David Bruce: Lloyd Alexander’s THE BLACK CAULDRON: A Discussion Guide — Chapters 11-12

Chapter 11: The Cottage

  • Write short character analyses of the three enchantresses found in Chapter 11.

All Three Enchantresses

Obviously, all three enchantresses are female, and all three are enchantresses. In addition, all three seem to be short and plumb. However, Eilonwy will see them in a later chapter (Chapter 13), in which they will appear much different from the way they appear in this chapter.

The three enchantresses seem to want to be left alone. They prefer not to be spied on, and they think that the band of heroes is spying on them. A group of Huntsmen (different from the group of Huntsmen that were pursuing Taran and the rest of the band of heroes) definitely were spying — we know that they are trying to find the Black Cauldron — and so Orddu turned them into something.

At least one of the three enchantresses’ powers is the ability to tell when someone is lying, as Taran does when he gives false names for the rest of the band of heroes when he introduces them:

Orwen giggled and gave Orddu an affectionate nudge. “Listen to them,” she said. “They’re delightful when they lie.” (127)

Taran then stops lying and tells the three enchantresses the real names of himself and of the rest of the band of heroes.

In some ways, the three enchantresses are threatening; in some ways, the three enchantresses are comic.

Orddu

Orddu is the enchantress who first sees them and who threatens to turn them into toads and step on them.

We read about Orddu:

Facing him [Taran] was a short and rather plump little woman with a round, lumpy face and a pair of very sharp eyes. Her hair hung like a clump of discolored marsh weeds, bound with vines and ornaments with bejeweled pins that seemed about to lose themselves in the hopeless tangle. She wore a dark, shapeless, ungirt robe covered with patches and stains. Her feet were bare and exceptionally large.

Orddu is definitely an enchantress. She turns Taran’s sword into a snake, and back again into a sword.

Orddu seems fixated on toads. Turning people into toads seems to be a specialty of hers.

Orddu is a mixture of threat and non–threat. She threatens to turn the band of heroes into toads and then step on them, but then she tells Taran that “I wouldn’t dream of stepping on you. I couldn’t stand the squashiness” (122). Still, this is not especially reassuring. Orddu is not so much concerned about the band of heroes’ lives as she is about not wanting to feel the squashiness if she were to step on a hero who had been turned into a toad.

Orddu would like to have Eilonwy’s hair when she is not using it — as a toad, Eilonwy won’t need her hair (121). Orddu is afraid of losing things in her own disorderly hair.

Orddu (and the other enchantresses) have unusual knowledge such as knowing the number of twigs in a bird’s nest (121).

Orwen

Orwen wears a necklace. She thinks that Orddu is a little too fixated on toads (124).

Orgoch

Orgoch wears a hood. She defends Orddu’s fixation on toads, praising it because is uncomplicated (124). There is no need to think when you find someone spying on the cottage. Simply turn the spy into a toad. Problem solved.

None of the three enchantresses likes being Orgoch because, Orddu says, Orgoch has “such horrible indigestion. If you’d only pay more attention to what you take for your meals” (125).

Orgoch seems to be the hungry one. She often smacks her lips in this and other chapters:

  • Orgoch smacks her lips while saying. “I love toads” (124).
  • Orgoch smacks her lips while saying, “I love names” (127). She also says, “If they won’t give their right names […] then simply take them” (127). Apparently, they can take away names — and eat them.
  • Orgoch smacks her lips while saying, “I love babies” (131, Chapter 12).

We have hints that Orgoch would eat human beings. In Chapter 12, we find out that Orgoch would not have kept little Dallben, Orddu says, “in the usual sense” (132). None of this is explicit; it is only hinted at here and there. Also in Chapter 12, Orgoch did not want little Dallben, who had grown wise by swallowing a few drops of magic potion, to leave. Orddu says,

“Orgoch, by this time, was the one who wanted to keep him. In her own fashion, which I doubt he would have liked.”

“He would have been a sweet little thing,” murmured Orgoch. (133)

  • What is especially unusual about the three enchantresses?

Quite a lot is unusual about the three enchantresses; however, the most unusual thing about them is that they seem to take turns being Orddu, Orwen, and Orgoch. One enchantress will be Orgoch for a while, and then she will be Orddu for a while.

Whoever is Orddu gets to be in charge for as long as she is Orddu. Orddu says,

“I remember very distinctly, my dear,” replied the first enchantress, “but you were Orddu then. And when you’re being Orddu, you can do as you please. But I’m Orddu today, and what I say is …” (125)

In our world, we are who we are. We don’t become someone else for a while, unless we are acting — and even then, we are just pretending to be someone else. (On the other hand, one way to change yourself for the better is to act as if you were the person you want to be. If you want to be a good musician, do the things a good musician does: rehearse and play music. If you want to be a good student, act the way a good student acts: read, study, and when relevant, take notes.)

The three enchantresses argue over who gets to be Orddu. Orgoch says to Orddu,

“You always want to be Orddu. I’ve had to be Orgoch three times in a row, while you’ve only been Orgoch once.” (125)

Orgoch is also greedy (126) — another reason why none of the three enchantresses wants to be Orgoch.

  • What do the three enchantresses think about the Huntsmen?

The three enchantresses do not like the Huntsmen:

“Disgusting creatures, Huntsmen,” muttered Orgoch. “Nasty, hairy, vicious things. They turn my stomach.” (125)

They did something to the Huntsmen who were spying on the cottage. Apparently, they turned the Huntsmen into something, but not toads. Whichever enchantress was Orddu that day was not the Orddu who likes to turn enemies into toads (125).

Orwen does praise Taran for his intelligence:

“It was so clever of you,” she added, smiling at Taran, “to have the Huntsmen swallowed up in the bog, really quite well done.” (124)

  • Orgoch says, “Friends, enemies, it all comes to the same in the end” (126). Is this true?

No. Currently, a battle is going on between good and evil. The forces of Arawn are evil, and Prince Gwydion and the band of heroes are good. We definitely want good to win over evil.

Orgoch (and by extension the other two enchantresses) has a different way of looking at good and evil than we do.

  • What are the advantages and the disadvantages of being toads?

One advantage, Orddu points put, is that toads do not have to fear the Huntsmen (126).

One disadvantage, Orddu points out, is that toads do have to worry about their natural enemies who would love to eat them: “herons, kingfishers, and serpents” (127).

One disadvantage, of course, is that toads are small creatures that can be stepped on. Fflewddur Fflam — a hero — is willing to risk being turned into a toad to save his friends, but he does whisper to Taran, “[…] I beg you, do pay attention to where you tread” (124).

  • Are the three enchantresses omniscient (all-knowing)?

Note that the three enchantresses are not omniscient (all-knowing). They do not know who Taran is until he introduces himself truthfully.

Also, on p. 127 Orwen says that she has heard of a gurgi before, “but I never knew what they were” (127).

  • Why is it odd that only one Gurgi exists?

Except for such things as single-celled bacteria, and some other such oddities, offspring need two parents: one male and one female. This is certainly true of the children who will be reading The Black Cauldron.

By the way, syndicated columnist Connie Schultz remembers when she was in the 5th grade and her mother told her how babies are made. Connie, of course, was a baby once, and she had parents like other babies, and she shrieked at her mother, “WITH DAD?” When her father arrived home later, he noticed that Connie was behaving strangely, and so he asked, “What’s wrong with Connie?” Connie’s mother whispered to him, and he chuckled. Connie says, “[T]hat was the only time I got away with not speaking to my father at the dinner table.”

Source: Connie Schultz, “Parents, Just Ignore the Eye Rolling and Teach Your Kids About Sex.” Creators.com. 28 April 2010 <http://www.creators.com/liberal/connie-schultz/parents-just-ignore-the-eye-rolling-and-teach-your-kids-about-sex.html>.

  • What is your opinion of the ending of Chapter 11? Is the reader likely to continue reading?

The reader will definitely want to turn the page and keep on reading. It turns out that the three enchantresses know Dallben. Taran introduces himself as Taran, Assistant Pig-keeper of Caer Dallben, and we read:

“Dallben!” cried Orddu. “You poor lost chicken, why didn’t you say so in the first place? Tell me, how is dear little Dallben?” (128)

Chapter 12: Little Dallben

  • How do the three enchantresses treat the band of heroes after they learn that the heroes know Dallben?

The three enchantresses treat the band of heroes well after they learn that the band of heroes know Dallben.

The three enchantresses feed the band of heroes and answer most of their questions.

  • What magical knowledge does Eilonwy have in this chapter?

Taran is cautious. When the three enchantresses give the band of heroes food to eat, he looks questioningly at Eilonwy.

The girl guessed his thought. “Don’t be afraid to eat,” she said behind her hand. It’s perfectly all right, not the least bit poisonous or enchanted. I can tell. I learned how when I was staying with Queen Achren and learning to be a sorceress.” (130)

  • In literature, can food and drink be enchanted?

In Homer’s Odyssey, Odysseus and his men landed on the island of the sorceress Circe. Odysseus divided his men into two groups, and one group visited Circe, who turned them into pigs. First she gave them a drink with a potion in it. After they had drunk the potion, she used her wand to turn them into pigs.

Classics scholar Elizabeth Vandiver jokes that since Homeric society was a sexist and paternalistic society (much more so than our modern society), these were the “original male chauvinist pigs” (The Odyssey of Homer72).

Of course, the hero Odysseus is able to get Circe to turn the pigs back to men.

  • How do the three enchantresses react when they learn that Dallben has a beard?

We readers, of course, know that Dallben is old and has grown a beard.

The three enchantresses, however, seem to believe that Dallben has acquired a beard by finding it somewhere.

Of course, the three enchantresses knew Dallben when he was very little, so to them it would seem odd that Dallben has grown a beard.

  • How old is Dallben?

Dallben is 380 years old:

“Elderly?” burst out Fflewddur. “He’s every bit of three hundred and eighty years old! Coll himself told me.” (131)

  • What do we learn about Dallben in this chapter?

In Chapter 12, we learn quite a lot about Dallben’s early history:

  • The three enchantresses found Dallben floating in a wicker basket on the edge of the Marshes of Morva.
  • The three enchantresses gave Dallben his name.
  • The three enchantresses raised Dallben.
  • When Dallben acquired the wisdom of the three enchantresses, they wanted him to leave, but they gave him a choice of three gifts to take with him.
  • Do you know of any other heroes who were found floating in a basket?

Moses, one of the Old Testament patriarchs, was found floating in a basket made of bulrushes. The daughter of Pharaoh found him:

And when she [Moses’ mother] could hide him no longer she took for him a basket made of bulrushes, and daubed it with bitumen and pitch; and she put the child in it and placed it among the reeds at the river’s brink. And his sister stood at a distance, to know what would be done to him. Now the daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, and her maidens walked beside the river; she saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid to fetch it. When she opened it she saw the child; and lo, the babe was crying. She took pity on him and said, “This is one of the Hebrews’ children.” […] And the child grew, and she [Moses’ wet nurse — the woman who breastfed him for the Pharaoh’s daughter] brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son; and she named him Moses, for she said, “Because I drew him out of the water.” (Exodus 2:3-6,10 RSV; double quotation marks added)

As an adult, Moses led his people out of slavery in Egypt and to the Holy Land. Moses himself did not make it to the Holy Land.

  • How did Dallben acquire his wisdom?

Dallben acquired his wisdom in two ways:

  1. A magic potion.

The three enchantresses were making a potion — a recipe for wisdom — and Dallben was stirring the pot. Some of the hot potion splashed on his fingers, and to cool his fingers he put them in his mouth and swallowed some of the potion, which made him wise.

  1. The Book of Three.

In Lloyd Alexander’s title story in The Foundling and Other Tales of Prydain, we learn also that Dallben acquired wisdom by reading The Book of Three.

Of course, we can guess the title The Book of Threerefers to the three enchantresses.

  • How can we acquire wisdom?

Magic potions do not exist in our real world, although we may think that such medicines as penicillin come close to being magical.

We can acquire wisdom in a number of ways:

  1. Reading and studying.

One of the pleasures of life is reading, as any teacher will tell you. Sometimes, reading and studying can be hard work, but often they are pleasurable.

One of the great things about books is that they contain so much knowledge and wisdom. An author can spend a year or two writing a good book, and you can gain much of the author’s knowledge and wisdom in a few hours simply by reading that good book.

  1. Experiencing.

We learn from what we experience, including learning from our mistakes — and, of course, learning from the good things we do.

  1. Consulting wise people.

Some people are wise. It is wise to find out what wise people know, either from talking to them or from reading the books they write. (Wise people often write books. Books are a way of making available to other people one’s wisdom after one dies.)

  • Which three gifts did Dallben have his choice of? Which would you choose?

Dallben has his choice of these three gifts:

  1. A Harp.

If Dallben had chosen the harp, he could have been a bard — in fact, Orddu says, “he could have been the greatest bard in the world” (133).

Of course, we readers already know of another magic harp — the magic harp of Fflewddur Fflam. The harp’s strings break when Fflewddur Fflam exaggerates, as he so often does.

  1. A Sword.

If Dallben had chosen the sword, he could have been the Ruler of Prydain.

  1. The Book of Three.

By choosing The Book of Three, Dallben chose wisdom. He had learned much wisdom by swallowing the magic potion of the three enchantresses, but he learned more wisdom from reading The Book of Three.

  • How is Dallben’s choice similar to the Judgment of Paris?

The Judgment of Paris is part of the mythic background of Homer’s Iliadand Odyssey.

The parents of the great Greek warrior Achilles were Peleus, a mortal man, and Thetis, an immortal goddess. Many mortals and immortals were invited to attend the wedding, but Eris, the Goddess of Discord, is not invited. This makes sense — no one wants discord (arguing) at a wedding.

Eris shows up for the wedding anyway, and she tosses on a table a gold apple on which is written “For the Fairest,” which means “For the Most Beautiful Woman.”

No name is on the gold apple, but three goddesses claim it. Each goddess says that she is the fairest and the most beautiful.

These are the three goddesses who claim the gold apple:

Hera

Hera is the wife of Zeus, and she is a jealous wife. Zeus would like to keep on her good side.

Athena

Athena is the goddess of wisdom. She becomes the patron goddess of Athens, Greece. Athena is a favorite of Zeus, her father. Zeus would like to keep on her good side.

Aphrodite

Aphrodite is the goddess of love. She can make Zeus fall in love against his will. Zeus would like to keep on her good side.

The three goddesses want a beauty contest to be held to decide which of the three is the most beautiful, but Zeus is smart enough not to want to be the judge of the beauty contest. Whichever goddess he picks as the winner will be happy with him, but the other goddesses who lost the beauty contest will be angry at him.

(By the way, Athens, Ohio, lawyer Thomas Hodson once judged a beauty contest featuring 25 cute child contestants. He was running in an election to choose the municipal court judge, and he thought that judging the contest would be a good way to win votes. Very quickly, he decided never to judge a children’s beauty contest again. He figured out that he had won two votes — the votes of the parents of the child who won the contest. Unfortunately, he also figured out that he had lost 48 votes — the votes of the parents of the children who lost.)

Because Zeus does not want to judge the divine beauty contest, Zeus lets a mortal man pick the winner of the divine beauty contest. That man is Paris, Prince of Troy.

The three goddesses each offer Paris bribes if Paris will pick her as the winner. These are the bribes:

Hera

Hera offers Paris political power: several cities he can rule.

Athena

Athena offers Paris prowess in battle. Paris can become a mighty and feared warrior.

Aphrodite

Aphrodite offers Paris the most beautiful woman in the world to be his wife.

Paris chooses Aphrodite, who offered him the most beautiful woman in the world to be his wife.

The problem is that the most beautiful woman in the world is Helen, and she is already married. Paris visits Helen and her husband, and he runs away with Helen. (Paris is not an ethically good character in Homer’s Iliad.) This makes the husband angry, and he and an army come after Helen to get her back from Paris.

The war to get Helen back is, of course, the famous Trojan War.

  • What is the Black Crochan? How did the three enchantresses acquire it?

“Crochan” is another name for “cauldron.” The Black Crochan is the Black Cauldron that Taran and the rest of the band of heroes have been searching for.

The three enchantresses have always owned the Black Crochan, and they have it now:

“Of course it’s here,” replied Orddu. “Why not, since it was ours to begin with? And always has been!” (136)

  • How did Arawn get the Black Cauldron?

Apparently, Arawn paid for the use of the Black Cauldron. We don’t know what price he paid. Orddu says,

“Besides, Arawn paid dearly for the use of it, very dearly indeed, you can be sure. The details, my duckling, are of a private nature which does not concern you. In any case, the Crochan was not to be his forever.” (136)

  • Are the three enchantresses good?

The three enchantresses are not entirely good. (We find out that they don’t think the words “good” and “evil” apply to them.) The three enchantresses allowed Arawn to use the Black Cauldron although they knew he would use it for evil purposes. This shocks Eilonwy:

“But you couldn’t have given it to Arawn,” Eilonwy cried, “knowing what he meant to use it for!” (136)

In explanation of why the three enchantresses allowed Arawn to use the Black Cauldron, Orddu refers to destiny. Human beings have destinies, but so do black cauldrons. Arawn was destined to use the Black Cauldron.

Rather than being concerned with good and evil, the three enchantresses seem to be concerned with destiny.

  • How could the three enchantresses get the Black Crochan back from Arawn?

Arawn did not buy the Black Cauldron. He merely rented it, and he did not return it when he was supposed to. Therefore, the three enchantresses went looking for it, and they got it back.

Orddu does not say specifically what the three enchantresses did to get the Black Cauldron back, but she gives three different ways that they could have gotten it back:

Orddu smiled. “There are a number of ways, my curious sparrow. We could have flooded Annuvin and floated the cauldron out. We could have put all the guards to sleep. Or we could have turned ourselves into — well, no matter — let us say we could have used a variety of methods. In any case, the cauldron is here again.” (137)

  • How does Chapter 12 end?

The three enchantresses do not want to give up the Black Cauldron.

They will allow the band of heroes to stay overnight, but the following day the band of heroes is supposed to leave and go home without the Black Cauldron.

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