The Chronicles of Prydain
by Lloyd Alexander
“‘For generations the daughters of the House of Llyr were among the most skillful enchantresses in Prydain, using their powers with wisdom and kindliness'” (Alexander, 158).
This one will be a bit different than the others. Instead of going chronologically through the plot and my reaction, opinion, and reflection on characters, events, and descriptions, I wanted to focus instead on the idea of an enchantress and the sorcery practiced by women as manifested in The Castle of Llyr.
First – Elionwy’s sacrifice of her magic. As she tells Taran and the others,
“‘Achern cast a spell over me and I remembered very little. Until the bauble was in my hands once more. Then — then it was very strange. In the light of it, I could see all of you. Not with my eyes, really, but with my heart. I knew you wanted me to destroy the spells. And I wanted to, as much as you did.
Yet, it was as though there were two of me. One did and one didn’t want to give up the spells. I knew it was my only chance to become an enchantress, and if I gave up my powers then that would be the end of it'” (201-2).
She gives up her potential for magic to help everyone else. Which is, on it’s own, an impressive sacrifice and should be respected for what it cost her.
At the same time, the story (and author) thought the lost of her powerful magic in exchange for just being a woman was a good enough development. Instead of her keeping her magic/power and using it to defeat or counter Achren’s plan, she sacrifices it.
When Elionwy expresses regret that “‘Now I shall never be an enchantress. There’s nothing left for me now except being a girl'”, Gwydion points out that “‘That is more than enough cause for pride'” (202).
While it’s nice to think that Elionwy can still be as good as a girl without magic, his claim that being a woman is enough of a skill to be proud of implies that her growth into a lady is just as valuable as, if not more valuable than, her potential sorcery.
I suppose the part that bothers me is that Elionwy’s magic will awaken when she reaches womanhood or when she begins to grow up. But the story (and author) thought her just growing up to be an ordinary woman was enough for the single central female character in a book series. The female character couldn’t keep what would make her powerful.
There’s also a sense of strong female characters with agency and power being ignored in Elionwy’s character. Prominently in how she’s absent throughout most of the book and when Taran and the others finally find her, she’s been enchanted. She’s mostly numb or brainwashed.
I would have loved to have seen the story from her point of view and her experiences. But as Elionwy says after Caer Colur is destroyed, it seems her experiences weren’t as exciting as the males: “‘I can see you had a more interesting time than I had'” (200).
This furthers the sense that Elionwy, as a woman, is not as interesting or worth spending time on in a story that’s about her choices and her return to her inherited home.
Second – Achren’s lost of her magic. Her desire for control and power is presented as negative (as Gwydion is quick to remind us). She only seems to know how to be cruel. The magic of hers that remains is weak and she desires to have it restored, even if it means using Elionwy.
At first, it felt like a double blow that both woman lost their magic. Achren’s was just a woman now, too. But what was interesting was what Gywdion said to her when she tried to kill herself after losing her magic:
“‘Your enchantments have ever been the enchantments of death,’ said Gywdion. He knelt and gently placed a hand on her shoulder. ‘Seek life Achern'” (197).
And furthermore, that she should,
“’Find your own path, Achren,’ he said softly. ‘Should it lead you to Caer Dallben, know this: Dallben will not turn you away'” (198).
And while that could lend itself to the theme of women as caretakers and healers, I did have to appreciate the subtle assertion that Achren could regain magic, but magic of the sort that Gwydion or Dallben have – to understand life, to have sorcery that isn’t based in destruction, but, by being linked to life, could potentially be more powerful.
I’m not sure if that’s what Gywdion meant, but it’s how I interpreted it. And from what I recall of Achren in the next two volumes, I hope I will able to stand by this assertion.
A few other thoughts:
- The golden pelydryn glows brightest when people think of others; does that apply to a sorceress of Llyr? And when it glows so bright and burns the spell book (or is that the spell that does it?) is that because Elionwy is thinking of everyone else?
- I had completely forgotten about Llyan, although I remembered the potion-turned-giant stuck under ground in caves.
“So if I must learn to be a young lady, whatever that may be that’s any different from what I am,’ Elionwy continued, ‘then I shall try to learn twice as fast as those silly geese at Dinas Rhydnant and be home twice as soon. For Caer Dallben is my only real home now'” (204-5).
Alexander, Lloyd. The Castle of Llyr. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1966. Print.