“The Black Cauldron” by Lloyd Alexander

I don’t like the covers for this book. I think this one is best though it doesn’t fit the story. Eilonwy wasn’t the protagonist or figured prominently in this one.

Taran’s adventures continue in The Black Cauldron, the second installment of Lloyd Alexander’s the Chronicles of Prydain series. In The Book of Three, first of the series, we learn of Arawn’s fearsome, undead warriors—the cauldron-born—that are brewed from the belly of his huge, black cauldron. Now, in The Black Cauldron it is up to Taran and friends, along with some new companions, to destroy the cauldron and prevent Arawn from growing his army.

Quick summary:

It’s hard to tell how much time has transpired between the events in the first novel and the beginning of this one but I assume it is a few months. After returning to their respective abodes (Eilonwy and Gurgi remained at Caer Dallben with Taran), they are rounded up by Prince Gwydion to embark on a quest to steal and destroy the black cauldron. Along with Taran and his friends, Gwydion calls upon various warriors and kings from across the land to congregate at Caer Dallben for a council before embarking on the quest.

They travel to Annuvin, Arawn’s lair in the north, where they believe the cauldron is housed. Taran makes some new friends on the journey such as the poetic Adaon, who is both a warrior and a bard, while gaining the ire of others, specifically Ellidyr, a lowly prince from a small kingdom. While Doli and Fflewddur accompany Gwydion and his company in infiltrating Annuvin, Taran remains without the fortress with Adaon and Ellidyr, serving as rear guard. The plan goes smoothly except there is no cauldron steal. Plus, Eilonwy and Gurgi, who were both left behind at Caer Dallben, pop up unexpectedly and the groups—both front and rear guards—are attacked by Arawn’s ferocious Huntsmen. It’s an unfortunate situation but with Adaon and Doli’s help, Taran and his party are able to escape the Huntsmen and seek refuge at a Fair Folk waypost. They had to part from Gwydion’s party while escaping the Huntsmen.

At the waypost, they learn that the cauldron was stolen by three odd beings—Orddu, Orwen, and Orgoch—that reside in the Marshes of Morva. Determined to destroy the cauldron and rid the world of its evil, Taran decides to brave the marshes than travel south to regroup with Gwydion. Ellidyr, whose nasty attitude makes him ill company, breaks from the group to acquire the cauldron on his own. The group continues without him but is attacked by the Huntsmen again, which proves fateful. Those who remain make it to the hut of Orddu, Orwen, and Orgoch, where they have to trade something of high value to acquire the cauldron. The company also learns that to destroy the cauldron, a person must willingly climb in to it knowing that he will never climb out. Disappointed by this revelation, they decide to carry the cauldron to Dallben to see if he can devise a better solution. But the cauldron doesn’t make it that far. The company is first thwarted by Ellidyr, whose pride drives him to rob them of the cauldron, and then captured by a rogue member of Gwydion’s selected questers. In the end, a sacrifice is made to prevent the spread of the cauldron’s evil influence.

My thoughts:

Another great story. Simple and easy to read though a bit predictable. It’s the predictability that sours my enjoyment of this book. Not so much so that I would dislike the story, but enough that I liked it less than I did The Book of Three. First, the various foreshadowing alluding to a potential death, and second, the darkness lurking about Ellidyr waiting to engulf him. Then there’s Ellidyr himself who serves as a foil to Taran. From the moment we meet him riding his high horse we know that he will be pitted against Taran. If this novel was written today and geared more toward teens than middle graders, a love triangle would be included. I’m glad there isn’t one. It’s silly that such things affected my reading experience negatively since they are to be expected, especially since I read the first book, but I couldn’t help being put off by them.

Apart from that, I enjoyed the story because it reminded me of other timeless texts/characters. It’s as if Alexander’s story was calling out to the other texts, praising them for their influence. I couldn’t help thinking of The Hobbit while reading because of the allure of the cauldron, the fact that its possessor can easily lose it, and how it seeks evil and attracts it. The allure of the cauldron, especially when it causes a person’s greed to consume him, reminds me of the power the Ring held over Bilbo and Gollum. Of course, I shouldn’t be surprised at the similarities since the stories are influenced by mythologies from northwestern Europe. Tolkien’s Lord of the Ring series has some Celtic influence and Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain is based in Welsh mythology. Both mythologies are similar and influence each other.

The Hunstmen are familiar as well. They reminded me of the Nazgûl because they are connected to Arawn’s power and have committed themselves (their souls) to him. When a Hunstman dies, his comrades become more powerful and ferocious thus making them all difficult to defeat. It’s not impossible that Alexander read The Hobbit at some point and that certain aspects of the story influenced this one. After all, The Hobbit was published in 1937 and The Book of Three in 1964.

“There is a destiny laid on us to do what we must do, though it is not always given to us to see it.” –Adaon

Orddu, Orwen, and Orgoch from the Disney adaptation of the novel.

Orddu, Orwen, and Orgoch from the Disney adaptation of the novel.

Another similarity is seen in Orddu, Orwen, and Orgoch, whom seem to be the oldest beings in Prydain next to Medwyn from The Book of Three (he reminded me of Noah from the Bible when I read his part). Orddu, Orwen, and Orgoch are the Fates but are not referred to as such in the story though there are many signs that suggest this. They come across as three silly but powerful old hags but at night when they think no one is watching they turn into beautiful maidens carding, spinning, and weaving wool. There’s also the clue that they live in a marsh called “Morva” and the Fates are sometimes referred to as moirai (or maybe I’m reaching with that one). The appearance of the Fates makes obvious Alexander’s intention for this installment. While the first book touches on responsibility and independence, this one focuses on destiny and fate; more so one’s inability to change one’s fate.

(Spoiler in this paragraph!) This message is hinted at with Adaon’s death. Because of his brooch, he knew he would die if he went into the marshes but he didn’t try to prevent it because that was his fate. I thought it odd that the adult in the group left the decision on how to progress (regroup with Gwydion or pursue the cauldron) to a kid but Adaon did not want to shy away from his fate plus Taran is obviously destined for greater things so this is a necessary lesson I guess. By revealing that everyone, even the evil Arawn, is allowed a chance with the cauldron, the Fates hint at the axiom, “What will be, will be.” It’s an unsettling proverb that. All things have their time and even evil is given a chance though fate doesn’t view things/people in such stark terms.

Next is Ellidyr. Ellidyr craves greatness. Unfortunately his sour attitude and the fact that he’s the last of his line with no inheritance except his name and title makes it difficult for him to acquire what he craves. His pride and want for recognition and greatness manifests into a black beast that haunts him. As Taran’s foil, Ellidyr makes it easy for the reader to see that Taran craves the same things as Ellidyr and to the same extent, though Taran tries to deny this at first. Apart from the sour attitude, the other thing that separates the boys is Ellidyr’s title. It’s that title that makes it seem that Taran’s dreams are impossible. How can a lowly assistant pig keeper ever become a great warrior? However the boys’ fates also distinguish them. Though Ellidyr is of noble birth, he is not destined for material wealth or greatness, as he imagines it. But Taran, who comes from nothing and has nothing, is fated to gain everything.

“You chose to be a hero not through enchantment but through your own manhood.” –Gwydion

Of course, I don’t know that for sure. After all, I am only on book two of the series. But judging how he is treated by nobles such as Gwydion and Morgant King of Madoc and that he is raised by Dallben, it can be inferred that this kid has big shit coming. Anyways, good book and I highly recommend the series. I have way more to say—stuff on how good intentions sometimes lead to corruption and how annoying Eilonwy is but I admire her efforts to speak out against the male dominance of her world—but this reflection is already very long. It’s a quick read though so you can pick it up to read over the Christmas holiday.

Quotes from the book:

“There is much to be known…and above all much to be loved, be it the turn of the seasons or the shape of a river pebble. Indeed, the more we find to love, the more we add to the measure of our hearts.” –Adaon

“There is truth in all things, if you understand them well.” – Adaon

“You should know there is adventure in simply being among those we love and the things we love, and beauty, too.” –Adaon

“It is easy to judge evil unmixed…But, alas, in most of us good and bad are closely woven as the threads on a loom.” –Gwydion

 

Book News: Film Adaptation of Stephen King’s “It”

I am excited to learn that Stephen King’s horror novel It will be adapted for film. The plan is to split the book into two movies. Cary Fukunaga, an American film director known for the True Detective series, will direct the first movie. The producer for the film is Dan Lin.

It is a story of a group of kids who are terrorized by a wise-cracking, demon-possessed clown. I am glad that someone decided to take on this project. The 1990 miniseries based on It was scary when I was a kid but watching it now, I find it laughable. I know the planned project will be much better but I hope they do it justice. I have yet to read the novel but I’ll get to it before this film is ready for theaters.

Vulture has more on the announcement.

The Blood of Olympus1

“The Blood of Olympus” by Rick Riordan

This is the UK cover, which I like best. The heroes look like they mean business and Gaea is just lurking underground, waiting for their blood to spill. I also like that she takes up most of the cover.

This is the UK cover, which I like best. The heroes look like they mean business and Gaea is lurking underground, waiting for their blood to spill. I also like that she takes up most of the cover.

The long-awaited final installment of the Heroes of Olympus series was released on October 7th, 2014. I wasted no time in getting it. As soon as I was finished with TIME magazine’s issue on great empires, I grabbed The Blood of Olympus to read and boy was it worth it!

So we’re done with the House of Hades and the Doors of Death. The heroes are plagued by nightmares and monsters, as always, and now they have other worries: getting the Athena Parthenos back to Camp Half-Blood before Nico disappears into the shadows; avoiding Orion’s arrows; figuring out how to stop Gaea from waking and if/when she does, how to get rid of her; and defeating the giants gathered at the Parthenon. Our heroes have a lot on their plate, not to mention their constant anxiety over their companions’ safety as well as the preservation of their respective camps. We can’t help but wonder whether the heroes will accomplish all their tasks and save the world and whether they will need therapy after the events of this book.

As always with Riordan’s books, The Blood of Olympus is fast-paced; however, it has a more mellow moments throughout that the other books. The characters reflect on their actions and futures more and they are not as obsessed with their significant others. —Well, expect for Annabeth but we’ll excuse her since she went through hell with Percy.— I was glad to see that certain characters stepped up while others took a back seat. The most improved is Piper, who starts to kick some serious ass. She finds her strength, which is in her emotions and instincts, and she trusts in it to whip a giant’s butt while soothing Annabeth, who has an emotional breakdown. I think Piper is strongest in this installment. In the other books she is too focused on her relationship with Jason, which detracts from her strength and sense of purpose. Though she does care for Jason in this one, it does not consume her purpose.

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Alia Atkinson: First Jamaican and First Black Woman to Win a World Swimming Title

Zezee:

Woot! Woot! An amazing moment.

Originally posted on Repeating Islands:

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Shanelle Weir writes that Alia Atkinson made history in Doha yesterday evening when she became the first black woman – and racer from Jamaica either gender – to win a world swimming title – and, she adds, “the moment came with a fourth line in the history books: in 1:02.36, she matched the world record of the woman she pipped, Ruta Meilutyte, Olympic and World l/c champion.” Atkinson credits her parents: “Growing up on the island of Jamaica, surrounded by some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, my parents felt that not only was learning to swim important for keeping me safe from drowning, but that the ability to swim would also provide me a lifelong passport to a world of recreational pleasures and employment possibilities on a planet that is mostly made of water.”

Read excerpts here (see link below for full article):

The first black woman ever to hold a…

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Missing My October Groove

Daily Prompt: Winning Streak

What’s the longest stretch you’ve ever pulled off of posting daily to your blog? What did you learn about blogging through that achievement, and what made you break the streak?

It’s odd when things like this happens: when I happen upon something that relates to what’s going on in my life or how I currently feel. Today’s daily prompt is like that. I just posted on Facebook that I find it hard to write because all my thoughts suck and the motivation has disappeared. Much as I would like to write, everything I type seems wrong. So I hopped over to Daily Post for some inspiration.

Today’s prompt is fitting if I substitute “posting daily” for “writing daily.” From the end of September to the beginning of November, I wrote daily. Sometimes it was for my blog and other times it was personal. I was inspired, motivated, and on a creative high that I thought would never end. I was happy that I was caught up on discussing the books I read and that visits to my blog had perked up some and I had even gained a few new followers. Writing daily helped to make my thoughts clearer and strengthened my writing. I learned that though I thought I was a night writer, anytime of the day worked as long as I commit myself to the task. But my creative energy is usually higher in the mornings, shortly after waking up, or late at night. I also learned that once I am in that zone where I’m typing away heedless of what’s occurring around me, it doesn’t matter where I am working or how noisy the area is. Once I am committed to the task, I enter a vacuum where all that exists are my thoughts and the characters I tap on to the screen. I was happy with this process and I thought I had finally formed a writing habit that would remain but the constant writing lasted for a month and then stopped.

I wrote nothing for the month of November. At first I reasoned that I was just taking a break—that I’d OD’d on writing and I needed a breather. Then it was that I needed to finish reading my current books and then I would have something to discuss. Next came the usual excuse: “I’m too busy.” And then the cop-out: “I don’t feel motivated/inspired/creative/in-the-zone to write.” But those excuses were just a mask for the truth—I had broken a productive cycle and become lazy. I began by skipping one day, which led to two, then three, four, five, and so forth until a month had passed and I wrote nary a thing. I couldn’t even muster the motivation to discuss the books I read. But I hope December will be different. Starting with this post, my plan is to push myself to write every day until I get back my October groove.

“Dataclysm” by Christian Rudder

Available at your local bookstore.

I received an ARC from Random House. I was excited when I got it in the mail. Thanks Random House!

Christian Rudder, a Harvard grad and co-founder and president of the dating site OkCupid, has written an engaging book in which he uses data to analyze human behavior. Most of the data is taken from OkCupid’s user base, and is presented as an aggregate so no one is singled out. According to Rudder, he is telling the story of the masses.

Dataclysm is a wonderful read. It’s funny, light, and relatable with a few narratives thrown in. The book looks thick but it can be a quick read if you have the time for it. It also helps that the text and graphs are visually appealing. If you’re interested in graphic design, I suggest taking a look at Rudder’s graphs and tables. He presents a variety of them in a clean manner that makes them easy to understand.

Rudder draws surprising conclusions from his data though some were more of a confirmation for what I already know. A few points Rudder uncovers include: older men are more attracted to younger women (a glance at the TV show Millionaire Matchmaker proves this); using Twitter may actually improve one’s writing than hurt it; the more followers a person has on Twitter, the more that person sounds like a corporation. He also includes his opinions on his findings, some of which I disagree with, but I like reading them. He doesn’t try to ignore the subjectivity of his research.

One problem I have with his data, though, is that he takes it for granted that people on OkCupid are being entirely honest on their profiles. People do lie on the internet and often try to present themselves in a favorable light. I think Rudder should have taken that into consideration even if OkCupid does ask a bunch of questions to weed out the fakes. It makes me question the stats in his data even though his conclusions ring true.

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