I’m continuing to work my way through the Prydain books, which are a sort of comfort reading with their telling of what’s a now-familiar sort of tale.
The Castle of Llyr was problematic for me, though, although not in exactly the way I expected. It claims to be the story of Eilonwy being sent away to learn how to be a lady/princess, so I was worried it would be a “tame the spirited girl” narrative.
It hadn’t occurred to me that instead the spirited girl would hardly be in her own story at all.
*** spoilers ahead — though I’m guessing most of you have already read these books ***
Eilonwy is a rescue object for much of this book, and so absent. She’s in danger from the start, and for reasons that never become clear, Gwydion chooses to keep this danger from her, and convinces Taran to do the same. She’s kidnapped, and the otherwise all-male cast spends the book rescuing her. And when they find her, she’s under an enchantment, so still without agency.
To her credit, in the end, with the help of her “bauble,” Eilonwy breaks her own enchantment and destroys the magic that the story’s villain wanted to control. That she gives up her chance own (chance at an) enchantress’ power to do so would be problematic, but Taran actually had to do something similar, in the previous book, which helps a little.
Also to her credit, at the story’s end Eilonwy has decided that if she has to be a lady, she’s going to ace that thing, the sooner the better, so that she can get back to being who she really is and return to her real home. She’s not a tamed princess at the end.
And yet … I get the impression she’ll be absent from the next book, as Taran goes wandering to find out who he really is, and I’m wary of what she’ll be like and what agency she’ll have when she’s returned to us in the final presumably let’s-save-the-world-for-good volume. Especially since when, at the book’s end, a battle horn washes up at Eilonwy’s feet, from her ancestral home, and she takes it–and gifts it to Taran.
Taran is clearly destined for a great destiny (though it’d be delightful to see this undermined or even just played with/explored–the author is already clearly wary of power for its own sake). At the close of The Castle of Llyr, I wonder what Eilonwy is destined for, besides becoming Taran’s wife.
In a way, it feels like the pattern that gets played out decades later with Hermione Granger and Harry Potter: Hermione is clearly the better of them, but Harry is the destined hero, and in the end nothing can change that. But I’m prepared to be pleasantly surprised if things turn out otherwise.
Especially since, while Taran had to give up his object of power entirely, in The Black Cauldron, at the end of The Castle of Llyr Eilonwy’s bauble drops from Kaw’s claws into Eilonwy’s hands, like a gift of its own–though whether consolation prize or some remnant of her agency and power, I’m still waiting to see.