David Bruce: Lloyd Alexander: THE BLACK CAULDRON: A Discussion Guide — Chapters 15-16

Chapter 15: The Black Crochan

  • What does Taran offer in exchange for the Black Crochan?

Taran offers the three enchantresses the brooch that Adaon gave him.

Eilonwy tries to stop him because she realizes how valuable the brooch is to him, but Taran insists on trading the brooch for the Black Cauldron.

  • What does Taran’s trading away the brooch tell us about Taran?

Each member of the band of heroes, including Taran, is willing to trade away the possession that he or she values most in order to get the Black Cauldron.

The other members of the team of heroes — Gurgi, Eilonwy, and Fflewddur Fflam — seem to be doing this mostly out of love and friendship for Taran, although they too are most likely concerned with the greater good, which is to gain possession of the Black Cauldron so that they can destroy it. They do not want Taran to have to trade away the brooch that Adaon gave him because of its power to bestow wisdom upon whoever wears it and because Taran values it so highly.

Here, Taran shows definitely that he is concerned for the greater good. Eilonwy does not want him to give up the possession he values most highly, but he insists on making the trade:

Eilonwy, realizing his intent, cried out in protest and caught his arm. Gently, Taran put her aside. (160)

  • What do we learn about the brooch?

We learn that the three enchantresses recognized the brooch immediately and knew it for what it was. Basically, the three enchantresses were toying with the band of heroes to see what they would offer for the Black Cauldron. The three enchantresses knew all along that they wanted the brooch.

We learn that the brooch cannot be stolen without breaking its power. To keep the brooch and its power intact as it passes from one person to another, the brooch must be willingly given.

We learn that the brooch, once it has been willingly given up, will not return again to the person who willingly gave it up.

We learn that Menwy the bard cast a spell on the brooch that gave it its power.

Orddu says,

“Like knowledge, truth, and love themselves, the clasp must be given willingly or its power is broken. And it is, indeed, filled with power. This, too, you must understand. For Menwy the bard cast a mighty spell on it and filled it with dreams, wisdom, and vision. With such a clasp, a duckling could win much glory and honor. Who can tell? He might rival all the heroes of Prydain, even Gwydion Prince of Don.” (161)

  • What happens when the band of heroes tries to destroy the Black Cauldron?

The band of heroes tries to destroy the Black Cauldron with heavy sledgehammers and iron bars, but they are unable to destroy it.

The three enchantresses know that the Black Cauldron cannot be destroyed in this manner, but they allow the band of heroes to try to destroy the Black Cauldron in this manner.

Sometimes, the three enchantresses do not tell all that they know. For example, they did not tell Taran that they recognized immediately the power in the brooch that Adaon gave him.

  • How can the Black Crochan be destroyed?

One of the three enchantresses tells Taran how the Black Cauldron can be destroyed:

“A living person must climb into it,” Orddu said. “When he does, the Crochan will shatter. But,” she added, “there’s only one disagreeable thing about that, the poor duckling who climbs in will never climb out again alive.” (164)

This, of course, is a heavy price to pay, and many people are unwilling to pay it. We see that in the actions of Gurgi. He was about to climb into the Black Cauldron, but when he hears what will happen to a living person who climbs into it, he immediately “sprang from the cauldron and scuttled to a safe distance, where he furiously brandished his iron bar and shook his fist at the Crochan” (164).

  • What price must be paid to fight evil?

The price can be light or heavy.

The best way to fight evil is to do no evil. Simply do not bring evil into the world. This can be a very light price. Instead of littering, you simply drop your trash into a trashcan. The price you pay is light: You give up your “freedom” to throw litter on the ground.

At other times, the price can be heavy. Sometimes, people die trying to help other people. On September 11, 2001, aka 9-11, many firefighters and police officers died. For example:

Police captain Kathy Mazza responded on September 11, 2001, to the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, going to the burning North Tower and using her service revolver to shoot out glass doors and walls, thereby opening passageways to save lives. She died when the North Tower collapsed. By the way, in her office she displayed a photograph of her heart, which had been taken during open-heart surgery and which was proof, she said, that she had a heart despite her toughness.

Source of Kathy Mazza Story: “A Tribute to the Heroes of 9-11.” January. National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. 2010 Calendar. This story has been retold in my own words.

Of course, at times, people risk their lives to help other people, but they do not die. For example:

On September 11, 2001, terrorists attacked the World Trade Center in New York City. Very few survivors were found after the towers fell. However, a former Marine named Dave Karnes and a Marine named Sgt. Thomas (his other name is not known) found two survivors buried in the rubble: Port Authority police officers Will Jimeno and Sgt. John McLoughlin. Mr. Karnes was an accountant working for Deloitte Touche in Wilton, Connecticut. When he heard about the attack on the World Trade Center, he got a military haircut, put on an old uniform, loaded his car with gear, and drove to the site. Police saw his military uniform and his gear and waved him on to the site, where he met Sgt. Thomas and together they started searching the rubble. Rescue workers had been ordered to stay away from the rubble because it was unstable and very dangerous, but the two men kept searching, yelling for survivors to cry out or to tap something to make noise. Finally, they heard a cry and they discovered two survivors. Sgt. Thomas looked for help, and Mr. Karnes called his wife on his cell phone, reasoning that she could call the New York City police and get help to dig the two survivors out. Soon, help arrived in the form of Chuck Sereika, a former paramedic with an expired license. Like Mr. Karnes, Mr. Sereika had put on his old uniform and come to the site. Scott Strauss and Paddy McGee, officers with the elite Emergency Service Unit of the NYPD, also quickly arrived. Digging Mr. Jimeno out of the rubble took three hours. Sgt. McLoughlin was buried deeper in the rubble, and digging him out took an additional six hours. Both men survived.

Source of Dave Karnes and Sgt. Thomas Story: Rebecca Liss, “An Unlikely Hero.” Slate. 10 Sept 2009 <http://www.slate.com/id/2227969/pagenum/all/#p2>. This is a reprint of an article that appeared a year after the terrorist attack. This story has been retold in my own words.

Of course, doing good deeds is often pleasurable in itself:

Comedians Jimmy Durante and Eddie Cantor were very giving of their time to good causes. On New Year’s Day of 1943, Mr. Durante met Mr. Cantor while taking a walk. “Eddie,” Mr. Durante said, “I’m just thinkin’. This must be a tough time for the guys over there in that hospital. Here it’s New Year’s Day, they’re sick, some of ’em have amputations. What do ya say we go over and entertain?” The two comedians rehearsed for a short time, then entertained at the hospital from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Afterward, Mr. Durante said hoarsely to Mr. Cantor, “Eddie, tell me, don’t a t’ing like dis make ya feel good?”

Source of Jimmy Durante and Eddie Cantor Story: Eddie Cantor, Take My Life, p. 59. This story has been retold in my own words.

For many more examples of good deeds, go to



and check out The Kindest People Who Do Good Deedsseries of books. Most of the volumes can be downloaded free of charge.

  • What is Taran’s plan?

Taran’s plan is to take the Black Cauldron to Dallben at Caer Dallben. That was Prince Gwydion’s original plan. As Taran says, “He [Dallben] alone has the wisdom to deal with the cauldron” (166).

The band of heroes ties with rope the Black Cauldron between the horses Lluagor and Melynlas. Taran and Fflewddur Fflam walk and steady the cauldron. One person is in front of the cauldron; the other is behind the cauldron.

  • Why can’t the Black Cauldron be sunk in quicksand?

Eilonwy makes a good point here: “By the time we found quicksand, we’d be sinking along with the Crochan” (167).

  • In what ways is Eilonwy wise?

Eilonwy is wise. She certainly shows intelligence in what she says about sinking the Black Cauldron in quicksand.

In addition, she has the ability to feel empathy. She feels what Taran is feeling. She recognizes that he mourns the loss of the brooch that Adaon gave him.

Eilonwy shows wisdom in what she says to Taran when they camp for the night:

“I realize it’s no consolation to you,” she said, “but if you look at it in one way, you didn’t give up a thing to the enchantresses, not really. You did exchange the clasp and everything that went with it. But, don’t you see, all those things came from the clasp itself; they weren’t inside of you.” (168)

Eilonwy also points out that Taran is “a perfectly marvelous” Assistant Pig-Keeper (168). After all, he has done something that he can be very proud of.

Eilonwy also knows when to leave Taran alone, which she does after telling him something he has done that he can be very proud of.

One of my students, Lindsey DeStefano, wrote an autobiographical essay titled “Ten Times,” in which she wrote about some wise things that her parents did during the bedtime ritual of Lindsey and her sister, Erin:

My mother would come up first. She would usually tell us a made-up story or read us a book. However, she would always leave the room with something positive or special that both of us had achieved that day that would make us feel good.


Erin and I were deathly afraid of monsters, especially under our beds and in our closets. My father, being the loving person that he is, decided to make a “monster spray” to keep away the monsters. The spray consisted of simply water. Of course Erin and I were unaware of this until much later in our lives. Erin and I made sure he sprayed every area of the room and he would, which would make us feel better. I still remember yelling at him to come back in the room because I thought he had missed a spot.

  • Of what can Taran be proud?

Taran did a very good deed when he traded the clasp for the Black Cauldron. Eilonwy tells him,

“But don’t forget,” added Eilonwy, “no matter what else happens, you won the cauldron for Gwydion and Dallben and all of us. That’s one thing no one can take away from you. Why, for that reason alone you have every reason to be proud.” (169)

  • How does Chapter 15 end?

Eilonwy has spoken well and wisely to Taran, who recognizes that she is right, but he still mourns the loss of the brooch Adaon gave him. Chapter 15 ends as Taran “buried his face in his hands and wept” (170).

Chapter 16: The River

  • What are gwythaints?

Gwythaints are dangerous and carnivorous birds that serve the forces of evil — at least usually. They have been trained by the evil Arawn in Annuvin to be his flying spies and messengers. In The Book of Three, Prince Gwydion tells Taran that the gwythaints are called “the Eyes of Annuvin” (45). He adds,

“The errand of the gwythaints is less to kill than to bring information. For generations they have been trained for this. Arawn understands their language and they are in his power from the moment they leave the egg.” (Book of Three, 46)

  • What danger do gwythaints pose to the band of heroes?

The gwythaints are servants of the evil Arawn, and they are searching for the Black Cauldron. Very likely, Arawn does not realize that the three enchantresses took the Black Cauldron.

Because Taran and the rest of the band of heroes are out in the open in the moors, they are exposed to the sight of the gwythaints should the gwythaints fly over them.

This is a definition of the word “moor”:

a tract of open, peaty, wasteland, often overgrown with heath, common in high latitudes and altitudes where drainage is poor; heath.

Source: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/moor

Date Downloaded: 8 July 2010

  • Because the band of heroes is exposed on the moors, what decision does Taran make?

Taran decides to take another route to Caer Dallben. It is longer, but it is less exposed to the sight of the gwythaints.

The major advantage is that this longer route lessens the chance of being sighted by the gwythaints. Of course, Taran and the rest of the band of heroes do not know what the gwythaints would do if they caught sight of the Black Cauldron. One possibility is that they could attack. Another possibility is that they would fly off to bring the news of the Black Cauldron’s location to Arawn.

The major disadvantage, of course, is that the new route is longer.

  • What problems do the band of heroes run into in the forest?

One problem is that the horses become exhausted. They have been bearing the weight of the Black Cauldron for a long time. Taran pats Melynlas, whose neck is lathered with sweat.

  • Is Taran a good leader in Chapter 16?

In some ways Taran is a good leader in Chapter 16. He has the idea of taking a less open — but longer — route to Caer Dallben.

Later, we will see that he is not a good leader when he talks about his pessimism. Still, in The Black Cauldron, overall he is an excellent leader.

Taran also has the idea of “making a sling out of branches and vines” (172). That way, the band of heroes can carry the Black Cauldron and let the horses rest for a while.

  • Does Taran need the brooch Adaon gave him in order to come up with good ideas?

No, he does not. Without the brooch, he came up with the idea of the change of route and the idea of making a sling.

Eilonwy tells him, “You’re doing amazingly well without Adaon’s brooch!” (172).

  • Why is Taran pessimistic?

The band of heroes carries the Black Cauldron, but it is heavy and their progress is slow. In fact, it seems as if the Black Cauldron is intentionally slowing their progress.

A good leader should remain publicly positive at all times, even if privately he is pessimistic, but Taran does not follow that rule of leadership. He is pessimistic, and he expresses his pessimism to the rest of the band of heroes:

“No use,” Taran gasped. “We’ll never get it through the forest. No sense trying.” (174)

After Eilonwy tells Taran that he sounds just like Gwystyl, we read,

“We are too few to carry such a burden,” Taran said hopelessly. “With another horse or another pair of hands there might be a chance. We are only deceiving ourselves if we think we can bring the Crochan to Caer Dallben.” (174)

By the way, in Virgil’s Aeneid, the hero Aeneas is a good leader. The private Aeneas sometimes despairs, but the public Aeneas (the one his followers see) is confident that things will work out well.

  • How does Eilonwy respond to Taran’s pessimism?

Eilonwy tells Taran something that I think is wise:

“That may be true,” Eilonwy sighed wearily. “But I don’t know what else we can do, except keep on deceiving ourselves. And perhaps by that time we’ll be home.” (174)

People can be overly optimistic, just as they can be overly pessimistic, but it is best, I believe, to err on the side of optimism. Sometimes, just like The Little Engine That Could, if you think you can do something, you can do something, as the following true story shows:

Marty Lyons played 11 years as a defensive tackle for the New York Jets, and he started the Marty Lyons Foundation, which grants last wishes to terminally ill children and children who have been diagnosed with a life-threatening condition, but the hero of this story is Rocky, his son, who was five years old when his mother had a bad car accident after her Ford pickup hit a pothole and she lost control and went off the road and down an incline. The pickup rolled over a number of times, and both of her shoulders were hurt, with the result that she could not raise or use her arms. In addition, she had so much blood in her eyes that she thought that she had gone blind. Rocky was OK. His mother says, “I think what kept Rocky safe was that he was asleep. He really didn’t fully awaken until the truck had completely stopped.” He was also safe because his mother had thrown her body over his. The pickup was upside down when it stopped rolling over, and she told Rocky to run away from the pickup — she did not know whether it would explode. Rocky got out of the pickup, and then he said, “I can see how to get you out of there — if you’ll just let me help you.” He got back inside the pickup, and he helped push her through the window. Then Rocky said, “We’ve got to get you up the hill.” Getting up the hill was tough for her because she could not use her arms, but Rocky kept pushing her. At one point, she even asked him not to be afraid but to look at her arms and see if she had two of them — she could not feel her left hand and she could not see. He looked and told her, “Yeah, you do.” She was in bad shape, and she told Rocky, “I don’t think I can do it.” Fortunately, Rocky’s favorite book when he was younger was The Little Engine That Could, and whenever Rocky thought that he couldn’t do something, she would tell him, “Rocky, think about that little train.” Now, it was Rocky telling her, “Mama, think about that train … I think I can … I think I can … I think I can ….” When they reached the top of the hill, a person in a car saw them and stopped and took them to a hospital. One year later, Rocky’s mother said, “Now, thanks to Rocky pushing me up that hill, I’m alive. They told me I’d never have full use of my arms again, but they were wrong. I’m doing fine.”

Source of Rocky Lyons: Neal Shusterman, Kid Heroes: True Stories of Rescuers, Survivors, and Achievers, pp. 14-19. According to Wikipedia,


which I accessed on 29 June 2010, Rocky is now a physician in Alabama. This story has been retold in my own words.

Of course, we must be aware of reality. Having a positive attitude does not mean that you can do just anything. When one of my former students was a little girl, she watched the Disney animated movie Peter Pana number of times and learned that in order to fly you need to have pixie dust and to think happy thoughts. She asked her mother if she had any pixie dust. Her mother did not know what her daughter was planning to do, so she said, “Sure,” and sprinkled some glitter on her young daughter. My former student went out to her porch, stood at the top of the stairs, thought happy thoughts, and launched herself into space. She ended up with a black eye and stopped believing in fairies.

  • What problems do the band of heroes run into at the river?

The band of heroes must cross the river. Many problems occur when they attempt to do that:

  1. Fflewddur Fflam breaks his arm.
  2. The Black Cauldron capsizes and is now in the river, firmly wedged between some rocks.

In the next chapter, we will see that another problem arises: Some gwythaints fly overhead, see the Black Cauldron, and fly away to tell Arawn where the Black Cauldron is located.

  • How much does Fflewddur Fflam value his harp?

Fflewddur Fflam is more worried about his harp than he is about his broken arm, and so we know how highly he values his harp. He says that “in any case, I have two arms. But only one harp!” (179). We also read that when he learns that the harp is OK, “The bard heaved an immense sigh of relief” and said, “Indeed, I feel better already” (179).

Of course, this shows just how much he valued what he was willing to give to the three enchantresses in Chapter 14 in exchange for the Black Cauldron.

  • What is your opinion of the ending of Chapter 16? Are the readers likely to continue reading?

Here we have another ending that is calculated to arouse the interest of the readers:

Behind [Taran] the bushes rustled. Taran spun around, his hand on his sword.

A figure stepped from the edge of the forest. (181)

The readers will keep on reading to answer these questions:

  1. Who is the mysterious figure?
  2. What will happen next?


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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