The Castle of Llyr by Lloyd Alexander
first read : 170/170
Oh, Eilonwy, Eilonwy! Is it your fate to be a girl character who is massively underserved even by a great writer whom I generally respect a lot? In the third book of Prydain, our same set of characters–Taran the Assistant Pig-Keeper, Prince Gwydion, Fllewddur Flamm the half-bard-half-king, Gurgi the personage that’s like a not-evil Gollum, and Princess Eilonwy–all return Eilonwy to her island home, where everyone suggests she is going to be made Properly Princesslike.
These kinds of proclamations, and the protestations that follow, always turn themselves into an instant tight knot at the middle of my gut. Why? Because almost always when they’re meant to subvert the highly gender-specific “taming” of opinionated young women characters, they don’t end up being that subversive at all. And you know who I really love, in my whole heart, more than anyone else in any given story? The temperamental, imperfect, but ACTUALLY PERFECT rough-at-the-edges and sometimes just opinionated girls these things are said too.
Now, this has as much adventure in it as the last two, and, as in the last two, Taran (who I guess is the main character after all) learns some lessons about his pride. But this book is about Eilonwy’s return to her kingdom. It’s about the witch who imprisoned her as a child, who is now once again a rising threat. It’s Eilonwy’s story, it’s handed to you as a reader and a writer to be about Eilonwy. On the island, Eilonwy disappears. And what happens?
Well, for Taran and co. it’s a frightening rollicking adventure with giant cats, mysterious caves, magical books, new friends, and Taran’s important internal struggle with his new romantic feelings for Eilonwy, who (I mean, not according to what she knows, but what does that matter?) is apparently going to married to some doofy prince who doesn’t know how to do anything. Taran develops into MORE OF A MAN, although in my opinion his growing process is basically the same growth he did in the last two books.
Also I don’t care about Taran. This is Eilonwy’s book. I WANT TO KNOW ABOUT EILONWY. She gets to have an adventure, right? She gets to tell everyone off at the end for trying to reduce her to a prize or try to win her back just to flatten her out into something they consider appropriate? You get an absolute promise that she is going to be left as the perfect character she is, or at least be REALLY MAD if she’s not. Right? And she won’t be in cuddly love with Taran at just the right moment just because it’s tidy?
Eilonwy’s part of the book is this: offscreen, Eilonwy does something characteristically brave and gets kidnapped. She accidentally–not cleverly, but ACCIDENTALLY–leaves a trail for her friends by dropping her golden ball. The kidnapper brings her to Achren the evil enchantress, who immediately brainwashes her, and then they hang out together until THE MEN turn up and Achren makes Zombie Eilonwy try to kill them. Eilonwy wakes up just enough to help defeat Achren and then tries to get swept out to sea. She is rescued by Taran. She suggests that she would not like to give up her personality to be “princesslike” but oh well she will if she has to. She poutily suggests that she is prepared to be the love interest. The end.
That’s right, she gets TOTALLY damseled.
I love Lloyd Alexander, I do, but if I could just throw this book against the wall and start from scratch with Eilonwy in charge of the story, I would! I would throw it A LOT of times, actually. It’s a very nice cover, but I don’t care. I would throw it over and over!
Taran I do not care about. I JUST WANT EILONWY TO BE KING. I do NOT think that is a lot to ask.