David Bruce: Lloyd Alexander’s THE BLACK CAULDRON: A Discussion Guide — Chapters 13-14

Chapter 13: The Plan

  • Has Ellidyr been to the Marshes of Morva?

Ellidyr, who is referred to in this and the previous chapter, has not been to the Marshes of Morva.

In the previous chapter, Orddu said, “If he’d come across the Marshes, we’d have been bound to see him” (134).

Of course, this means that Ellidyr does not have the Black Cauldron. Eilonwy is grateful that Ellidyr does not have the Black Cauldron (140).

  • Why doesn’t Taran want the three enchantresses to have the Black Cauldron?

We can certainly understand why Taran does not want the three enchantresses to have it. They allowed Arawn to rent it, knowing that he would use it to create Cauldron-Born soldiers to fight for him. The three enchantresses know that Arawn is evil, but nevertheless they allowed him to use the Black Cauldron for the evil purpose for which it exists. If the three enchantresses allowed Arawn to use the Black Cauldron once, it is possible for them to let him use the Black Cauldron again. All he has to do is to offer a suitable reward.

  • What is Taran’s plan?

Taran is the leader of the band of heroes. He decides that the band of heroes must find the Black Cauldron and take it.

Taran and the rest of the band of heroes have horses, and they can use the horses to carry away the Black Cauldron.

  • Does Taran have a good plan?

The best answer is probably no, but it is difficult to see how he would be able to come up with a better plan.

The three enchantresses have a good view of the Marshes of Morva, as Fflewddur Fflam points out on p. 142. They are likely to see Taran and the rest of the band of heroes the following morning.

In addition, of course, the three enchantresses have a lot of power. They would make dangerous enemies.

  • Does Taran’s plan have an ethical problem?

Taran’s plan is to find and take the Black Cauldron. Because the three enchantresses own the Black Cauldron, this means stealing the Black Cauldron from them. Ordinarily, stealing is wrong, but Taran can justify the theft by saying that the theft will result in good for many people. If Taran and the rest of the band of heroes can get the Black Cauldron to Gwydion, they will be able to keep Arawn from using the Black Cauldron again. Taran can argue that when the consequences of an act are good, then the act is justified. Certainly, Taran wants the consequences of the theft of the Black Cauldron to be good.

Still, an ethical way to get possession of the Black Cauldron would be to trade something for it.

  • Could Adaon’s brooch help Taran and the rest of the band of heroes find the Black Cauldron?

One idea is for Taran to go to sleep quickly. That way, the brooch may lead him to dream about the Black Cauldron and thus impart knowledge to him.

However, Taran says that the dreams that he has already had about the Black Cauldron “are without meaning to me” (142). The dreams do not clearly impart knowledge, although they do impart knowledge.

  • Who finds the Black Cauldron?

Gurgi finds the Black Cauldron. He makes himself useful by getting straw for the band of heroes to use to make beds in the shed where the three enchantresses have told them they can stay. The shed is cold and drafty, and the straw will make warm beds.

  • Describe the Black Cauldron (144).

Taran recognizes that the cauldron that Gurgi has found is indeed the Black Cauldron.

Lloyd Alexander describes the Black Cauldron in a paragraph on p. 144:

It was squat and black, and half as tall as a man. Its ugly mouth gaped wide enough to hold a human body. The rim of the cauldron was crooked and battered, its sides dented and scarred; on its lips and on the curve of its belly lay dark brown flecks and stains that Taran knew were not rust. A long, thick handle was braced by a heavy bar; two heavy rings, like the links of a great chain, were set in either side. Though of iron, the cauldron seemed alive, grim and brooding with ancient evil. The empty mouth caught the chill breeze and a hushed muttering rose from the cauldron’s depths, like the lost voices of the tormented dead.

  • The Black Cauldron has “dark brown flecks and stains that Taran knew were not rust” (144). What are they?

Most likely, they are dried flecks of blood and bloodstains.

  • What is personification?

This is a definition of the word “personification”:

treating abstractions or inanimate objects as human, that is, giving them human attributes, powers, or feelings, eg, “nature wept” or “the wind whispered many truths to me.”

Source:

http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/lit_term.html

Date Downloaded: 4 July 2010

  • How does Lloyd Alexander use personification in his description of the Black Cauldron?

The “mouth” of the cauldron is personification, but the main use of personification is that “the cauldron seemed alive, grim and brooding with ancient evil” (144).

Things are not evil, although they can be used for evil. For example, a knife is not morally evil, although an evil human being can use a knife to hurt another human being. Of course, a good human being can accidentally hurt another human being with a knife. But also, of course, a knife can be used in a kitchen to prepare dinner, which is a good thing.

We also see personification in this sentence: “The empty mouth caught the chill breeze and a hushed muttering rose from the cauldron’s depths, like the lost voices of the tormented dead” (144)

  • What does Eilonwy say about the Black Cauldron (145)?

Eilonwy is aware of the evil of the Black Cauldron. Now that she knows its great evil, she believes that Taran was right to seek it instead of waiting to find Gwydion and seeking his help:

“It is full of death and suffering. I understand why Gwydion wants to destroy it.” She turned to Taran. “You were right to seek it without delay,” Eilonwy added with a shudder. “I’ll take back all the things I said. The Crochan must be destroyed as soon as possible.” (145)

In Chapter 7, Eilonwy had argued that seeking the Black Cauldron was a mistake; she believed that the best thing to do was to find Prince Gwydion (80). Now she says that she was wrong. The Black Cauldron is so evil that it must be destroyed quickly.

  • Where is the Black Cauldron hidden? Why is it hidden there?

The Black Cauldron is hidden under straw in an empty chicken coop (146).

Two possibilities exist for the Black Cauldron to be hidden there:

1) Fflewddur Fflam thinks that it is a clever hiding place: “They were very clever. They put it in one of the first places anybody would look, knowing quite well it was so easy nobody would ever think of looking there” (146).

2) Taran, however, wonders whether the three enchantresses “meant us to find it” (146).

  • What do we learn about the three enchantresses in Chapter 13?

Taran and the rest of the band of heroes spy on the three enchantresses that night.

The three enchantresses are busy carding wool, weaving, and spinning. They are also beautiful instead of the ugly hags that they appeared to be earlier.

  • What do we learn about the three enchantresses in Lloyd Alexander’s short story “The Foundling”?

In Lloyd Alexander’s short story “The Foundling,” Dallben becomes wise in part by swallowing a few drops of a wisdom potion that burnt his fingers. After he swallows the drops of potion, we read:

Now he understood that the leather bellows lying by the hearth commanded the four winds; the pail of water in the corner, the seas and oceans of the world. The earthen floor of the cottage held the roots of all plants and trees. The fire showed him the secrets of its flame, and how all things came to ashes. He gazed awestruck at the enchantresses, for such they were.

“The threads you spin, and measure, and cut off,” Dallben murmured, “these are no threads, but the lives of men. I know who you truly are.” (Foundling 19)

  • In ancient Greek mythology, who were the Fates?

In ancient Greek mythology, the Fates are three beings who determine the destiny of human beings:

1) Clotho spins the thread of life.

2) Lachesis measures the thread and determines how long a person’s life will be.

3) When Atropos cuts the thread of life, a person dies.

  • In which trap does the band of heroes fall?

When the three enchantresses seem to be asleep, the band of heroes goes to the empty chicken coop to steal the Black Cauldron. They plan to tie it with rope in between two horses and take it away.

However, when they try to lift the Black Cauldron, they find that their hands are stuck to it — they cannot pull away their hands from the Black Cauldron.

  • How does Chapter 13 end?

Chapter 13 ends with a cliffhanger.

Orddu arrives at the empty chicken coop, and Fflewddur Fflam cries out, “We’ll be toads for sure!” (150).

The reader is sure to keep on reading.

Chapter 14: The Price

  • Are the three enchantresses good or evil?

The words “good” and “evil” do not seem to apply to the three enchantresses. When Taran is angry at the three enchantresses, he tells them, “You are evil creatures!” (152); however, the three enchantresses deny that they are evil.

Orddu says, “Evil? Why, bless your little thumping hearts, we aren’t evil” (153). She explains what she means: “We’re neither good nor evil. We’re simply interested in things as they are” (153).

Certainly, the three enchantresses have shown themselves not to be good; after all, they allowed Arawn to use the Black Cauldron for evil purposes.

However, they have not been especially dangerous to Taran and the rest of the band of heroes, despite some threats to turn them into toads.

By the way, Orgoch, who seems to be the hungry one, seems to think that that they would make a good meal, although that is only hinted at here and there. For example, at the beginning of Chapter 14, we read this after the three enchantresses have captured the band of heroes:

“Don’t you think,” said Orgoch in a crocking whisper, “we should start the fire?”

Orddu turned to her. “Do be silent, Orgoch,” she cried. “What a dreadful thought. It’s much too early for breakfast.”

“Never too early,” muttered Orgoch. (151)

It seems best to call the three enchantresses amoral.

  • What does the word “amoral” mean?

This is one definition of the word “amoral”:

Lacking moral sensibility; not caring about right and wrong.

Source: http://www.thefreedictionary.com/amoral

Date Downloaded: 5 July 2010

  • Do the three enchantresses care?

Eilonwy tells the three enchantresses that they don’t care. In addition, she says that not caring is “worse than being evil” (153).

Orwen replies,

“Certainly we care, my dear,” Orwen said soothingly. “It’s that we don’t care in quite the same way as you, or rather care isn’t really a feeling we can have.” (153)

This reply supports the idea that the three enchantresses are amoral.

  • Is Nature concerned with morality?

Nature seems to be amoral. If a good person accidentally steps off a cliff, the good person will fall to the ground just as fast as a bad person will. If Nature were capable of morality, the good person would float gently to the ground. Of course, Nature is not a person and therefore is not concerned with morality.

The philosopher John Stuart Mill looked at what we can learn from natural theology (what we can learn about God by looking at Nature, which God created). According to Mill, the only justice that we can find in nature is that which Humankind has brought into existence. (To me, one of Humankind’s greatest inventions has been the legislated life — Humankind creates laws.) In Mill’s words:

There is no evidence whatever in Nature of divine justice, whatever standard of justice our ethical opinions may lead us to recognize. There is no shadow of justice in the general arrangements of Nature; and what imperfect realization it obtains in any human society (a most imperfect realization as yet) is the work of man himself, struggling upwards against immense natural difficulties, into civilization, and making to himself a second nature, far better and more unselfish than he was created with.

Note: The quotation by John Stuart Mill is from his Three Essays on Religion (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1875).

  • In what are the three enchantresses interested?

Orddu says, “We’re neither good nor evil. We’re simply interested in things as they are” (153).

  • Is being interested in things as they are a good thing?

In itself it is OK, but in many cases it would be better if this interest were combined with morality.

Many academics seek the truth in fields such as history and economics. This is a good thing. But if this interest were combined with wanting to learn about grievous errors so that the grievous errors can be avoided in the future, this can be beneficial to Humankind.

Physicians, of course, are interested in things as they are. For example, they seek the truth about an ill patient: What is making this person ill? This interest in things as they are, however, is combined with an interest in things as they should be. Once the physician finds out why a patient is ill, the physician wants to cure that patient and make him or her healthy again.

Scientists are interested in things as they are. Scientists often engage in pure research without thoughts of the consequences of that research. Sometimes, the research is used to create terrifying weapons such as nuclear bombs.

Being able to care the way that Taran and Eilonwy and the other members of the band of heroes care is a good thing.

  • Why are the three enchantresses now willing to part with the Black Cauldron?

Orddu explains why the three enchantresses are now willing to part with the Black Cauldron:

“The cauldron is useless — except for making Cauldron-Born. Arawn has spoiled it for anything else, as you might imagine.” (154)

Perhaps previously the Black Cauldron could have been used for a different — perhaps better — purpose, but no longer.

  • Orddu says, “Only what is worth earning is worth having” (155). Is this true?

What does Orddu mean? Her sentence means this:

It is worth having only if it is worth earning.

Here are two other ways of stating that:

If it is worth having, it is worth earning.

If it is not worth having, it is not worth earning.

For example:

If you want to have the abilities of a good musician, it is worth earning them by practicing.

If you want to have the knowledge of a good student, it is worth earning it by studying.

Are there any exceptions? Maybe not. Let’s consider the example of two boys who see a small object that has fallen through a grate into the area below. They are intrigued by the problem of how to get the small object out again. They work very hard, and eventually they get the small object out. They look over the small object, and then they throw it into a trashcan and go on their way.

Was the small object worth having? No. Did the two boys know that? Yes. What was worth having in this case? The knowledge that they had solved the problem of how to get the small object out again. They wanted to solve the problem, and they did solve the problem. The knowledge they wanted was worth having, and they worked hard to solve the problem.

Orddu’s statement seems true (can you think of a counterexample that would show that it is not true?), but also let us be aware that many things worth having are given freely, without our having to earn them. This would be shocking to Orddu, who says, “We never give anything” (155).

The unconditional love a mother has for her child is a good thing, and it is given freely, without being earned.

Believers believe that God has unconditional love for the beings He (or She) has created.

Many freely given gifts are worth having, although they are not earned. Still, love is something worth earning, although love is freely given.

In a way, Orddu sounds like a Ferengi. “Star Trek: The Experience” can be seen at the Las Vegas Hilton. Among other attractions are actors portraying characters from the various Star Trekseries. Many of the actors are very good, and they stay in character. For example, a famous Ferengi is Quark. When a fan yelled “Quark!” at an actor in a Ferengi costume, the actor sighed and said, “Billions of Ferengi in the Universe, and they [Hu-Mans] all think we are Quark!” The Ferengi are a notoriously acquisitive species, and Star Trekfan Kevin Wagner was shocked that an actor playing a Ferengi agreed to pose for free for a photograph with a fan. Therefore, Kevin quoted the 13th Rule of Acquisition to the Ferengi: “Anything worth doing is worth doing for money.” However, the actor playing the Ferengi knew his stuff: “Don’t quote the Rules of Acquisition to me, Hu-Man. Free publicity!”

Source of Star Trek story: Nikki Stafford, editor, Trekkers: True Stories by Fans for Fans,pp. 153-154. This story has been retold in my own words.

  • What are some things that the three enchantresses would like to have in exchange for the Black Cauldron?

The three enchantresses mention a number of things that they would like to have in exchange for the Black Cauldron:

1) The North Wind in a bag.

2) The South Wind in a bag.

3) Orddu suggests, “Give us — give us the nicest summer day you can remember!” (155).

By the way, in Homer’s Odyssey, Odysseus tries to sail home to his island, Ithaca. He lands on the island of Aeolus, God of the Winds, who gives him a gift: a bag containing all the winds that would blow him away from Ithaca. With all the winds tied in a bag, the only other winds are those that will blow his ship straight to Ithaca. Unfortunately, the members of his crew think that treasure is in the bag. They open it, and all the winds rush out and blow the ship away from Ithaca.

  • What things does the band of heroes offer in exchange for the Black Crochan?

Taran

Taran offers a number of things that are valuable to him in exchange for the Black Cauldron:

1) His sword, which Dallben gave him. Taran says that “it is the first that is truly mine” (156).

2) The horse Lluagor, which Adaon gave him. Taran calls her “a noble animal” (156).

3) When the witches do not seem interested in Lluagor, Taran offers his own horse: “Melynlas, a colt of Melyngar, Prince Gwydion’s own steed. None is faster or more surefooted. I treasure Melynlas beyond all others” (156).

4) Taran is about to offer the brooch Adaon gave to him, when Gurgi intervenes to make his offer for the Black Cauldron.

Gurgi

Gurgi values food, and his most valuable possession is the magic wallet that always contains food. He says to Orddu, “Take Gurgi’s own great treasure! Take bag of crunchings and munchings!” (157).

Again, the witches are not interested in making a trade.

Eilonwy

Eilonwy first offers the three enchantresses a ring that was carved by the Fair Folk, but again they are not interested in exchanging the Black Cauldron for what is offered to them.

Therefore, Eilonwy offers something of greater value to her:

“I do have something else I treasure,” Eilonwy went on. She reached into the folds of her cloak and brought out the golden sphere. “Here,” she said, turning it in her hands so that it shone with a bright glow. “It’s much better than just a light,” Eilonwy said. “You see things differently in it, clearer, somehow. It’s very useful.” (158)

Fflewddur Fflam

Again, the witches are not interested in making a trade, and so Fflewddur Fflam makes the witches an offer: his harp, which will provide music for the three enchantresses:

“The harp almost plays of itself,” Fflewddur continued. He put the beautifully curved instrument to his shoulder, barely touched the strings, and a long, lovely melody filled the air. “You see?” cried the bard. “Nothing to it!” (158)

Unfortunately, the three enchantresses can call birds to make music for them, so again they are not interested in making a trade.

  • What do we learn about the band of heroes from the things that they offer for the Black Cauldron?

We notice that all members of the band of heroes are willing to give up the thing that is most precious to them.

Taran has not explicitly said that he would trade the brooch he got from Adaon for the Black Cauldron, but he was about to make the trade when Gurgi interrupted. Also, of course, something interesting will happen in the next chapter.

Of course, Gurgi did not want Taran to give up the brooch, and neither did Eilonwy and Fflewddur Fflam. All of these people are good people because 1) they do not want Taran to have to give up the brooch, and 2) they are willing to give up their most precious possession so that they can gain possession of the Black Cauldron and destroy it (and allow Taran to keep the brooch).

All members of the band of heroes are willing to sacrifice the possession of most value to him or her for the greater good. The greater good in this case is the destruction of the Black Cauldron. Another great good is that Taran can keep the brooch — the band of heroes values wisdom.

  • How does Chapter 14 end?

No trade has been made at the end of Chapter 14:

“I’m terribly sorry, my chicks,” Orddu went on. “It does indeed seem you have nothing to interest us. Very well, we shall keep the Crochan and you shall be on your way.” (159)

The reader will keep reading to find out what happens next.

***

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