The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander. 222/222.
Great news: TARAN DEVELOPS AS A CHARACTER and EILONWY IGNORES SEXISM AND COMES ON THE QUEST AND CONTINUES TO BE IRRITABLE AND MAKE SORT OF BAD METAPHORS, eg Eilonwy is still the best character ever.
But my big deal in this book is, Why the heck did you even bring that guy?
In this book, a bunch of wise and war-battered people are getting together to steal the world’s grossest cookpot from Arawn (who we may recall from The Book of Three and also The Mabinogion is the Welsh king of the land of the Welsh dead, alternately Annuvin or Annwn), who keeps using said pot to cook up zombies, aka, CAULDRON-BORN.
This kid Ellidyr, he’s a prince, he’s a jerk, he and Main Character Pig-Boy Taran start duking it out as soon as they meet, but also this Ellidyr, he is a giant jerk to everyone. He is rude to eeeeeeveryone. It is obvious from the minute all these wise war fellows start making their plans that he is going to figure out how to screw everything up, because he’s literally the worst, and proud of it. PROUD OF EVERYTHING, in fact. Way too proud. Viceproud.
But they still take him along, and he does screw things up, and eventually he runs off with his horse to find the cauldron himself and get glory or whatever, and he fails at that, but Taran and his friends (Taran has friends, due to not being an enormous jerk) DO find the wicked cookpot, and Ellydir shows up and practically dies of hate, and then he basically threatens, fights, and thieves them out of it. He makes them promise not to tell anyone they were the ones who found it because otherwise his glory will be all screwed up. So WELL DONE ELLYDIR, YOU HAVE SHOWN YOUR WORTH. He even manages to bring it to the ONE GUY in their plan who is secretly scheming to make a whole zombie army of his own and totally outdo old Arawn. (I don’t know how you can beat the king of Annuvin at dead armies, but whatever.)
And the WHOLE TIME I am like WHY. ARE. YOU. EVEN. ON. THIS. QUEST? WHO LET YOU COME ON THIS QUEST WHY ARE YOU QUESTING and it turns out that the answer is, he is there to throw himself nobly to his death into the wicked cookpot and solve everyone’s problems.
Ah, they reflect. Truly he became noble at the end.
It’s convenient that the one guy you can’t stand is just noble enough at the end to solve the problem of “who do we get to willingly die in a wicked zombie cookpot which is tragically the only way said cookpot can possibly be destroyed?” It’s great. But seriously, if I were Prince Gwydion, leader of men, maker of plans, I would have heard one word out of this kid and told him to wait outside until the war was over. Failing that, if I were Adaon, the extremely wise gentle extremely doomed adult leader of Taran’s band, I would have wisely gently bopped that little jerk in the head halfway across the plains, and he would have taken a nap, and we would have booked it out of catching-up distance so fast.
WHO JUMPS IN THE ZOMBIE POT NOW, THEN? you ask. Well, I do not know, and that is why I did not write this book or get a Newbery Honor or whatever. I just write this blog.