David Bruce: Lloyd Alexander’s THE CASTLE OF LLYR: A Discussion Guide — Chapter 8: The Harp of Fflewddur

Chapter 8: The Harp of Fflewddur

  • How does Fflewddur Fflam show that he is a hero?

Fflewddur Fflam is a hero. He risks his life in order to help others. By staying with Llyan, he allows Taran, Gurgi, and Prince Rhun to escape. Fflewddur Fflam must be frightened to stay with Llyan, but it is good to allow the others to escape.

One characteristic of a hero is a concern for other people.

Another characteristic of a hero is that he or she (I am using the word “hero” to refer to both sexes) is willing to risk his or her life to help someone else.

Of course, Fflewddur Fflam must be hoping to find a way to escape.

  • How does Fflewddur Fflam persuade Taran to leave with Gurgi and Prince Rhun?

Fflewddur Fflam says the right thing. He reassures Taran and the other companions that he will find a way to escape, somehow.

We read:

“Fly from here!” urged the bard, never ceasing to pluck his harp strings. “Begone! I’ve no idea how long she’ll want to listen — or how long I can keep playing!”

“There must be another way,” Taran cried. “We can’t leave you.”

“I like it no more than you do,” replied the bard. “But this is your chance. You must take it now.” Taran hesitated. Fflewddur’s face was grim and drawn, and he seemed already weary.

“Begone!” Fflewddur repeated. “I’ll play as long as I can. By then, if she’s decided not to gobble me, she may go out hunting. Don’t worry. If the harp fails, I’ll think of something else.” (85)

  • Why does Taran leave Fflewddur Fflam with Llyan?

Taran has things that are important to do. One important thing is to quickly find Eilonwy. Another important thing is to keep Prince Rhun safe. We remember that Taran has taken oaths to take care of Eilonwy and of Prince Rhun.

In addition, we should remember that Fflewddur Fflam is an adult, while Taran seems to be barely into puberty. Fflewddur Fflam is a King, although Taran is the leader of the companions.

Taran is considering consequences here. When we want to decide what we ought to do, thinking about the consequences of our actions is a good thing to do.

Suppose the worst thing possible. Suppose that Llyan is a killer cat. It is better for three — Taran, Prince Rhun, and Gurgi — to escape than for all four, including Fflewddur Fflam, to be killed by Llyan.

However, Taran has had some hints that Llyan may not be as dangerous as she at first appeared to be. When Fflewddur Fflam is playing his harp, she purrs. Cats don’t purr when they are fighting or when they are hunting. In Chapter 7, we read that she purrs and she smiles:

Llyan folded her paws under her deep, speckled chest and began making a sound like a swarm of droning bees. Her mouth curved in a smile and the tip of her tail moved gently to the music. (84)

Despite these hints that Llyan may not be dangerous, Taran is still “Sick at heart” because he must leave Fflewddur Fflam (85).

Taran allows Prince Rhun, then Gurgi, to leave first. Then Fflewddur Fflam makes him leave:

“Out, out!” commanded Fflewddur. “I shall find you as soon as I can. Did I not promise you a new song? You shall hear it from my own lips. Until then — farewell!”

Fflewddur’s tone and glance left no room for question. Taran flung himself past the stones. In another instant he was free of the hut. (86)

  • Who is the weakest among Taran and his companions: Taran, Fflewddur Fflam, Gurgi, and Prince Rhun?

Prince Rhun is the weakest, as is shown by his inability to run far. Of course, Fflewddur Fflam is not present at the moment, but he will be able to run far. He does sweat from the exertion, as we will see later.

We read:

As Taran feared, the horses had broken their tethers and fled at the sight of Llyan. Gurgi and Prince Rhun had crossed the clearing and vanished into the forest. Racing at top speed, Taran soon caught up with them. Rhun’s pace had already begun to flag, his breathing was labored, and he looked as though his legs might give way at any moment. Taran and Gurgi caught the staggering Prince and bore him along as fast as they could.

For some while, the three struggled through the underbrush. The forest had begun to grow sparser and Taran caught sight of a broad meadow. At the edge of the flatland, he halted. Prince Rhun, he knew, had reached the end of his strength and he hoped only that they were a safe distance from Llyan. (86-87)

  • Horses are important when traveling Prydain. Where are the horses of Taran and his companions?

We read that the horses broke their tethers and ran away because they were afraid of Llyan.

This means that Taran and the companions are without horses. They are on foot. This is a disadvantage because they could go further and faster on horses than on foot.

  • Is Prince Rhun aware of his weaknesses? Is this a good thing?

Prince Rhun is aware of his weaknesses. He has known for some time that he is clumsy.

However, he has the desire to do better. He knows that he is a Prince, and he wishes to be worthy of being a Prince. After all, someday he will be King. He can be a good King or a bad King, and he wishes to be a good King.

Because he is aware of his weaknesses, he can do something about them.

We read:

“I can guess what you’re thinking,” Rhun said in a low voice. “If it hadn’t been for me, you wouldn’t be in this plight. And I’m afraid you’re right. It’s my fault things turned out as they did. I can only ask your forgiveness. I’m not the cleverest person in the world,” Rhun added, smiling sadly. “Even my old nurse used to say I was all thumbs. But I hate being a blunderer. It’s not what people expect of a Prince. I didn’t ask to be born into the Royal House, that at least wasn’t my doing. But, since I was, I — I want very much to be worthy of it.” (87)

  • Prince Rhun thinks that he is clumsy. What can he do about being clumsy?

One thing he can do is simply to grow up. Puberty can be a time of clumsiness. When he passes through puberty, he will be less clumsy.

Another thing he can do is to engage in activities that will develop his coordination. For example, he could play sports — or take dance lessons.

  • Prince Rhun says that he is “not the cleverest person in the world” (87). This is not unusual since only one person is the cleverest person in the world. Of course, Prince simply means that he is not clever. What can Prince Rhun to become more clever?

Growing up helps because people become more clever with more life experience.

Another Prince Rhun can do is to study in school and to read.

  • Prince Rhun was born a Prince: an important title. But simply being born with a title does not mean that one is worthy to hold that title. To be the leader of a country (Prince Rhun will eventually be King Rhun), what qualities should one have?

A good King will care about the citizens. A good King will want his country to have a good economy with work available for people who want to work. A good King will want his country to have good schools, good roads, safe food and water, etc.

A good King will avoid war unless war is necessary.

A good King will have good administrative skills.

A good King will have good manners and good public-speaking skills and good diplomatic skills.

A good King will be positive and happy and influence the citizens to be positive and happy.

A good King (or Prince, or Assistant Pig-Keeper) must be (or become) a good man. Taran says, “For a man to be worthy of any rank, he must strive first to be a man” (88).

  • Does Prince Rhun know that his parents want him to be engaged to Princess Eilonwy?

Yes, he knows. Rumors have been flying around, and Prince Rhun has heard the rumors.

Prince Rhun would like to be the person who rescues Eilonwy. Of course, so would Taran.

  • What decision does Taran make?

A good leader must make good decisions.

Taran’s decision is to return to Dinas Rhydnant. This is not a decision that he wishes to make, but it is the right decision.

Taran would prefer to keep on trying to rescue Eilonwy, but since he and his companions have no horses, they will be unable to catch up with the other band seeking Eilonwy.

Note something good that Prince Rhun does. He shows bravery and a concern for Eilonwy:

“No, no!” Rhun cried. “I don’t care about the danger. I must find Eilonwy.” (89)

  • Why wouldn’t the Master of the Horse stop traveling so that Taran and the other companions could rejoin him? After all, Prince Rhun is the son of the King.

We are not told the answer, so we have to speculate:

1) Job #1 is to find Eilonwy.

2) The Master of the Horse knows that Prince Rhun and the others can fairly easily make it back home even if they have lost their horses — they are not far from home.

3) Perhaps sometimes people become separated in such pursuits.

4) Perhaps the Master of the Horse knows that Taran is a capable leader and has sworn to look after Prince Rhun. The King could have told the Master of the Horse that.

  • Earlier, Fflewddur Fflam assured Taran that he (Fflewddur Fflam) would be able to escape from Llyan. How did he accomplish his escape?

Fflewddur Fflam was able to escape from Llyan because Llyan went to sleep.

Apparently, Llyan had a full meal while hunting. The meal, plus Fflewddur Fflam’s music, plus being tired after a night of hunting made Llyan fall asleep.

Prince Rhun crouched in the ashes of the fireplace in the beginning of Chapter 7:

Prince Rhun, having tried vainly to climb up the chimney, crouched in the ashes of the hearth. (78)

Fflewddur Fflam followed the ashes that Prince Rhun left behind him as he ran, and he was able to catch up to Taran and the companions as they rested.

  • Does Prince Rhun’s weaknesses have any advantages?

Yes. Because Prince Rhun was tired, Taran and the companions rested. This allowed Fflewddur Fflam to catch up to them.

Because Prince Rhun fell off his horse and had to take refuge in the old hut, he found a book with what seem to be blank pages. That book will be important later.

When we make mistakes, sometimes the results can be good. If you drop some eggs, that can be a good thing if you like omelets.

  • Fflewddur Fflam is a hero because he made Taran and the others leave him alone with Llyan. Does he make a big deal out of being a hero?

No. He simply tells Taran and the companions how he escaped, and he eats some food that Gurgi gives him.

This is a characteristic of many, many heroes. They do something heroic, and then they are humble about what they did.

  • Lloyd Alexander is a master at ending chapters with a cliffhanger. Why do you suppose that he did not end the previous chapter with Fflewddur Fflam being left alone with Llyan?

It may have been too scary for his readers.

Also, it could make readers question Taran’s judgment in leaving Fflewddur Fflam.

  • What danger are Taran and his companions still in from Llyan?

When Llyan wakes, she can track Fflewddur Fflam. Because she is so big — “as tall as a horse but leaner and longer” (79) — she can easily catch up to him.

If she is angry when she catches up to him, she can easily harm him, Taran, and the other companions.

  • Lloyd Alexander is a master at putting a cliffhanger at the end of a chapter. How does Chapter 8 end?

Chapter 8 ends in this way:

Taran shook his head. He told the bard of the decision to return to Dinas Rhydnant.

“I suppose it’s the best thing to do,” Fflewddur reluctantly agreed. “Especially now, when Llyan may be prowling.” Taran scanned the hills for the easiest and safest path to follow. He caught his breath. A dark shape sped high above. It veered, circled, then drove directly toward him.

“It’s Kaw!” Taran ran ahead and held out his arms. The crow dropped swiftly and lighted on Taran’s outstretched wrist. The bird showed signs of grueling flight; his feathers were askew and he looked like a bundle of rags, but he clacked his beak and jabbered excitedly.

“Eilonwy!” Kaw croaked. “Eilonwy!” (91)

Of course, the reader remembers that Taran had sent Kaw off to find Eilonwy. Kaw has done that. The reader will keep on reading to find out what Taran and his companions will do now that Kaw has found Eilonwy.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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