David Bruce:Lloyd Alexander’s THE BOOK OF THREE: A Discussion Guide — Chapters 10-12

Chapter 10: The Sword Dyrnwyn

What do we learn about the sword Dyrnwyn in Chapter 10?

Dyrnwyn is the name of the sword that Eilonwy took from the dead king in the barrow under Spiral Castle.

We learn that it has a symbol of power on the scabbard.

We learn that Taran would like to draw the sword, but that Eilonwy won’t let him because of the symbol of power on the scabbard.

Also on the scabbard is an inscription in the Old Writing (106).

Eilonwy is not able to read all the writing on the scabbard — some of it has been scratched off. At first, Eilonwy is not able to make out the writing. She says, “I can almost make it out, but not quite, and there’s nothing more irritating. It’s like not finishing what you started out to say” (106). Fortunately, Eilonwy soon is able to read the writing.

We learn that only someone of royal blood can draw and use it. The writing on the scabbard says:

DRAW DYRNWYN, ONLY THOU OF ROYAL BLOOD,

TO RULE, TO STRIKE THE … (107)

“Royal blood” does not refer only to having royal relatives. Eilonwy says,

“Royal blood is just a way of translating; in the Old Writing, it didn’t mean only having royal relatives — anybody can have those. It meant — oh, I don’t know what you’d call it. Something very special. And it seems to me that if you have it, you don’t need to wonder whether you have it.” (108-109)

What is characteristic about Fflewddur Fflam’s speech?

The main characteristic of Fflewddur Fflam’s speech is exaggeration. (This is closely related to the behavior of his harp.)

He is a kind of bard — an unofficial bard — who exaggerates his exploits (according to him, he does this for purely dramatic effects).

He is also a king. He says he is king of a vast realm, but he is really king of a small and dreary realm.

He pretends to be able to read the writing on the scabbard, but he really can’t.

He says that he did well in the bardic exams, but he failed them.

He says that he has cut his way through walls of warriors, but that is another exaggeration, as the behavior of the harp shows.

Describe Fflewddur Fflam’s harp.

The harp has many strings, and they break whenever Fflewddur Flam exaggerates, as he so frequently does.

Fflewddur Flam says that he “might, ah, readjust the facts; purely for dramatic effect, you understand” (111). Every time he readjusts the facts, one or more strings on his harp break.

By the way, readjusting the facts is something that most or all writers do. A writer can tie up loose ends that might stay untied in real life. A little exaggeration can make a story better, so if you ever write an autobiographical essay, feel free to exaggerate (or lie) a little.

Fflewddur Flam says that he spends more time fixing the strings than playing. This seems to be true.

How did Fflewddur Fflam become a bard? Is he a good bard?

Actually, he is not a bard — at least an official bard — because he failed his bardic exams.

He is actually a king, but he dislikes being a king, so he became a bard.

Apparently, he is not a good bard because he failed his bardic exams and because Queen Achren put him in the dungeon because she did not like his playing.

The Chief Bard, Taliesin, gave him the harp, although Fflewddur Fflam is not so sure that he did him a favor by giving him the harp.

Is Taran sexist?

A sexist is usually a person who thinks that boys are better than girls. (A sexist can also be a person who thinks that girls are better than boys.)

The American Heritage College Dictionary of the English Language(Fourth Edition, 2002) defines “sexism” in this way:

  1. Discrimination based on gender, esp. against women.
  2. Attitudes, conditions, or behaviors that promote stereotyping of social roles based on gender.

Is Taran sexist? Yes. He doesn’t want Eilonwy to go with him to warn the warriors of Don, apparently because she is a girl.

He also talks about her to Fflewddur Fflam as “this girl” and “a girl” (114) — something that infuriates Eilonwy, as she prefers to be called by her own name. She says being called “a girl” and “this girl” is “like having your head in a sack” (114).

Eilonwy does show a lot of spirit in this chapter. She says that she “shall be conducted where I please!” (114). She also threatens Fflewddur Fflam with his own harp.

However, eventually Taran decides that there is safety in numbers and all three of them ought to travel together to warn the warriors of Don of the coming war.

Earlier, Taran told Eilonwy, “Instead of a sword, you should be carrying a doll” (109).

Discuss the relationship of Taran and Eilonwy in Chapter 10.

Their relationship in Chapter 10 is not so good. Taran displays some sexist traits, and Eilonwy becomes angry at him, as she so frequently will in this series of novels set in Prydain.

On the other hand, earlier, Eilonwy told Taran, “For an Assistant Pig-Keeper, I think you’re quite remarkable. I even think you’re the nicest person I’ve ever met in my whole life. It’s just that I’m forbidden to let you have the sword and that’s that” (109).

Still, when Taran doesn’t want her to go with him, Eilonwy says, “And if a certain Assistant Pig-Keeper — I won’t even mention hisname — thinks otherwise, he’ll be even more mistaken!” (115).

Discuss the theme of education in Chapter 10. How does Taran’s education progress (if it does)?

Taran should learn to refer to Eilonwy by her own name instead of calling her “this girl” or “a girl” (114).

Taran does learn to be in charge. He is the leader of this band, even though Fflewddur Fflam is apparently an adult and older than Taran. Fflewddur Fflam says that he will follow Taran because Taran is “acting for Lord Gwydion” (115).

Chapter 11: Flight Through the Hills

Is Taran a good leader in Chapter 11?

Taran is a good leader in Chapter 11.

One negative is that he has a hard time understanding Fflewddur Fflam’s scratched-on-the-ground map. However, he listens to the bard’s words and they make sense to him.

Taran chooses a path that seems safest. He does not want his band to go close to Annuvin or the Horned King.

Taran is the one who notices that the Cauldron-Born are following the band.

Taran is clearly the leader. He gives orders, and they are followed.

Taran takes care of Eilonwy. When she is tired, he puts her on the horse Melyngar.

Both Taran and Fflewddur Fflam give up their food for Eilonwy. (They give up Gurgi’s food, too — without consulting him.)

Taran refuses to kill Gurgi or to leave him behind. He is valuing Gurgi’s life highly, as all of the band could be captured and killed if they are slowed down enough by Gurgi. Still, if Taran errs, he errs on the side of mercy.

Taran does not take Gurgi’s share of the food when Gurgi offers it to him.

Taran fills Gwydion’s leather water flask, and he and Gurgi search for food.

What are the strengths and weaknesses of Taran’s band in Chapter 11?

For much of the chapter, Gurgi is a strength. Gurgi’s physical strength does not flag, and his matted hair keeps the insects off him. Gurgi finds food — a honeycomb. Gurgi is able to climb a tall tree and see that the Cauldron-Born are still following them. However, Gurgi becomes somewhat of a liability when he falls and injures his leg.

Eilonwy is somewhat weak. She is tired and eventually has to ride on Melyngar.

Fflewddur Fflam is not able to forage for food, although he claimed to be able to. He is more merciful than he lets on to be. When Taran asks if he would have left the injured Gurgi behind or cut off his head, Fflewddur Fflam says that he would — and a thick string on his harp breaks.

Taran is a good leader.

One enormous strength is that all the members of Taran’s band recognize that all of their lives are precious. No one gets left behind.

Discuss the relationship of Taran and Eilonwy in Chapter 11.

Taran takes good care of Eilonwy in Chapter 11.

Eilonwy is still taking care of the sword she got from the barrow. When Taran tries to take it from her (apparently so that she can rest better), she keeps it and tells him, “You never understand things the first time. […] But I imagine Assistant Pig-Keepers are all alike. I told you before you’re not to have it, and now I’ll tell you for the second time — or is it the third, or fourth? I must have lost count” (121).

Discuss the theme of education in Chapter 11. How does Taran’s education progress (if it does)?

Mainly Taran learns to value peace and prosperity. Being the leader of this band is a grave responsibility.

The narrator tells us what Taran is thinking:

In Caer Dallben, he had dreamed of being a hero. But dreaming, he had come to learn, was easy; and at Caer Dallben no lives depended on his judgment. He longed for Gwydion’s strength and guidance. His own, he feared, was not equal to his task. (119)

Taran and all the members of Taran’s band know that all of their lives are precious. No one gets left behind.

Chapter 12: The Wolves

Is Taran a good leader in Chapter 12?

Taran is brave, and he is willing to give up his life for others. He is willing to fight the Cauldron-Born with Fflewddur Fflam, knowing that they cannot win, but nevertheless he is willing to fight the Cauldron-Born and give his life so that Eilonwy and Gurgi have a chance at escaping.

Taran does what he can to take care of Gurgi. From Coll, he learned how to use some medicinal herbs, and he uses those medicinal herbs to take care of Gurgi.

Taran gives some praise to Eilonwy. Of course, she gets easily offended, and is soon offended again, but praising her is something good that Taran does.

Taran has the idea to give Melyngar her head so that the horse can find her way home.

What are the strengths and weaknesses of Taran’s band in Chapter 12?

Fflewddur Fflam is a great help as he knows the region and is able to tell Taran where they ought to go.

Eilonwy is brave and is willing to attempt to use magic against the Cauldron-Born, although her attempt fails.

At this point, Gurgi is very ill and unable to help.

What is your opinion of the end of Chapter 12? Is the reader likely to keep on reading?

Wolves have been following the band. Taran is afraid that the wolves are waiting for Gurgi to die so that they can eat him.

At the very end of Chapter 12, a wolf springs, apparently at Taran. The reader will definitely keep on reading.

Discuss the relationship of Taran and Eilonwy in Chapter 12.

The relationship is rocky. For the first time, Eilonwy refuses to speak to Taran, although she quickly speaks to him again. This is going to happen often in the Prydain Chronicles.

Clearly (in my opinion, and of course I know that Eilonwy and Taran will get married eventually), Eilonwy likes Taran and wants him to like her. She wants to be liked for herself and not for her magic, or for carrying swords and such.

Eilonwy praises Taran for his idea about letting Melyngar have his head so that the horse can find its way back home.

Eilonwy kicks Taran in the shins early in the chapter, while she is attempting to perform magic against the Cauldron-Born.

Taran realizes that Eilonwy has a sharp tongue.

Taran tells Fflewddur Fflam that he “can’t make sense out of that girl. […] Can you?” (130). The bard replies, “Never mind. […] We aren’t really expected to” (130).

Discuss the theme of education in Chapter 12. How does Taran’s education progress (if it does)?

Of course, Taran will never learn everything. Taran tells Fflewddur Fflam that he “can’t make sense out of that girl. […] Can you?” (130). The bard replies, “Never mind. […] We aren’t really expected to” (130).

One thing that Taran has known about before, but sees in action in Chapter 12 is that the Cauldron-Born cannot stay too long or too far away from Annuvin. A fight is about to break out, but the Cauldron-Born are forced to head back to Annuvin.

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