David Bruce: Lloyd Alexander’s THE BLACK CAULDRON: A Discussion Guide — Chapter 2

Chapter 2: The Naming of the Tasks

  • What are Gwydion’s goal and plan?

Prince Gwydion’s goal is to take the Black Cauldron away from Arawn so that he cannot use it to create more of the slave-warriors who are known as the Cauldron-Born. Because they are already dead, they cannot be killed.

The males at the council of men are brave. Prince Gwydion gives each person a chance to leave and not participate, but all stay.

The council of men is held at Caer Dallben, Prince Gwydion says, because “Dallben is the most powerful enchanter in Prydain, and here we are under his protection. Caer Dallben is the one place Arawn dares not attack, but it is also the most suitable to begin our journey to Annuvin” (19).

The warriors will leave Caer Dallben and go to the kingdom of Smoit, and then some of the warriors will go to the Forest of Idris. From there these warriors will go to Dark Gate, “the twin mountains guarding the southern approach to the Land of Death” (19). From there these warriors will go to the Land of Death and try to seize the Black Cauldron with the help of Doli’s ability to turn himself invisible.

  • Of whom do the three bands consist, and what are their tasks?

These are the three bands:

Band 1

Doli of the Fair Folk

Coll Son of Collfrewr

Fflewddur Fflam Son of Godo

Prince Gwydion

Six of King Morgant’s Best Warriors

Doli will turn himself invisible and scout the locations of the guards, and then all will storm the fortification and seize the Black Cauldron.

Band 2: Two Groups

  1. King Morgant and His Remaining Warriors

At Prince Gwydion’s signal, King Morgant and his remaining warriors will attack Dark Gate. This will cause confusion. It will also make some of Arawn’s warriors go to Dark Gate.

  1. King Smoit and His Warriors

They will not attack, but they will be near the Forest of Idris. If necessary, the other bands will take refuge at his stronghold.

Band 3

Adaon Son of Taliesin

Taran of Caer Dallben

Ellidyr Son of Pen-Llarcau

They will, Prince Gwydion says, “guard our pack animals, secure our retreat, and […] serve as the need demands” (22).

  • Compare and contrast Smoit and Morgant.


Both are good, brave warriors.

Both are kings and leaders.


Morgant has more control of his emotions than does Smoit. Smoit complains because he will not be participating in the attack, but will instead help in a retreat if necessary. He says about Morgant, “Let Morgant, that black-bearded, cold-blooded, slippery-scaled pike play rear guard” (21). We also read this: “Morgant gave no sign of having heard Smoit’s outburst” (21).

Morgant will attack Dark Gate, while Smoit will not directly attack the enemy.


Rear Guard:

According to Wikipedia, “A rearguard is that part of a military force that protects it from rear attack, either during an advance or withdrawal. The term can also be used [to] describe forces protecting lines of communication behind an army.” Wikipedia gives this as its source for this definition: Military and Associated Words, US Department of Defense, 2003.


A pike is a freshwater fish.

  • Compare and contrast Taran and Ellidyr.


Both are young boys.

Both have swords.

Because of their youth, the two will not fight in battle, but will instead guard the pack animals.

Both are on the same side and in the same band.

Both dislike the other.


Ellidyr has a bad kind of pride that makes him disagreeable, while Taran is likeable.

Ellidyr’s birth is noble. Taran’s heritage is uncertain.

Ellidyr knows who his father is. Taran does not know who his father is.

  • What do we learn about Ellidyr in Chapter 2?

Ellidyr has troubles in his life. Dallben tells Taran:

“He is the youngest son of old Pen-Llarcau in the northern lands; his elder brothers have inherited what little there was of family fortune, and even that is gone. Ellidyr has only his name and his sword […].” (24)

  • What are the powers of the sword that Dallben gives to Taran?

When Dallben gives Taran a sword, Taran asks what are its powers. Because Dallben is a sorcerer, this is a good question. However, Dallben has not given Taran an enchanted sword.

Dallben tells Taran, “My dear boy, this is a bit of metal hammered into a rather unattractive shape; it could better have been a pruning hook or a plow iron. Its powers? Like all weapons, only those held by him who wields it. What yours may be, I can in no wise say” (25).

Peace is preferable to war. Growing crops is preferable to killing human beings. However, at times a war must be fought. Some wars are fought for good reasons. In addition, what Prince Gwydion is planning is not a full-out war, but rather a raid designed to take a source of power away from an evil enemy.

  • Describe the relationship of Taran and Eilonwy.

Frequently, the relationship of Taran and Eilonwy is a little rocky. Clearly, Eilonwy likes Taran. Clearly, Taran often says the wrong thing to Eilonwy (but he seems to like her, too).

Taran asks Eilonwy to gird him with the sword.

This action is customary. The male warrior asks a female to gird him with his sword before setting out on a quest or journey.

Eilonwy is flattered when Taran asks her to gird him. Taran says to her, “Dallben gave me this! Gird it on me — I mean, if you please. Say you will. I want you to be the one to do it” (26).

Taran has done a lot correctly in his request of Eilonwy. He said, “Please” (26). He also said, “I want you to be the one to do it” (26).

However, Taran messes up a little later when he says that he asked her because “you’re the only girl in Caer Dallben” (26).

This is an insult to Eilonwy, although Taran did not mean it to be an insult, and she girds him only so that she can hear when happened in the council of men.

  • What is Eilonwy’s reaction to what Taran tells her about the council of men?

Eilonwy wants to be a part of the plan. She wishes to get ready and go with Taran. She also wishes to get a sword from Dallben.

However, Eilonwy is a young girl, and so none of the adult males is planning on her participating in the attack against Annuvin. Neither is Taran.

  • How is the theme of pride developed in Chapter 2?

Ellidyr’s birth is noble. He has a noble name. However, his pride makes him unlikeable and disagreeable.

We see that pride can have bad consequences. Because Ellidyr’s pride makes him disagreeable, he acts in a way that brings out the worst in other people. For example, his pride makes him and Taran quarrel. This is bad. They are on the same side, and people who are on the same side ought to be able to work together without quarreling. Adaon tells the quarreling boys, “We hold each other’s lives in our open hands, not in clenched fists” (23).

Taran also has some bad pride — enough to make him quarrel with Ellidyr. Dallben tells Taran, “You are an excellent pair of hotbloods [….] I have been trying to decide which of you is the more muddled. It is not easy [….] I shall have to meditate on it” (24).


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