David Bruce: Lloyd Alexander’s THE BLACK CAULDRON: A Discussion Guide — Chapters 19-20, and Bibliography

Chapter 19: The War Lord

  • In Chapter 19, which good character has turned evil? Why?

As we certainly suspected at the end of Chapter 18, King Morgant has turned evil. Possibly, King Morgant could have had a good reason to disarm and tie up the band of heroes — he could have falsely heard that they had turned traitor — but no, it is King Morgant who has turned traitor.

  • What motivates King Morgant?

King Morgant is motivated by a desire for power. He wishes to surpass Arawn:

“What,” Taran cried, “will you set yourself to rival Arawn?”

“To rival him?” Morgant asked with a hard smile. “No. To surpass him. I know my worth, though I have chafed in the service of lesser men than I. Now I see the moment is ripe. There are few,” he continued haughtily, “who understand the uses of power. And few who dare use it when it is offered them.” (208)

Here are two definitions of the word “power”:

1) possession of controlling influence

2) one possessing or exercising power or influence or authority

Source: http://wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn?s=power

Date Downloaded: 12 July 2010

  • What motivates Ellidyr?

Ellidyr has been motivated by an excessive concern for glory and honor.

This is a definition of the word “glory”:

a state of high honor; “he valued glory above life itself”

Source: http://wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn?s=glory

Date Downloaded: 12 July 2010

This is a definition of the word “honor” (verb):

 (bestow honor or rewards upon) “Today we honor our soldiers”; “The scout was rewarded for courageous action”

Source: http://wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn?s=honor

Date Downloaded: 12 July 2010

This is a definition of the word “honor” (noun):

the state of being honored

Source: http://wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn?s=honor

Date Downloaded: 12 July 2010

  • What motivates Taran and the rest of the band of heroes?

Taran and the rest of the band of heroes are motivated by good. They want to do the right thing, even if they do not get credit (glory and honor and even power) for doing the right thing.

  • Compare and contrast the kinds of pride that King Morgant, Ellidyr, and the band of heroes have.

King Morgant has a kind of pride that makes him think that he is better than other people. On p. 208, he refers to “lesser men” — that is, he refers to men who are “lesser” than he is. Because he thinks that he is better than other people, he thinks that he can kill people and put their corpses in the Black Cauldron so that they will become “Cauldron-Born.” They will be slaves to his will, and he can use them to gain power for himself.

Ellidyr has a kind of pride that makes him desire honor and glory even when he has done nothing to deserve it. He also thinks that he is better than other people. Because he is “better” than the “pig-boy,” he can take the credit for gaining possession of the Black Cauldron away from Taran even though it is actually Taran and the rest of the band of heroes who gained possession of the Black Cauldron — Ellidyr, who could not even find the Marshes of Morva, had nothing to do with getting the Black Cauldron from the three enchantresses.

It is much better to realize that all people deserve a certain amount of respect and dignity. No one should think that they can treat people with less than the respect and dignity that people deserve simply because they are people. Even a criminal should be treated with a certain amount of respect and dignity. For example, we ought not to torture even a proven criminal.

Taran and the rest of the band of heroes have the right kind of pride, I think. They have proper pride. They know what they have accomplished and can take pride in it, even though other people may not know what they have accomplished. They place the greater good above their pride. This is proper pride.

  • What choice does King Morgant offer Taran?

King Morgant is aware that Taran has many good qualities — Prince Gwydion has spoken highly of Taran.

Therefore, King Morgant offers Taran a kind of bribe: If Taran swears allegiance to King Morgant, eventually Taran will become King Morgant’s war leader and be second only to King Morgant in Prydain (209).

  • How does Taran respond at first?

Taran responds with defiance:

“Judge me well,” Taran flung back, “and you would know I scorn to serve an evil traitor!” (209-210)

  • How does Taran try to trick King Morgant?

King Morgant tells Taran that if he refuses his offer to become King Morgant’s war leader, he will become the first person to be killed and put in the Black Cauldron to rise again as Cauldron-Born.

Taran replies with trickery:

“Give me to the cauldron, then!” Taran shouted. “Cast me in it now, even as I live!” (210

Of course, if Taran were cast alive in the Black Cauldron, the Black Cauldron would be destroyed. Taran would be killed, but the Black Cauldron could no longer be used to make Cauldron-Born.

This shows us something good about Taran. He is willing to die in order to prevent something evil from happening. Taran does not want King Morgant to produce Cauldron-Born and rule Prydain.

Taran is placing the greater good of the citizens of Prydain above the power he would have as King Morgant’s war leader.

However, King Morgant is aware that Taran is trying to trick him. King Morgant tells Taran,

“I, too, have been to the Marshes of Morva, long before the cauldron was taken from Annuvin. For I knew that sooner or later Gwydion must make this move against Arawn. And so I prepared myself. Did you pay a price for the Crochan? I, too, paid a price for a knowledge of its workings. I know how to destroy it, and I know how to make it yield a harvest of power.” (210)

This quotation demonstrates that Morgant is intelligent and has foresight and courage. Unfortunately, he is not using his intelligence and foresight and courage for good.

  • What choice does King Morgant give Taran?

King Morgant tells Taran that he must make a choice. Previously, King Morgant had told Taran that Taran would be the first to be killed and placed in the Black Cauldron, but now he says that the other members of the band of heroes will be killed and placed in the Black Cauldron to become Cauldron-Born, with Taran being the last:

“Yes,” said the war lord, “one by one your companions shall be slain and given to the Crochan. Who will it devour before you cry a halt? Will it be the bard? Or the shabby creature that serves you? Or the young Princess? They shall go before you, even as you watch. And, at the last, yourself.” (211)

  • What does Taran eventually decide to do?

Taran would like to find a way to escape, but he and the rest of the band of heroes struggle with their bonds, without result.

Therefore, Taran comes to a decision:

“I shall swear my allegiance to Morgant,” Taran went on. “He shall have my word, but shall not make me keep it. An oath given under threat of death cannot bind me. That way, at least, we may gain a little time.” (213)

Eilonwy does not think that plan will work, so she insists on continuing to try to escape. Eilonwy believes that Morgant will kill her, Fflewddur Fflam, and Gurgi, no matter what Taran says. King Morgant is evil, and he is willing to make a bargain and not keep his end of the bargain.

  • Why did Ellidyr steal the cauldron, according to Ellidyr?

Ellidyr tells Taran,

“I stole the cauldron out of pride, not evil. I swear to you, on whatever honor remains to me, I would not have used it. Yes, I would have taken your glory for my own. But I, too, would have borne the cauldron to Gwydion and offered it for destruction. Believe this of me.” (216)

Taran replies, “I believe you, Prince of Pen-Llarcau” (216).

  • Who is more evil: King Morgant or Ellidyr?

Both are capable of murder. Ellidyr would have killed Taran and the rest of the band of heroes in Chapter 17 in order to get the Black Cauldron. Fortunately, he did not murder anyone.

King Morgant is the more evil man, however. Not only is he capable of murdering people, but he is capable of using the Black Cauldron to create Cauldron-Born in order to gain power. He is as evil as Arawn.

Of course, the way we end our life is important. Do we end our life as a good person or as a bad person?

A good person can become a bad person, and a bad person can become a good person.

  • What is your opinion of the ending of Chapter 19? Is the reader likely to continue reading?

We read this:

A wind had risen, moaning through the trees and shaking the tent. The curtain blew back. Taran saw the warriors forming in ranks behind the cauldron. (216)

Apparently, the time has come for King Morgant to ask Taran what is his decision: to swear allegiance to Morgant or to watch his companions be murdered and placed in the Black Cauldron.

The reader is very likely to keep on reading.

Chapter 20: The Final Price

  • How does the band of heroes get free?

In the previous chapter, we read, “The curtain blew back” (216). However, in reading Chapter 20, we know that the curtain moved because Doli, who is invisible, entered the tent.

Doli, who complains because of the buzzing in his ears and whose ears are “tinged bright blue” (218), is able to free the band of heroes and Ellidyr.

Doli had come across Ellidyr before Morgant found him. He learned what had happened, and then he looked for Taran and the rest of the band of heroes.

  • How is the Black Cauldron destroyed?

Doli, at the request of Taran, frees Ellidyr.

Freed (from his physical bonds and from the bonds of his excessive pride), Ellidyr sacrifices himself in order to destroy the Black Cauldron. He fights his way to the Black Cauldron, and “with a cry, he flung himself into the Crochan’s gaping mouth” (221).

We read,

The Crochan shuddered like a living thing. In horror and dismay, Taran cried out again to Ellidyr. He fought his way toward the cauldron, but in another instant a sharp clap, louder than thunder, rang above the clearing. The leafless trees trembled to their roots; the branches writhed as if in agony. Then, while echoes ripped the air and a whirlwind screamed overhead, the cauldron split and shattered. The jagged shards fell away from the lifeless form of Ellidyr. (221)

Ellidyr ends his life as a good person and a hero.

  • In Chapter 20, which evil character has turned good? Why?

When Ellidyr was trying to murder Taran and the rest of the band of heroes in Chapter 17, he was certainly evil. Now, however, he has redeemed himself by sacrificing himself in order to destroy the Black Cauldron.

One theme of The Black Cauldronis a good man becoming bad, and a bad man becoming good. Ellidyr is the bad man who becomes good. King Morgant is the good man who becomes bad.

  • What does “redemption” mean?

Here are some definitions of the word “redemption”:

  • (theology) the act of delivering from sin or saving from evil
  • repayment of the principal amount of a debt or security at or before maturity (as when a corporation repurchases its own stock)
  • the act of purchasing back something previously sold

Source: wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn

Date Downloaded: 13 July 2010

Ellidyr has figuratively purchased back something that he had previously sold. He had figuratively sold his true honor (which he had gotten by using his great strength to get the Black Cauldron out of the river) for the false honor he sought by claiming to be the sole person who had gained possession of the Black Cauldron.

By giving up his life in order to destroy the Black Cauldron, Ellidyr has gained the true honor he had previously lost.

  • How does King Morgant die?

Smoit kills Morgant, who dies while bravely fighting. Morgant is evil, but he is capable of bravery:

Eyes unhooded and blazing, his teeth bared, Morgant fought savagely amid the shattered pieces of the cauldron, as though he sought defiantly to claim them. His sword had broken under the force of Smoit’s attack, yet he slashed and thrust again and again with the jagged blade, the grimace of hatred and arrogance frozen upon his features, his hand still clutching the bloodstained weapon even as he fell. (222)

Morgant ends his life as a traitor.

  • What happens to Ellidyr’s horse, Islimach?

Islimach deliberately commits suicide by jumping into a ravine and falling on the rocks below (222-223).

  • The philosopher Immanuel Kant wrote that the only thing that is good without qualification is a good will. What does that mean, and how does that apply to King Morgant?

Kant believed that the only thing that is good without qualification is a good will — that is, willing rightly, willing to do the right thing in every situation. According to Kant, having a good will is important even when one cannot accomplish anything. As you can see, this differs very much from utilitarianism, which states that unless an act has good consequences, it is not good.

According to Kant, even intelligence and courage are not good in themselves; they are good only when they are used in accordance with a good will. After all, a criminal with intelligence and courage is much more dangerous than a criminal who is a fool and a coward.

A famous quotation of Kant’s, as translated by Lewis White Beck, is this:

“Even if it should happen that, by a particularly unfortunate fate or by the niggardly provision of a stepmotherly nature, this will should be wholly lacking in power to accomplish its purpose, and if even the greatest effort should not avail it to achieve anything of its end, and if there remained only the good will (not as a mere wish but as the summoning of all the means of our power), it would sparkle like a jewel in its own right, as something that had its full worth in itself.”

We can see this in King Morgant. He has qualities such as courage, but he lacks a good will. Taran, however, has both courage and a good will. It is best that qualities such as courage be guided by a good will. We do not want criminals and traitors to be intelligent and brave.

Courage is good if it is used in the service of good; it is not good without that qualification. Intelligence is good if it is used in the service of good; it is not good without that qualification. Foresight is good if it is used in the service of good; it is not good without that qualification.

  • How does Gwydion judge Ellidyr and King Morgant?

Gwydion is a wise man. He helps build a barrow for King Morgant. He knows that King Morgant used to be good. He also knows that most of us are both good and evil. Therefore, he wishes King Morgant’s good qualities and good deeds to be remembered and honored:

“It is easy to judge evil unmixed,” replied Gwydion. “But, alas, in most of us good and bad are closely woven as the threads on a loom; greater wisdom than mine is needed for the judging.

“King Morgant served the Sons of Don long and well,” he went on. “Until the thirst for power parched his throat, he was a fearless and noble lord. In battle he saved my life more than once. These things are part of him and cannot be put aside or forgotten.

“And so I shall honor Morgant,” Gwydion said, “for what he used to be, and Ellidyr Prince of Pen-Llarcau for what he became.” (224)

  • What gift does Gwystyl give Taran?

Gwystyl gives Taran Kaw, the crow, as a gift. Gwystyl tells Taran about Kaw, “He’s taken quite a fancy to you. It’s just as well. I’m simply not up to keeping crows any more, not up to it at all” (226-227).

Kaw is in part a reward to Taran for his part in getting rid of the Black Cauldron. Gwystyl tells Taran, “We were uneasy with the Crochan knocking about here and there; one never knew what would happen” (226).

  • What price has Taran paid?

Taran tells Gwydion, “I see now the price I paid was the least of all, for the brooch was never truly mine. I wore it, but it was no part of me” (228).

Taran did give up the brooch, but he also realizes, as Gwydion says, that his companions in the band of heroes were ready to give up “all they valued; indeed, all they possessed” (228).

  • How can one become a bard and a hero?

Taran tells Gwydion about the brooch, “I am thankful I kept it as long as I did; at least I knew, for a little while, how a bard must feel and what it must be like to be a hero” (228).

Our real world does not have magic brooches, but it does have bards (of a sort) and heroes. Therefore, there must be another way to become a bard and a hero than wearing a magic brooch.

The way to become a bard is to act like a bard acts. What do bards do? They compose songs, make music, and sing. The ancient bards composed songs about heroes. These days, songs are more likely to be about love, but in some ways modern musicians and singers are like bards.

The way to become a hero is to act like a hero. Doing brave things makes doing brave things easier.

This is good advice: To become something, act as if you are already that thing:

  • If you want to be a good student, act the way a good student acts: read and study and when relevant, take notes in class.
  • If you want to be a good athlete, act the way a good athlete acts: Practice and compete.
  • If you want to be a good musician, act the way a good musician acts: Practice and play music.

Talent is important, but work and practice are also important.

  • Is Taran a hero?

Yes, and he is a hero because of his own actions, not because of the brooch that Adaon gave him. Gwydion tells Taran, “That is why your sacrifice was all the more important [….] You chose to be a hero not through enchantment but through your own manhood” (228).

  • What is the world — both the fantasy world of Prydain and our real world — like?

It is a mixture of good and evil.

Taran says, “Now I see it [‘the world of men’] filled with sorrow, with cruelty and treachery, with those who would destroy all around them” (228).

This is true enough, but it is only part of the truth. Gwydion says, “True, you have seen these things. But there are equal parts of love and joy. Think of Adaon and believe this” (228).

  • What are the differences among excessive pride, proper pride, and lack of pride?

The theory of the mean between extremes is a famous part of Aristotle’s thought. He believed in moderation — as most ancient Greeks did. If you have too much or too little of something, you will suffer from an excess or a deficiency of that thing. What you need is exactly the right amount. Thus courage is the mean between the extremes of rashness (excess) and cowardice (deficiency). Applying Aristotle’s ideas (but not always his names for the qualities listed), we can illustrate some means between extremes:

Courage (The Mean Between Extremes)

Rash (Excess Courage)

Coward (Deficient Courage)


Liberal (The Mean Between Extremes)

Prodigal (Excess Liberality)

Miser (Deficient Liberality)


Charitable (The Mean Between Extremes)

Overly Generous (Excess Charity)

Cheap (Deficient Charity)


Normal Weight (The Mean Between Extremes)

Obese (Excess Weight)

Anorexic (Deficient Weight)

Each example represents the excess, mean, and deficiency of a certain activity. The first example shows that courage is the mean between the excess of rashness and the deficiency of cowardice. Let’s say that a person is walking down the street and sees a house on fire. A rash person would shout, “Don’t worry, I’ll save you,” and rush inside the burning building without even bothering to find out whether anyone is inside to be rescued! A coward would ignore the fire and not even call the fire department because he (or she) is afraid of getting involved. However, a courageous person would call the fire department, find out whether anyone was trapped inside the burning building, and render whatever assistance he or she rationally can.

The second example shows that liberality is the mean between the excess of prodigality and the deficiency of miserliness. A prodigal person would leave a $100 tip after eating a $10 pizza. A miser would not leave any tip at all. However, a person who is liberal with money would leave a 15 percent tip for good service.

The third example shows that being charitable is the mean between the excess of being overly generous and the deficiency of being cheap. An overly generous person will give away all of his or her money to charity, not saving enough to live on. A cheap person will never give money to charity. However, a charitable person will pay his or her bills, keep enough money to live on (and keep some to save), but also give a portion that he or she can afford to charity.

The fourth example shows that normal weight is the mean between the excess of obesity and the deficiency of anorexia. An obese person pigs out every night (and every morning, and every noon, and two or three other times a day). An anorexic person will do 100 sit-ups after chewing a stick of sugarless gum. However, a person who maintains his or her normal weight will eat three square meals a day, and is willing to eat cake and ice cream at birthday parties (and a healthy salad for lunch the next day).

One point to notice is that not all activities have a mean between extremes. Some activities are already excessive in themselves. Thus, murder is always wrong. You will never be able to commit a murder of the right person at the right time and in the right manner. (You should never say, “I don’t want to commit too few murders or too many murders; I just want to commit exactly the right number of murders”!)

Also, the mean can vary among people. In determining how much food to eat, the mean for a 300-pound weightlifter will be much greater than the mean for a 100-pound accountant. Also, a wealthy person such as Microsoft founder Bill Gates can afford to give much more money to charity than a college student can.

The way we acquire moral virtue, according to Aristotle, is through imitation and acquiring good habits. If we act the way a brave person acts, we will become brave. If we act the way a truthful person acts, we will become truthful. If we act the way a noble person acts, we will become noble.

One theme of Lloyd Alexander’s The Black Cauldronis pride. Where does pride fit in Aristotle’s mean between extremes?

Proper Pride (The Mean Between Extremes)

Excessive Pride (Excess Pride)

Lack of Pride (Deficient Pride)

Excessive pride is the kind of pride Ellidyr has during much of the novel. He regards himself as better than most other people — including such people as Assistant Pig Keepers. He also puts his own honor above the honor of other people. He wants to have the honor of finding the Black Cauldron all by himself, but if he had been willing to work as a member of a team (the band of heroes), there would have been enough honor to go around for everybody.

Proper pride is doing good work and taking pride in it. A student who works hard writing a paper and gets a good grade on it should be proud of that paper.

Lack of pride involves low self-esteem. All of us should regard ourselves as being good people, and all of us should do the things that good people do.

Note that the novel shows that people can change — either for the better or for the worst. Morgant changes from a good person to a bad person. Ellidyr changes from a bad person to a good person.

  • In Dante’s Purgatory, what is the punishment given to the repentant sinners who were guilty of the sin of pride?

Many religions regard pride as a sin, although many philosophers regard proper pride as a virtue and excessive pride as a sin.

Dante’s great poem The Divine Comedytells about Dante the Pilgrim’s imaginative journey through the three parts of the Afterlife:

1) The Inferno, where unrepentant souls are punished.

2) The Mountain of Purgatory, on which repentant souls purge their sins. The souls climb up the seven-story mountain. Each story purges a different kind of sin.

3) Paradise, in which souls who have purged their sins are eternally happy.

Once through the Gates of Purgatory, the souls arrive at the first ledge, which is devoted to purging those who were guilty of pride. In the 21st century, we often think of pride as something positive. Proper pride is, but the sin of excessive pride is thinking of yourself as the center of the universe and the most important thing in the universe. Being forced to carry huge stones on their back purges the proud. This is an appropriate purgation because the heavy stones force the sinners to bow and assume a humble position.

  • What is bad pride, and why is it a sin?

Good pride and bad pride exist. I want students to work hard on their papers and to take pride in their work. But bad pride can be destructive to oneself — look at everyone in the Inferno as imagined by Dante — as well as to other people.

Bad pride is putting yourself at the center of the universe. You regard yourself as being more important than anyone else.

Pride is the foundation of the other deadly sins. We can see how it works with thievery. Say that someone smashes in your car windshield in order to steal a couple of music CDs. Getting the windshield replaced may cost $500; the CDs may cost $30. The thief is so proud that he or she values $30 for him- or herself more than $530 for you ($500 for replacing the windshield, and $30 for replacing the CDs).

Let’s look at pride and other sins:

1) Pride.

I am the center of the universe, and I am better than other people. Quite simply, I am more important than other people.

2) Envy.

I am the center of the universe, so I ought to have it all, and if you have something I want, I envy you.

3) Wrath

Because I am the center of the universe, everything ought to go my way, and when it does not, I get angry.

4) Sloth.

I am the center of the universe, so I don’t have to work at something. Either other people can do my work for me, or they can give me credit for work I have not done because if I had done the work, I would have done it excellently.

5) Avariciousness and Prodigality.

I am the center of the universe, so I deserve to have what I want. If I want money, I get money and never spend it, or if I want the things that money can buy, then I spend every dime I can make or borrow to get what I want. Either way, I deserve to have what I want.

6) Gluttony.

I am the center of the universe, so I deserve these three extra pieces of pie every night. This is my reward to myself for being so fabulous.

7) Lust.

I am the center of the universe, so my needs take precedence over the needs of everyone else. If I want to get laid, it’s OK if I lie to get someone in the sack and never call in the days and weeks afterward. My sexual pleasure is more important than the hurt of someone who realizes that he or she has been used.

Note: Of course, I am relying on the teacher to make this material age-appropriate should the teacher use any of this material.


Alexander, Lloyd. The Black Cauldron. New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell Books for Young Readers, 1966.

Alexander, Lloyd. The Book of Three. New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell Books for Young Readers, 1964.

American Heritage College Dictionary. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2002.

American Heritage Dictionary. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000. This dictionary is available on the WWW at


Bible. Revised Standard Version. This translation of the Bible is available on the WWW at


Cantor, Eddie. Take My Life. Written with Jane Kesner Ardmore. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1957.

Dante. Inferno. Trans. Mark Musa. New York: Penguin, 1984.

Holman, C. Hugh, and William Harmon. A Handbook to Literature. 6th edition. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1992.

Kant, Immanuel. Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals. Trans. Lewis White Beck. New York: Macmillan, 1959.

“Lloyd Alexander.” Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers. <http://www.kidsreads.com/authors/au-alexander-lloyd.asp&gt;.

Marcus, Leonard S., compiler and editor. The Wand in the Word: Conversations with Writers of Fantasy. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press, 2006.

Mill, John Stuart. Three Essays on Religion. London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1875.

Stine, R.L. It Came From Ohio! My Life as a Writer. New York: Scholastic, 1997.

Stafford, Nikki, editor. Trekkers: True Stories by Fans for Fans. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: ECW Press, 2002.

Shusterman, Neal. Kid Heroes: True Stories of Rescuers, Survivors, and Achievers.New York: TOR, 1991.

Twain, Mark. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984. Edited by Bernard L. Stein.

Vandiver, Elizabeth. The Iliad of Homer. Chantilly, VA: The Teaching Company, 1999. Print.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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