Prince Rhun?

This is what happens when Taran and Eilonwy first see Prince Rhun:

They cantered down the slope and dismounted at the water’s edge. Seeing them, the sailors ran a plank out from the vessel to the shore. No sooner had they done so than a young man clambered onto the plank and hastened with eager strides toward the companions. But he had taken only a few paces along the swaying board when he lost his footing, stumbled, and with a loud splash pitched headlong into the shallows. (13)

One word to describe Prince Rhun is “hapless,” which means luckless. We can say that it was bad luck for him to fall into the sea from the plank.

We also read:

Taran and Coll ran to help him, but the young man had already picked himself up and was awkwardly sloshing his way ashore. He was of Taran’s age, with a moon-round face, pale blue eyes, and straw-colored hair. He wore a sword and a small, richly ornamented dagger in a belt of silver links. His cloak and jacket, worked with threads of gold and silver, were now sopping wet; the stranger, however, appeared not the least dismayed either by his ducking or the sodden state of his garments. Instead, he grinned as cheerfully as if nothing whatever had befallen him. (13)

Other words to describe Prince Rhun are “awkward” and “cheerful.” Being cheerful is a good quality. He may have bad luck occasionally, but he does not let it affect his spirits. It is better, in general, to be a cheerful person than a sad person.

We also read:

“Hullo, hullo!” he called, waving a dripping hand. “Is that Princess Eilonwy I see? Of course! It must be!”

Without further ado, and without stopping even to wring out his cloak, he bowed so low that Taran feared the young man would lose his balance; then he straightened up and in a solemn voice declared: “On behalf of Rhuddlum Son of Rhudd and Teleria Daughter of Tannwen, King and Queen of the Isle of Mona, greetings to the Princess Eilonwy of the Royal House of Llyr, and to — well — to all the rest of you,” he added, blinking rapidly as a thought suddenly occurred to him. “I should have asked your names before I started.” (14)

Other words to describe Prince Rhun are “polite” and “friendly.” These are good things.

Chances are, Prince Rhun is undergoing puberty. Lots of children who are going through puberty go through an awkward stage. This may be annoying occasionally, but it is nothing to worry about seriously.

  • How does Coll take his leave of Eilonwy?

We read:

Coll embraced Eilonwy. “When we see you again,” he told her, “I doubt we shall recognize you. You shall be a fine Princess.”

“I want to be recognized!” Eilonwy cried. “I want to be me!”

“Never fear,” said Coll, winking. He turned to Taran. “And you, my boy, farewell. When you return, send Kaw ahead to tell me and I shall meet you at Avren harbor.” (15)

Coll obviously is fond of Eilonwy. He is complimentary when he says that she “shall be a fine Princess” (15). The words “I doubt we shall recognize you” (15) are a social pleasantry not meant to be taken seriously, although Eilonwy does take them seriously.

  • Is Prince Rhun a good leader on his ship? How do you know?

Prince Rhun’s awkwardness is on display while he is on the ship. He nearly drops his sword into the sea, but fortunately Taran catches it (16). When Prince Rhun tries to steer the ship, he is unable to.

We read:

Although the Prince made no further attempt to steer the vessel, he climbed atop the platform where he called out orders to the crew.

“Lash up the sail!” Rhun shouted happily. “Steady the helm!” No seaman himself, Taran nevertheless realized the sail was already tightly lashed and the craft was moving unwaveringly through the water; and he very shortly became aware that the sailors were quietly going about their task of keeping the ship on course without paying any heed whatever to the Prince. (17)

Of course, Prince Rhun’s sailors ignore his orders and go about doing their job competently.

Did you know that some guide dogs do much the same thing? Here is an example:

Jessica Stam, legally blind and aged 25 in July 2005, owes her life to her guide dog, Joan, a two-year-old yellow Labrador retriever, who engaged in what is called “intelligent disobedience,” which is disobeying the owner when there is a good reason for disobeying the owner. Jessica and Joan were walking together when Joan suddenly stopped even though Jessica wanted to continue walking forward. Just then a car came down a driveway. Jessica said, “The woman didn’t see us. She said, ‘Oh, my God, I am so sorry.’ Joan saved my life. With just my cane, I would have been road kill.” Jessica, who lives in Eustis, Florida, is grateful to have Joan. She said, “There’s so much I can do now that I couldn’t do before. I was always nervous even when I would go to the grocery store. I would knock over displays. Joan stops and goes around it. She stops for obstacles. She looks to see what’s there.” The guide dog also has another advantage for Jessica, who said, “The general public is much more sensitive to a handicap when you have a guide dog. With my cane, most people would avoid me. I hated it. I felt self-conscious. There’s nothing I can’t do now, except drive. I really have that much self-confidence.” She added, “Before, I used my cane, and now it’s so much different. It’s so much easier to have my dog. Joan is just perfect. She is my miracle.”[2]

Here is an example of someone declining (in a nice way) to work with a leader:

Violinist Bronislav Huberman would not rehearse with conductor Pierre Monteux. Just before a rehearsal, he would send Mr. Monteux a telegram saying, “You know it, I know it, the orchestra knows it; I will see you at the concert!” Actually, Mr. Huberman was correct. He, Mr. Monteux, and the orchestra had worked together so much that they knew the music they would perform together, and so the concerts always went well.[3]

However, personally I think it’s a good idea to rehearse with the orchestra and the conductor.

  • What does Taran think of Prince Rhun?

Taran’s opinion of Prince Rhun is harsh:

“Prince of Mona indeed!” he muttered. “He’s no more than a — a princeling, a clumsy, muddle-headed baby. Commanding the voyage? If the sailors listened to him, we’d be aground in no time. I’ve never sailed a ship, but I’ve no doubt I could do it better than he. I’ve never seen anyone so feckless.” (17-18)

Dictionary.com gives two main meanings for “feckless”:

1) “ineffective; incompetent; futile”

2.“having no sense of responsibility; indifferent; lazy”

Source: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/feckless

Date Accessed: 1 October 2011

Of these, Taran has the first meaning in mind. We have no indication that Prince Rhun has no sense of responsibility or is indifferent or is lazy.

Taran looks at Prince Rhun’s deeds when he judges him. Taran is looking at the consequences of Prince Rhun’s actions, which can be annoying.

However, Taran considers Eilonwy to be annoying at times. And Taran frequently annoys Eilonwy; those are the times when she decides not to speak to him — for a while.

Of course, Eilonwy is charming as well as occasionally annoying.

  • What does Eilonwy think of Prince Rhun?

We read:

“Feckless?” answered Eilonwy. “He does often seem a little dense. But I’m sure he means well, and I’ve a feeling he has a good heart. In fact, I think he’s rather nice.” (18)

Eilonwy’s feelings about Prince Rhun are more positive than Taran’s. She considers his character and his motives.

  • How important is it to be born well?

We read:

“An Assistant Pig-Keeper,” Taran snapped. “Yes, that’s to be my lot in life. I was born to be one, just as the Princeling of Mona was born to his rank. He’s a king’s son and I — I don’t even know the names of my parents.”

“Well,” said Eilonwy, “you can’t blame Rhun for being born. I mean, you could, but it wouldn’t help matters. It’s like kicking a rock with your bare foot.”

Taran snorted. “I daresay that’s his father’s sword he’s got on, and I daresay he’s never drawn it except to frighten a rabbit. At least I’ve earned the right to wear mine. Yet he still calls himself a prince. Does his birth make him worthy of his rank? As worthy as Gwydion Son of Don?”

“Prince Gwydion’s the greatest warrior in Prydain,” Eilonwy replied. “You can’t expect everyone to be like him. And it seems to me that if an Assistant Pig-Keeper does the best he can, and a prince does the best he can, there’s no difference between them.” (18-19)

Being born a King’s son would be nice, of course, but what is more important is what you do. No one can pick his or own parents, but everyone can choose whether to be a good person or a bad person. All of us should try our best to be a good person. And if any of us happen to be born a prince or a princess, we should try to a good prince or a good princess. And if any of us should be an Assistant Pig-Keeper, we should try to be a good Assistant Pig-Keeper as well as a good person in other ways, such as being a good friend.

  • What do we learn about Eilonwy’s bauble?

We read:

Eilonwy took out the golden sphere. In her hands it began to glow and its rays shimmered over the black water.

“I say, what’s that?” cried Prince Rhun, who had clambered down from his platform.

“It’s my bauble,” said Eilonwy. “I always carry it with me. You never can tell when it will come in handy.”

“Amazing!” exclaimed the Prince. “I’ve never seen anything like it in my life.” He examined the golden ball carefully, but as he held it in his hand the light winked out. Rhun looked up in dismay. “I’m afraid I’ve broken it.”

“No,” Eilonwy assured him, “it’s just that it doesn’t work for everyone.” (20)

This will be important later. Eilonwy’s bauble always works for her, but it does not work for everyone. In other words, occasionally someone else can get Eilonwy’s bauble to glow and cast light. At the moment, the bauble will not work for Prince Rhun.

  • What does Taran dream at the end of Chapter 1? Why do you suppose he dreamed that?

We read, “Taran, already vexed beyond endurance, stretched out on the deck as far as possible from the slumbering Prince. When Taran slept at last, he dreamed the companions had never left Caer Dallben” (20).

Taran, I believe, would like to be at Caer Dallben with Eilonwy and to have never heard of Prince Rhun.

  • What are Prince’s Rhun’s bad points?

Prince Rhun is awkward and ineffective.

  • What are Prince Rhun’s good points?

Prince Rhun is polite and cheerful. If Eilonwy is correct, he has a good heart and is nice.

[1]Source: Rose Eichenbaum, Masters of Movement: Portraits of America’s Great Choreographers, p. 31.

[2]Source: Rosalind Jennings, “Guide dog a ‘miracle’ for owner: Jessica Stam’s Labrador retriever, Joan, protects the legally blind woman from danger while also making her more approachable to strangers.” Orlando Sentinel(FL). 29 July 2005 <http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/2005-07-29/news/LGUIDEDOG29_1_jessica-stam-guide-dogs-joan>.

[3]Source: Doris G. Monteux, It’s All in the Music, pp. 145-146.

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