Literature: Chronicles of Prydain
“Every living thing deserves respect, be it humble or proud, ugly or beautiful.”
Generations of youngsters have struggled in vain to pronounce the names in The Chronicles of Prydain
, a five-book series of fantasy novels by the late American author Lloyd Alexander
. Based (very) loosely on the Mabinogion
and taking place in the fantasy world of Prydain, which bears no small resemblance to Wales
, the novels feature a series of epic adventures in a land of High Fantasy
, but place more emphasis on the protagonist's growing maturity and his journey into manhood.
Long ago, the land of Prydain was a rich, and prosperous land, renowned for its craftsmen who knew many great secrets about shaping metal and firing clay.
Arawn, the local Evil Overlord
, would have none of that, and using his cunning and trickery he stole away those wonderous treasures and secrets and locked them away in his fortress, Annuvin, where they would serve no one
. The once fair land fell into decay and surely would have fallen under Arawn's power had not the mighty and heroic Sons of Don arrived in Prydain and united its people in an alliance against Arawn's forces. Years have passed and the Sons of Don have maintained peace, but there are those who fear that the people have grown too reliant on their new rulers, the lesser lords constantly feud with each other for foolish and petty reasons, and Arawn is still lurking in the shadows, waiting for the perfect moment to strike.
Enter the protagonist, Taran
, Assistant Pig-Keeper to the oracular pig Hen Wen. A boy seemingly in his early teens
who was orphaned as an infant,
Taran is thrust into the conflicts between the Sons of Don and Arawn as they struggle for the rulership of Prydain. Taran is an ambitious, headstrong youth who initially leaps at any call to adventure
and believes himself capable of great things,
but in truth he often finds that leading a heroic life of adventure is not all as romantic and exciting as he would have thought. Over the course of the novels, Taran grows from a callow, stubborn youth into a genuinely wise and noble young man, and in the end, learns the hard way what it truly means to be a hero.
Joining Taran on his adventures are his loyal group of lovable companions, whose interactions are one of the most enjoyable parts of the series:Eilonwy
: An enchantress and princess
who talks constantly
in similes and serves as a romantic interest
for Taran. She's also a Tsundere
and a bit of an Action Girl
. One of the earliest modern examples of a Rebellious Princess
: A loud-mouthed
bard and king who has a tendency to theatrically exaggerate accounts of his own adventure
s. He carries a magical harp whose strings break whenever he "colors the facts". (They break often. Even moments of modesty count against him) His catchphrases are "A Fflam is (insert appropriate adjective here)!," and "Great Belin!"Gurgi
: A shaggy creature
who speaks in rhyme. At first he has a tendency to be a Dirty Coward
but he grows to become brave and loyal, and comes to admire Taran for his wisdom and call him "Master."Doli
: A member of The Fair Folk
, a grumpy dwarf
and Jerk with a Heart of Gold
. Complains a lot. He has the ability to turn invisible (by holding his breath), but hates to do so as it causes a horrible ringing in his ears.Gwydion
: The Wise Prince
to Taran, a great warrior and war leader whom Taran looks up to and idolizes immensely. He leads the Sons of Don in their battles against the forces of evil, taking the role of a Supporting Leader
And normally a book-specific Guest Star Party Member
or two, such as Adaon
the Warrior Poet
and Ellidyr Prince Charmless
in The Black Cauldron
, Lord Error-Prone Prince Rhun
in The Castle of Llyr
in The High King
, who takes over the Dirty Coward
role from Gurgi.
The series contains five books as well as one anthology which also serves as a prequel:
- The Book of Three (1964)
- The Black Cauldron (1965)
- The Castle of Llyr (1966)
- Taran Wanderer (1967)
- The High King (1968)
- The Foundling and Other Tales From Prydain (1973)
Disney produced a movie version of The Black Cauldron
in 1985, which notably blended elements from the first two books.
This series includes examples of, or the sources for:
- Action Girl: Eilonwy frequently proves more capable than Taran, especially in the early books.
- Adipose Rex: Averted by King Smoit of Cantrev Cadiffor, who is notably overweight but is also very muscular, just plain huge, and has Stout Strength in spades.
- An Aesop: Taran frequently learns important life lessons, although this is done more subtly and gracefully than many instances of this trope.
- All-Natural Gem Polish
- Always Chaotic Evil
- The Huntsmen of Annuvin, Arawn's Elite Mooks, who have sworn a blood oath of bondage to his will.
- Averted with the gwythaints, Arawn's spies, who serve Arawn out of fear.
- Ambition Is Evil: Played straight and subverted. Ultimately it all comes down to intent.
- Androcles' Lion: Taran nurses a fledgling gwythaint back to health in the first book. She returns the favor, twice.
- Anguished Declaration of Love: Taran makes a subtle one of these in The Castle of Llyr, trying to help Eilonwy break free of her magically-induced amnesia.
- Anyone Can Die: Rhun's death was completely unexpected. It only gets worse with Achren, King Math, and especially Coll.
- Artifact of Doom: The titular Black Cauldron of the second book.
- Inverted with the Book of Three. It will only serve good people with honorable and honest intent.
- Similarly, Gwydion's sword, Dyrnwyn, can only be drawn (safely) by those of "noble worth." Taran (and others) initially think this means only one of the Sons of Don (due to the fact that they originally mistranslated that part of the inscription as "Royal Blood"), but in a critical moment Taran himself is able to draw the sword when his intention is pure (to defend someone else, not to attack in anger) and after undergoing Character Development in the fourth book, where he developed the personal nobility to wield the sword without falling to evil.
- Authority Equals Asskicking: Played straight, especially with Prince Gwydion and King Smoit. In a land like Prydain, you only become royalty by being able to kick everyone else's ass.
- Averted, ironically enough, with Arawn. His greatest strengths were always trickery & deception.
- Subverted every so often, depending on the situation. One notable instance is when Taran finds out about how two noblemen living in King Smoit's domain constantly are at each other's throats, causing damage to innocent civilians in the process. Smoit's usual solution is to try to knock sense into them and shove them in his dungeons. Taran suggests he try something different, since it clearly isn't working. His proposed solution centers around humbling them and showing them the severity of the damage they've caused (making them serve as laborers for the farmer whose land they destroyed) as well as finding a third option for what to do with the prize cow they were fighting over (give it to the same farmer, and have the cow's next, equally-valuable, twin calves be split between the two). Since the two noblemen are seen standing peacefully together at the end of The High King, it presumably left an impression on them.
- Ascended Fanboy: Taran.
- As Long as It Sounds Foreign: A mild example. Nearly all of the character and place names are derived from Welsh mythology, but Word of God admitted to having completely made up the very Welsh-sounding Eilonwy.
- Awesome Moment of Crowning: Taran at the end of the series.
- Aww, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: Taran and Eilonwy, constantly.
- Also, Fflewddur and his harp.
- Backup Bluff: King Rhun, during a fight where the air is full of smoke and confusion, races his horse from one side of the battlefield to the other, shouting orders to regiments of cavalry that don't exist.
- Badass Beard: King Smoit is known for his long fiery red beard.
- Badass Teacher: Do not screw with Dallben.
- Bald of Awesome: Coll - much to Taran's shock, as he apparently thought heroes should have impressive hair. During The High King, Coll even goes without a helmet.
- Baleful Polymorph: One of Morda's more frightening powers. It's also repeatedly implied to be within the powers of the three enchantresses of Morva.
- Battle Couple: Taran and Eilonwy again.
- Beauty Equals Goodness: Flip-flopped.
- Inverted with Achren, who is as wicked as she is beautiful. And for further inversion, her beauty fades after her sort-of Heel-Face Turn in books four and five.
- In fact, Lloyd Alexander uses this trope against us: both Morgant and Pryderi are presented as attractive, when in fact they both turn out to be bad guys.
- Eilonwy, however, is the trope played perfectly straight.
- We have no idea whether Taran plays it straight or not, because not a single aspect of his appearance is ever described in the whole series.
- Berserk Button
- Do not judge Eilonwy based on her gender. Don't call her a "little girl" or suggest she stick to "women's work."
- Do not insult her in front of Taran.
- Big Bad: The Evil Overlord Arawn.
- Big Bad Ensemble: Achren is actively opposed to Arawn. Morgant tries to steal the Black Cauldron out from under both Arawn and Gwydion in order to try and become a From Nobody to Nightmare. Morda is an Evil Sorcerer who plans to outmatch Arawn some day. Dorath, meanwhile, was just a Psycho for Hire bandit with an "everything burns" worldview; the companions often encounter him out of pure bad luck, yet he's always willing to make their lives miserable just for the hell of it. Pryderi...thinks he's playing Arawn for his own benefit, but isn't.
- Big Damn Heroes: This is Taran's tale, so Gwydion tends to appear as The Cavalry (or, more rarely, be rescued by Taran's band.)
- Big Eater: King Smoit, who doesn't seem to eat multiple meals so much as eat a single meal all day long.
- Gurgi sort of counts. He loves to eat, and is implied to eat a lot; but his small size means that he can't eat much in one sitting.
- Big Fun: King Smoit again.
- Bigger Bad: The mysterious master that directs Gwyn the Hunter may fit the bill.
- Big Good: High King Math, son of Mathonwy, and Dallben the Enchanter.
- Bilingual Bonus: Several of the names of people and places. For example, "Hen Wen" means "old white [one] (feminine)" in Welsh. Gwydion means "born of trees." Averted with Eilonwy, which (as noted above) Lloyd Alexander invented for the books.
- Bishounen: Adaon.
- Bittersweet Ending: Arawn is defeated, but Prydain has been ravaged by war, many heroes have fallen, the power of magic has been lost forever, and Taran and Eilonwy give up eternal life and are separated from nearly all of their friends in order to stay in Prydain to help rebuild. On the other hand, Taran became High King of Prydain, married Eilonwy, and they both led happy and fulfilling lives and were such prosperous rulers that the bards wrote songs about them.
- The Blacksmith: Hevydd. Also, Coll. Hevydd teaches Taran to forge blades, but while Taran proves to be a talented smith, his heart isn't in it.
- Blessed with Suck
- Doli and his invisibility powers, which make his ears ring and hurt.
- Also Fflewddur's harp, which is of excellent quality (and enchanted), but it's almost always in need of repair, since the strings keep breaking every time Fflewddur stretches the truth.
- The powers Eilonwy and her mother inherited provide the wielder with a lot of power, but they also did neither of the women any good. As an enchantress, Queen Angharad was expected to marry a man born with magical powers of his own, and ended up banished when she decided to elope with a man who she loved, but who gained his magical powers from his own efforts and not birth. Eilonwy, meanwhile, only uses a magic spell once in the series, which doesn't even really work. She was kidnapped from her mother as a baby because Achren wanted to steal her powers, and ends up abducted and brainwashed in the third book, because of this plan. After that, she can't even use her powers, though she still has them. The last straw is in The High King, when she learns that her latent magic is still enough to mean she has no choice but to leave Taran and travel to the Summer Country, which she declares as being "worse than unfair" because she never asked for said powers. When Dalben informs her of a way to be rid of them, she does it without a second's hesitation.
- Boisterous Bruiser: Fflewddur. King Smoit even more so.
- Born Lucky: Llonio gives this impression, in Taran Wanderer, but the lesson he teaches Taran is how to make his own luck.
- Brainwashed: Eilonwy in the third book.
- Break the Haughty: Taran is horrified to find out that his father is Craddoc the shepherd and views his new life as a prison sentence. His time working for Craddoc is what is truly responsible for convincing him that nobility comes from work and honor rather than royal blood and wealth. By the time Craddoc dies and confesses that Taran isn't really his son, Taran has acquired humility and is not ashamed to be a shepherd's son.
- Cassandra Truth: Seriously, Fflewddur really is a king. Granted, his kingdom is so small that he can leave his palace in the morning and be out of his kingdom by the end of the day, but he's a king nonetheless. Unlike most things, he doesn't feel the need to exaggerate this and freely admits he doesn't like being in his kingdom, which is why he became a bard.
- Catch Phrase: Almost every important character besides Taran has at least one.
- "Taran of Caer Dallben, I'm not speaking to you!"
- "Great Belin!"
- "A Fflam is -"
- "Crunchings and munchings."
- "Deliver us from fools and assistant pig-keepers."
- "When I was a giant..."
- "My beard and bones!"
- Character Development: The reason these books are so good.
- Taran, who grows from a stubborn, witless child to a wise and noble leader.
- Also Eilonwy, who starts out rather bratty and temperamental, growing into a mature and compassionate person by the end of the series. Some of her development is off-page, as she does not appear in the fourth book.
- In fact, almost every major character gets some important development, but Taran and Eilonwy are the most noticeable since the books span their adolescence.
- Changed My Mind, Kid: Doli walks out on the companions at least once a book, only to come back in short order, to the point where it becomes something of a running gag.
- Changeling Fantasy: Zigzagged. Taran knows he's adopted from the start, and hopes he'll turn out to be a prince ... but when he sets off to find out who he his (by learning who his parents were), he gets more than one answer. In fact, though at least two men (a poor shepherd and a king) both try to claim him as a son, his real parents are unknown, even to Dallben.
- Chekhov's Boomerang: Admit it, you never saw the gwythaint coming in The High King - you thought that boomerang had returned four books ago!
- Chekhov's Gun
- The ring Eilonwy receives at the end of the first book ends up coming in quite handy in the finale.
- Chekhov's Gunman
- Nearly everyone Taran befriends on his journey in Taran Wanderer comes back to help out in the campaign against Arawn in The High King.
- Or gets killed tragically to provide more personal drama for the final conflict.
- The Chessmaster: Arawn. (Also Morgant and Pryderi).
- A Child Shall Lead Them: Taran still seems to be a teenager when he is made a war leader, and eventually High King.
- Civil War: Like historical Wales, the various kings and lords of Prydain are always fighting somewhere in the kingdom. In addition, several of these kings side with Arawn against Math for their own benefit, up to and including Pryderi, the most powerful ruler in Prydain except for King Math.
- Clever Crows: The heroic Kaw the crow, who turns out to be an important ally to the heroes.
- Cloud Cuckoo Lander: Eilonwy, while still managing to be the only person in the group with any common sense.
- Clipped Wing Angel: Arawn turns into a snake and is beheaded in one blow by Taran.
- Coming-of-Age Story: Well, the whole series, but especially the fourth book, which is pretty obviously the turning point where Taran finally takes his long-overdue levels in badass.
- Conservation of Ninjutsu: The Huntsmen of Annuvin literally become stronger when one of their number is killed.
- Consummate Liar: Fflewddur. Ironically, his most outrageous claim (that he's actually a king) is true: he's the king of a tiny, drab, miserable little land that even neighboring rulers don't covet.
- Cool Horse: Gwydion's horse, Melyngar, in the first book; her son Melynlas for the rest of the series; also Lluagor, Adaon's mare who eventually becomes Melynlas' mate.
- Cool Old Guy: Coll
- Cool Old Lady: Dwyvach, the weaver woman.
- Cool Sword
- Dyrnwyn, of course.
- The blade Taran forged is an example. It's a pretty ugly weapon, but it's actually better than his finely-shaped old weapon.
- Cowardly Lion: Gurgi means well, but whines and cowers when he feels threatened and runs at the first sign of danger with no regard for his companions. Fortunately, he grows much more brave and loyal as the series goes on.
- Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass
- Gwystyl deliberately hides his competence and badassery so well that he can come across like a wiener while helping Taran and his crew break into a castle.
- Fflewddur Fflam is the less than popular king of a tiny kingdom and a minstrel who tells grandiose lies. By the end of the first book we find out that he is also a deadly swordsman and a tried warrior. Amusingly, a prequel short story implies that most of the time, Fflewddur himself is unaware of his own badassery.
- Crown of Horns: In The Book of Three the chief villain is the Horned King, who wears a mask made out of a human skull with great antlers rising in cruel curves. He is a warlord who is Arawn's champion and the War Leader of Annuvin.
- Curb-Stomp Battle: The second half of the Battle of Caer Dathyl. Pryderi's regular forces are marginally defeated, but the armies of Prydain can't stand against the Cauldron-Born.
- Cursed with Awesome: Glew turns himself into a giant and gets trapped in a cave he's too big to maneuver through.
- Deadpan Snarker: Dallben, usually when Taran is acting childish. Also Eilonwy, who combines it with a mixture of Politeness Judo and Passive-Aggressive Kombat.
- Deal with the Devil: NEVER make a deal with Arawn. Unlike most "devils", Arawn never keeps his end of the bargain.
- Death by Newbery Medal: The High King won a Newbery Medal and is a veritable named-character bloodbath. Even if none of the characters on the cover die. No, not even the Really Big Cat. The Black Cauldron, by comparison, won a Newbery Honor and only has a body count of two.
- Desperately Looking for a Purpose in Life: Taran Wanderer
- Distressed Damsel: Eilonwy occasionally, especially in The Castle of Llyr. Half the time she ends up either saving herself or saving her intended rescuers.
- Disproportionate Retribution: King Smoit is likely to cave a few skulls in over petty arguments with his minions.
- Don't Touch It, You Idiot!: Dallben to Taran, over the Book of Three. Eilonwy to Taran, over Dyrnwyn. There are more (Taran's not the only one who meddles with things he shouldn't).
- Doomed Hometown: Averted. Caer Dallben goes untouched by evil for all five books. Not only that, when a villain finally does show up to torch the place, he gets his ass kicked.
- The Dragon: The Horned King
- Dreaming of Things to Come: Happens to Adaon and Taran in The Black Cauldron.
- Earn Your Happy Ending: In the land of Prydain, everything comes at a high price.
- Elite Mooks: The Huntsmen and the Cauldron-Born.
- Everything's Better with Princesses: Eilonwy. Somewhat subverted, in that Taran (and therefore the reader) does not learn that she is a princess until literally the last page of the first book — when Dallben mentions it casually. Eilonwy herself never drops so much as a hint, except when noting that "mine are the people of Llyr Half-Speech, the Sea King." Her royal heritage is a plot point in the third book, but otherwise, she never concerns herself with princessdom very much. Her informed princessdom is justified, in that she is Last of Her Kind, so in political terms her heritage is largely moot.
- Everyone Can See It: The entire group seems to be aware of Taran's feelings for Eilonwy except Taran himself. Eilonwy herself lampshades this twice in the last book. Taran's crush on Eilonwy is fully developed by the middle of book 3; in fact, Achren uses it to torture him. What he has trouble figuring out is that, yes, the princess likes him back, pig-keeping and all.
- Evil Overlord: Arawn is a classic example.
- Evil Sorcerer: Arawn Death-Lord and Queen Achren
- Exit, Pursued by a Bear
- Dorath and his bandits are torn apart by wolves right before he "removes Eilonwy's charms."
- Something similar happens to the Huntsmen, not long after. The heroes see them camping on the banks of a dried-up river and melt a frozen waterfall to flood them out. As soon as they climb to dry ground, a group of bears and wolves maul them to death.
- Extreme Omnivore: It's never explicitly stated, but it's heavily implied that Orgoch (of the Three Sisters) eats pretty nearly anything, including people.
- Face-Heel Turn: King Morgant
- The Faceless: Arawn Death-Lord, partially because of his Shapeshifting talents. Menwy the Bard is the only mortal on record to have seen Arawn's true face. Considering that she trained him, Achren has probably seen his true face as well. She even states that she will know it's him no matter what form he shapeshifts into.
- Fainting Seer: Hen Wen in The High King, including a combination of terrified refusal to pass on her visions, and bizarre, nonsensical prophecies before she goes into Heroic BSOD.
- The Fair Folk: A bit of a subversion, as they have no particular liking for men but are willing to work with them against Arawn. The king is grudgingly fond of Taran and Eilonwy, and Doli has more affection for the entire group than he likes to admit.
- Fantasy Counterpart Culture: Lloyd Alexander loves to take readers on cultural visits. Prydain is heavily based on Welsh mythology, especially evident in the character names. Of course, this is no surprise to those knowing that "Prydain" is the Welsh spelling of "Britain".
- A Father to His Men: King Smoit (who, we learn, is a childless widower). He even offers to adopt Taran when he hears he's looking for his birth parents.
- Fearless Fool: Taran, at first. He learns a more suitable reaction to danger as time goes by.
- Fiery Redhead: Eilonwy
- Flaming Sword: Dyrnwyn
- Flowers for Algernon Syndrome: Adaon's brooch has this effect on people, particularly Taran. He gives it up in order to get the Black Cauldron.
- Friend to All Living Things: Medwyn, who apparently is Prydain's version of Noah.
- From Nobody to Nightmare: Arawn. He was just some hapless dipshit until he became Achren's Starscream, swindled all her secrets from her, then usurped her and became the Lord of Death.
- Gene Hunting: Taran Wanderer is a mix of this and Walking the Earth.
- Genre Savvy: Fflewddur, occasionally. He's Wrong Genre Savvy almost as often.
- The Ghost: During The Black Cauldron, Adaon speaks often and fondly of Arianllyn, the girl to whom he is betrothed. She's never seen; in fact, the only thing the reader ever learns about her is that she was the one who gave Adaon his brooch.
- Giant Flyer: The gwythaints. It turns out that they aren't Always Chaotic Evil.
- God Save Us from the Queen!: Achren
- Gondor Calls for Aid: The premise of much of the final book.
- Great Big Book of Everything: The titular Book of Three.
- The Grim Reaper: Although Gwyn the Hunter isn't anything like the hooded and cloaked skeleton we're all familiar with, he seems to have the same role as the Reaper in the setting. (He isn't evil, though; Arawn, the "Lord of Death," fills that role.)
- Guest Star Party Member: Adaon, Ellidyr, Glew, Coll, and Llassar.
- The Hecate Sisters: Orddu, Orwen, and Orgoch are a textbook case.
- Hellhound: The dogs of Gwyn the Hunter.
- Heel-Face Turn: Achren, possibly. Other interpretations suggest more of an Enemy Mine against Arawn.
- Heel Realization: Ellidyr comes to a version of this at at the end of The Black Cauldron and atones with a Heroic Sacrifice.
"The black beast you saw is a harsh master; its claws are sharp. Yet I did not feel them until now."
- Heroes Want Redheads: Eilonwy, whom the narrative notes has red-gold hair. A lot of artwork inaccurately depicts her as blonde, however, probably because of The Film of the Book. And when she is shown with red hair (see some editions of The Black Cauldron), it's pure red, not the more subtle shade that "red-gold" is probably supposed to describe.
- Heroic BSOD: Taran, following the death of Craddoc the shepherd. Not just because Craddoc died, but that his first thought on seeing him was that he was finally free from his life as a shepherd. He was so ashamed and disgusted with himself for having ever had the thought that he never got over it or forgave himself for it.
- Heroic Sacrifice: Ellidyr in The Black Cauldron, Rhun and Coll in The High King. Maybe Achren, depending on your point of view.
- Heroic Wannabe: Taran, in the first two books.
- Holy Is Not Safe: Dyrnwyn is clearly a holy blade, being the only weapon capable of killing the undead Cauldron Born or the Dark Lord Arawn, but it's also extremely dangerous to anyone insufficiently worthy who tries to draw it.
- Honor Before Reason: A recurring theme. A major part of Taran's growth is learning what real honor means, and when other things must come before it.
- Horned Humanoid: The Horned King. Somewhat subverted, as the horns are part of a helmet he wears, not a part of the Horned King himself.
- Horse of a Different Color: Llyan, a small wildcat who grew to the size of a horse through the use of potions. She eventually adopts Fflewddur and allows him to ride on her back.
- Humiliation Conga: Queen Achren. Starts off as a powerful sorceress and queen, and rules Prydain as an absolute tyrant. Later, she is overthrown by her more powerful protege and consort Arawn, and is moved to Spiral Castle. The castle is destroyed by the heroes, robbing Achren of her powers, which she attempts to replace by draining Eilonwy. She is also repeatedly spurned by the object of her affections, Gwydion. By the fourth book, she's a powerless refugee who works as a maid in Caer Dallben. Quite a long way to fall.
- Hypnotize the Princess: Heavily influences the plot of The Castle of Llyr.
- I Have You Now, My Pretty: The outlaw Dorath threatens to rape Princess Eilonwy and have her raped by his fellows "until she is a match for a swineherd." Subverted slightly in that Dorath never states precisely what it is he intends to do to her; he says he intends to "remove her charms." The dialogue is written just vaguely enough that the book's younger readers only know that Eilonwy is in danger, without knowing the specifics that might traumatize them. Older readers can ferret out Dorath's meaning for themselves, as Eilonwy did. It's possible that he had something else in mind, however.
- I Just Want to Be Normal: Eilonwy in The Castle of Llyr.
- I Know Your True Name: Used by Gwydion to defeat Horned King, but only in the background. A bit of Fridge Brilliance, when this somewhat out of place logic is applied to the rest of the series. Gwydion claims that naming something is to imply mastery over it. No one knows Taran's true name, thus making him master of his own destiny.
- Implacable Man: Arawn employs entire implacable armies. The Cauldron-Born cannot be slain by any mortal craft and carry out their tasks without tiring and without question or remorse. The Huntsmen of Annuvin are feared and renowned for pursuing their prey relentlessly, and fatigue means little to them. They can be killed, but that just makes them mad.
- The major disadvantage of the Cauldron-Born is that they become weaker the further they are from Annuvin.
- The strength of the Huntsmen is that when one is killed, the rest of them become stronger.
- Informed Ability: Many characters are said to be enchanters, but they rarely if ever use these abilities. Possibly justified with Eilonwy as she never finished her training. And she destroys any hope of mastering her magic in the third book.
- Ingesting Knowledge: How Dallben got to be so wise. It was an accident.
- Intimate Healing: Not quite, but for a kids' story, the way Achren touches Taran's wound in the first book is rather...at least, suggestive.
- Is It Something You Eat??: Even The Hecate Sisters seem a bit fuzzy (sorry) about what Gurgi is, exactly.
Orwen: So that's a gurgi. It seems to me I've heard of them, but I never knew what they were...
Orgoch: What do you do with the gurgi? Do you eat it or sit on it?
Orddu: I should think whatever you did, you would have to clean it first.
- It Is Pronounced Tro PAY: Not actually an example of this, but if you're not familiar with Welsh and its charmingly quirky spelling, you'd be fooled.
- What doesn't help is that Welsh has seven vowels, each with two or more pronunciations - A, E, I & O sound roughly like you'd expect, but U sounds like I in all aspects and W is pronounced 'oo', in various ways. And Y has four pronunciations - it normally sounds like an I or a U in the last syllable of a word, or 'uh' elsewhere. This is actually quite hard to forget. No, really.
- Some editions do have a pronunciation guide in the back, which indicates that the names aren't all pronounced the same as Welsh (for example, Gwydion is pronounced "gwih-deeon", rather than the "gooyd-eeon" pronunciation given in The Mabinogion.)
- It's the Journey That Counts: The original title (and current alt title) was Mirror Of Llunet (from Taran Wanderer), making it the original Trope Namer.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Good old Doli
- Journey to Find Oneself: The whole point of Taran Wanderer.
- Jumped at the Call: Taran in the first two books. Also Ellidyr, who is essentially Taran's more hotheaded foil.
- Just Eat Gilligan
- Suggested numerous times by Fflewddur of Glew.
- In the first book, Gwydion finds Taran to be so troublesome that he gives serious consideration to just dumping him back at Caer Dalben. Unfortunately, he must hurry to find Hen Wen (also, there'd be no story if that happened).
- Keystone Army: The Cauldron-Born
- Kid Hero: Taran
- Kill 'em All: Many, many characters died in the last book, The High King. Perhaps for this reason it's left off many a school reading list that contains the other four books in the series. This is despite the fact that it won a Newbery Medal...
- The closing body count at the end of the book is: Coll, Achren, Magg, High King Math, Annlaw Clay-Shaper, Llonio, King Rhun, King Pryderi, Arawn, Achren, and Taran's gwythaint. If you count returning to the "Summer Country" as a metaphor for death (which it is in some belief systems), then the book also claims Gwydion, Fflewddur, Llyan, Doli, Taliesin, Gurgi, Glew, and the Fair Folk and Sons of Don writ large, since following Arawn's death The Magic Goes Away, so to speak.
- King Incognito: Prince Gwydion and Fflewddur. Gwydion travels around the countryside in common garb because he doesn't buy into the "clothes make the man" cliche; in The Castle of Llyr, he is deliberately disguised to avoid detection. Fflewddur does much the same, only he goes out of his way to remind everyone that he's a king.
- Large Ham: Fflewddur
- Last of Her Kind: Eilonwy, the last descendant of the royal House of Llyr. As the last Princess of Llyr, she alone is heir to a sizeable number of enchantments and magic powers, which reside in her by birth; but because her father was a non-magical commoner, she tends to refer to herself as being only "half an enchantress". This only really becomes relevant starting from the third book in the series, when she is returned to her ancient family castle, Caer Colur; having been kidnapped as an infant, she never realized the scope of her magical heritage.
- Left for Dead: Happens to Gwydion with surprising regularity, usually allowing him to go off and do something just as or even more badass than Taran's group elsewhere.
- Lie Detector: Fflewddur's harp, but it only detects Fflewddur's lies.
- Little People: Doli, Gwystyl, and the rest of The Fair Folk are smaller than humans in size.
- The Load: Taran himself in book one. Rhun in book three. Glew in book five.
- Load-Bearing Boss: Half the architecture in Prydain appears to be held up by villains.
- Spiral Castle collapses after Achren is defeated in The Book of Three, but it was more of a happy accident. Taran pulling Dyrnwyn (a load-bearing sword) from the tombs in Spiral Castle lead to its collapse—it just happened to perfectly coincide with Gwydion warding off Archen.
- Caer Colur collapses after Achren is defeated in The Castle of Llyr.
- In a non-villainous example, Dallben claims that his home will be consumed with magical fire if he is killed, along with anyone foolish enough to kill him. He may have been bluffing about this, we never actually find out either way.
- In The High King, Annuvin is destroyed when Arawn is slain.
- Lord Error-Prone: Prince Rhun; not overly proud, but certainly foolish and bumbling enough for two, and a Wide-Eyed Idealist to boot.
- Luke, I Am Your Father: Craddoc to Taran, but it turns out not to be true.
- Made Of Shiny: The Golden Pelydryn, better known as Eilonwy's bauble.
- The Magic Goes Away
- Following Arawn's death at the end of The High King the Fair Folk, the Sons of Don, and other magically-adept humans like Dallben use this as an excuse to leave Prydain, claiming they're no longer needed. Eilonwy gives up her powers rather than leave Prydain out of love for Taran.
- Now now, only "the enchantments of evil" have been vanquished.
- Dallben gives the breaking and complete loss of Hen Wen's oracular powers as further evidence that the good magic also has to leave the mortal world.
- Even Dyrnwyn loses its powers after Taran slays Arawn with it.
- Magic Mirror: The Mirror of Llunet is the object of Taran's quest in Taran Wanderer. Taran wishes to know of his parentage and so seeks this mirror which will show the truth.
- Mega Neko: Llyan
- Metafictional Title: The Book of Three.
- Metaphorgotten: Eilonwy's similes fall somewhere between this and Malaproper. It's worse than being crawled on by hedgehogs!
- Mildly Royal: Taran is implied to be one of these kings due to Character Development.
- Mirror Of Llunet: The (former) Trope Namer.
- Monster Shaped Mountain: The High King. Mount Dragon was so named because its peak was in the rough shape of a monstrous, crested dragon's head with gaping jaws, and on either side the lower slopes spread like outflung wings.
- Mordor: Annuvin
- Motor Mouth: In the first three books, Eilonwy talks so much that it annoys the villains to the extent that, on an occasion when everyone else is merely tied up, Eilonwy is Bound and Gagged; in the fifth book she's a bit more subdued.
- My Girl Back Home: Arianllyn, Adaon's betrothed. He never makes it back to her, and the poor guy didn't even show a photo of her.
- Names to Run Away From Really Fast: Arawn Death-Lord; Achren; The Horned King; Gwyn the Hunter
- Nigh Invulnerable: The Cauldron-Born, and Morda. At least until their respective weaknesses are discovered....
- No Man of Woman Born: A prophecy states that the Big Bad will be vanquished only when such things as "rivers burn with frozen fire" and "night turn to noon" occur. Some characters set a fire to melt a frozen waterfall and the burning logs are carried on top of the ensuing deluge, while another uses magic to light up an entire valley in the middle of the night.
- Non-Human Sidekick
- And Hen Wen, upon occasion.
- Kaw as well.
- Melyngar, in the first book.
- Not Quite Dead: Gwydion
- Not So Different: Taran and Ellidyr. They both learn better.
- The Obi-Wan: Taran is lucky enough to have three: Gwydion, Dallben and Coll. And only one of them dies.
- Obfuscating Stupidity: Gwystyl, but more like Obfuscating Chickenshittery.
- Offstage Villainy: Sure, his subordinates and armies are out in full force, but Arawn himself just can't be asked to actually do anything until The High King. However, he does his own dirty work in one of the prequel short stories.
- Older Sidekick: Fflewddur to Taran & Eilonwy.
- The Only One Allowed to Defeat You: Gwydion to the Horned King, although he accepts that he himself might die in the attempt.
- Only the Chosen May Wield: Taran and Dyrnwyn which is a sword under the stone.)
- Oracular Urchin: Hen Wen is a non-human variant.
- Orcus on His Throne: Arawn, despite being the nigh-omnipotent "Death Lord", works primarily through proxies like The Horned King, Morgant, Magg, Achren and Pryderi and leaves Annuvin just once to steal Dyrnwyn. It's Justified in that Arawn can be killed when he leaves Annuvin and takes a mortal shape, and would rather not risk his own life when he has a horde of Huntsmen, gwythaints, deathless Cauldron Born etc. Arawn is also portrayed as more of a trickster or Old Scratch figure who prefers to get what he wants through manipulation and guile rather than overt shows of force.
- Our Elves Are Better: Averted. The Fair Folk are powerful and magical, sure, but they're not portrayed as much better than the humans, being prone to (often unjustified) Fantastic Racism, pettiness and whining about every little thing.
- Out-Gambitted: Pryderi thinks he is tricking Arawn into serving him. He isn't.
- Papa Wolf: Gwydion can get this way when his companions are threatened. (He gets really mad when Achren torments Taran in The Castle of Llyr.)
- Parental Marriage Veto: Eilonwy's parents. Gwydion mentions it briefly in the third book; the extra volume The Foundling and Other Tales of Prydain gives the story of their romance in much greater detail. In summary: Angharad, Eilonwy's mother, was a highborn enchantress who rejected her snooty wizard suitors and instead fell for a humble storyteller. (Lloyd Alexander does love his bards.) The pair of them were exiled.
- Patronymic: In Prydain, men use patronymic naming, and women use matronymic naming. Taran's lack of such a name troubles him greatly and is a driving force for much of his story, particularly in Taran Wanderer.
- Positive Discrimination: Eilonwy at Taran's expense in the first three books. Although she herself is pretty shrewish at the beginning.
- Pre-Asskicking One-Liner: Taran gives a memorable one to Morda, only for it to backfire since Morda is Nigh Invulnerable.
- Prince Charmless: Ellidyr. Slightly subverted in that there's absolutely no potential for romance between him and Eilonwy. In fact, he actually goes out of his way to insult her quite a few times in The Black Cauldron, introducing the reader to Taran's Berserk Button in the process.
- Princess Classic: Eilonwy appears to have become this briefly in the last book, only for she herself to lampshade how unnatural it is for her. She spends most of the rest of the book as a Sweet Polly Oliver.
- Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: Taran and his friends. Amusing since several of them are royals.
- Rags to Royalty: The story of High King Taran.
- Reality-Writing Book: The Book of Three.
- Rebellious Princess: Eilonwy, who started this trend nearly thirty years before Disney, making this Older Than They Think. Not only that, she was also Disney's first rebellious princess!
- Redemption Demotion: Justified in the case of Achren, as by the time of her Heel-Face Turn her powers have run out.
- Redemption Equals Death: Ellidyr in Book 2. Achren in Book 5 is a less clear-cut case; it's unclear whether she was genuinely redeemed or just involved in an Enemy Mine.
- Red Eyes, Take Warning: The gwythaints, servants of Arawn, have blood-red eyes.
- Refusing Paradise: In the end, Taran is offered the chance to sail to the Summer Country. He stays to help rebuild after the war, and becomes the new High King. Eilonwy also decides to stay with him.
- Retired Badass: Coll, who once single-handedly fought his way into Annuvin to save Hen Wen.
- According to The Foundling and Other Tales, he did have some help along the way.
- Retirony: In The Black Cauldron Adaon speaks several times of Arianllyn, the woman to whom he is betrothed. Guess what happens to him not too much later?
- Rhymes on a Dime: Gurgi likes to speak with rhyming pairs of words ("smashings and gnashings", "crunchings and munchings", etc.)
- The Rival: Ellidyr.
- Royals Who Actually Do Something: Roughly half of the important characters are royalty. They also tend to be totally badass.
- Running Gag: A string on Flam's harp breaks whenever he lies (which is often). The bigger the lie, the more strings break.
- Sand In My Eyes: In The High King, when Fflewdur Flam sacrifices his harp for firewood, he complains of how it smokes, though it burns with very little smoke. He then comments that he's glad to be rid of it, and two strings break.
- Scaled Up: Arawn does this just before his death. Justified as he was trying to get out unseen, and almost succeeded.
- Schmuck Bait: The Book of Three. Taran, what is your fascination with this mysterious and forbidden tome?! Fortunately, the book seems to be sentient, and it punishes Taran's innocent curiosity with the equivalent pain of a few mere bee stings. King Pryderi, on the other hand, wanted to steal the book and use its secrets to gain power, and he was not so lucky.
- Reading into the backstory a bit, turns out the Book of Three was a bit of Schmuck Bait for Dallben, too. Evidently in Prydain, wisdom comes with a high price. It turned Dallben from a youth to an old man overnight.
- Self-Disposing Villain: King Pryderi. To elaborate, he attempts to steal the Book of Three from Dallben. The enchanter warns him that betraying his former allies and working with Arawn have marked him for death if he touches the Book. He does it anyway and the Book burns him to a crisp with a lightning bolt.
- Sense Loss Sadness: After giving away Adaon's brooch to the three witches, Taran notices he lacks the clarity and wisdom he had while he wore it.
- Sent Off To Work For Relatives:
- Taran works Craddoc's farm thinking mistakenly that Craddoc is his real father.
- Eilonwy is sent to the Isle of Mona to learn to be a lady, "working" at being a princess for several years.
- Shape Shifter: Arawn.
- Small Name, Big Ego: Ellidyr treats the main characters with much contempt and responds violently if anyone so much as thinks about impugning his honor. It's explained that he is like this because he is from an old yet impoverished noble family, and his father and elder brothers squandered their house's money and good name. Poor Ellidyr hasn't got much left except his pride and his horse.
- Solar and Lunar: The emblem of the House of Don is the sun, on account of the fact that the Sons and Daughters of Don are descended from the Lady Don and her consort, Belin the sun king. Meanwhile, the emblem of the House of Llyr (Eilonwy's all-but-extinct lineage) is the crescent moon; this is on account of the fact that they are descended from Llyr Half-Speech the Sea King, and the tides of the sea are governed by the phases of the moon.
- Soul Jar: Morda has one of these.
- The Starscream
- Stay in the Kitchen
- Like most of his notions when we first meet him, Taran's notions of women come from Prydain's equivalent of Chivalric Romance. Some time spent as the apprentice of the spry Dwyvach Weaver-Woman tempers this dramatically.
- Many characters wish Eilonwy would stick to women's tasks, out of concern for her safety. Naturally, she will not hear of it.
- Stone Soup: How cooking works in Llonio's household in Taran Wanderer. He sends all his children to find ingredients, and whatever they bring back ends up in what can only be described as a sort of pancake-omelet.
- Stout Strength: King Smoit.
- Supporting Leader: Gwydion, except in Book 3 where he's part of the acting team.
- Sweet Polly Oliver: Eilonwy is forbidden to follow the men into battle in The Black Cauldron because she's a girl, so she dresses as a boy in order to fight alongside Taran. By the time The High King rolls around, nobody really cares anymore because she's proven that she's a very competent fighter (and because they have learned that they just can't make her stay home). The fact that she has latent magical powers doesn't hurt anything either.
- Tag Along Kid: Taran starts out as this to Gwydion but quickly proves his worth. Later, Llassar becomes this to Taran but he too proves himself quickly.
- Talking Animal: Kaw.
- Talks Like a Simile: Eilonwy.
- Thou Shalt Not Kill: Dallben, according to Pryderi, though Dallben doesn't confirm it (he only says that no man has ever died by his hand, and that Arawn has misled Pryderi with "half-truths").
- Token Evil Teammate: Achren, who goes from an evil queen to a refugee cleaning up Caer Dallben to helping the heroes take down Arawn.
- Tomboy Princess: Eilonwy. Trope Maker, anyone?
- Tome of Prophecy: The Book Of Three.
- Too Dumb to Live: Glew.
- Torture Always Works: Inverted. Achren took Gwydion to Oeth Anoeth to torture him into obedience, but when he was able to endure, the entire building melted and imbued him with power.
- Treacherous Advisor: Magg, chancellor to King Rhuddlum of Mona. Fflewddur, in one of his more Genre Savvy moments, is suspicious of him immediately.
- Trickster Mentor
- Dallben, although not antagonistic in the slightest, does otherwise fit the description.
- Orddu. In Taran Wanderer she asks Taran if he's ever "scratched for his own worms." Months later he realizes what she meant.
- True Companions: Taran, Eilonwy, Gurgi, Fflewddur, and Doli are the central members.
- Tsundere: Eilonwy
- The Unchosen One: Taran literally stumbles into the middle of the war and becomes a Messianic Archetype and later High King of Prydain through sheer determination.
- The Unreveal: There are two characters whose origins and true nature are deliberately left unclear: Taran and Arawn. We never learn who Taran's biological parents are. And we never learn who/what Arawn really is. After he's killed, he reverts to his true form which ends up lying face down on the floor, but before anyone can go near him, his fortress starts to crumble and everyone has to split.
- Though with Taran, the fact that it's not revealed, and in fact probably can't be revealed, is part of the point. He's not just the son of any two people, but all of Prydain, noble and common alike.
- Unusual Euphemism: Dorath threatens Eilonwy by claiming he will "remove her charms". Hey, it's a kids' book after all.
- Unwitting Pawn: Pryderi
- Vague Age: Everybody, really, but it's most notable with Taran and Eilonwy. It's generally understood that the series begins when they're prepubescent and ends around the time they reach adulthood; the only other clue to their ages is that Eilonwy is one or two years younger than Taran. In the last book, Dallben even keeps it deliberately vague by mentioning an event that happened around Taran's birth as having happened "as many years ago as you yourself have years."
- Vain Sorceress: Achren, who according to Eilonwy, "loves jewelry, but it doesn't become her one bit."
- Walking the Earth: Taran in Taran Wanderer.
- Wandering Minstrel: Fflewddur's (largely unsuccessful) career as a bard before meeting the heroes. However, it was his own choice, since he finds being a failed bard much more enjoyable and fulfilling than staying in his dismal little kingdom.
- War Is Glorious: Opinions vary. King Smoit and Fflewdur Fflam would agree, but most of the other warriors regard it as a necessary evil.
- Adaon will tell you this is not the case. "There is more honor in a field well plowed than in a field steeped in blood."
- Coll would agree, preferring to be known as a 'planter of turnips', despite the fact that he'd marched single-handedly into Annuvin to rescue Hen Wen.
- At the start of The Book of Three, Taran believes this. It's one of the first ideas knocked out of his head by his adventures.
- Warrior Poet: Adaon and Taliesin.
- Warrior Prince: Gwydion is the most obvious example.
- We Can Rule Together
- Achren makes no secret of the fact that she wishes to make Gwydion her consort, and offers him several chances to join her. Unfortunately for her, Gwydion is a Celibate Hero.
- Much to Taran's shock and disbelief, Gwydion makes this offer to him near the end of the series. The rule together part, that is, not the consort part. It's Arawn in disguise.
- Well, Excuse Me, Princess!: Eilonwy rarely stops criticizing Taran, but it doesn't disguise her obvious affection for him.
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: Pryderi
- What's Up, King Dude?: Back in Fflewddur Fflam's kingdom, children would often play games and sports in his throne room because of ease of access, and they knew that he was far more likely to join in their games than to shoo them out of the castle.
- Wild Hair: Fflewddur and Gwydion.
- Will They or Won't They?
- Dragged out until the very last page of the final book with Taran and Eilonwy. They Do, of course.
- Eilonwy lampshades the whole situation with her response to Taran's marriage proposal: "Well, indeed. I wondered if you'd ever get round to asking. Of course I will, and if you'd given half a thought to the question you'd have already known my answer."
- Wise Beyond Their Years: Taran has a brief period of this in The Black Cauldron, through magical aid. Gwydion predicts that if Taran manages to live long enough, he'll earn the real deal: and sure enough, numerous painful sacrifices eventually lead to him fulfilling the trope by the end of Taran Wanderer.
- The Wise Prince
- Prince Gwydion is very knowledgeable and intelligent.
- Adaon in book two is not exactly a prince, but the son of the Chief Bard, and otherwise fulfills the archetype perfectly.