Taran decides that he must find out what his lineage is, hoping that it is of royalty so that he can ask Eilonwy’s hand in marraige.  (Eilonwy seems to have had no such requirement, but she is not here to say anything)  He and Gurgi, more faithful and helpful in Taran Wanderer than ever before, journey first to the Marshes of Morva to seek the answer from the three witches. He doesn’t have anything worth giving them, though, and the only thing they are willing to give him is the suggestion that he should look in the Mirror of Llunet.

So Taran sets off in search of the Mirror, managing to get his horse stolen by cantrev lord Goryon’s henchment and managing to get it back through wise words. Next he finds lord Gast, a man of tight-fisted generosity, as well as the errant king Fflewddur who is barding at Gast’s stronghold. Taking leave he comes to King Smoit’s castle, and Smoit is quite glad to see Taran, the more so after Taran wisely metes out a Solomonic judgement on the quarreling Gast and Goryon. Realizing that Taran’s judgement of reparation is more effective than time in his dungeons, Smoit offers to be Taran’s surrogate father should he decide to leave his quest.

Taran continues West and finds a dying frog who turns out to be none other than the reliable Doli who was tranfsormed by the wizard Morda. This Morda had acquired Eilonwy’s mother’s magical jewel (after her untimely death), learned its power, and seeks to acquire the long-life jewels of the Fair Folk. Through a chance finding of a bone (which Fflewddur characteristically cautions that it smells of enchanment, giving unheeded advice to leave it alone), Taran is prevented from being transformed by Morda subsequent to their capture by him, as the bone contains Morda’s life. In the scuffle to reclaim his life and bone he breaks the bone, killing himself and breaking his enchantments.

While seeking rest for the night, the party comes on Dorath’s band and Taran is speedily despoiled of the sword Dallben gave him, but fortunately delivered from Dorath’s “protection”. The next meeting is happier;  he meets his aged father searching for a lamb. The herdsman Craddoc, proud of his freedom lives in the lee of a mountain on somewhat less than bountiful land. Gurgi happily tends to the sheep, but although Taran does excellent work repairing the farm, he feels imprisoned by his duty to help his father farm. During the winter, Craddoc falls off a cliff, to his eventual death, but before dying confesses that he had told a half truth—Dallben had come to Craddoc’s farm, but Craddoc did not have a son whose keeping he entrusted to Dallben; Craddoc was not his father. In the spring, after recovering from his fall while aiding Craddoc, Taran and Gurgi set off to continue their quest.

By this time they have journied to the Free Commots, where they first meet Llonio, to whom life is all luck (but you have to cast your nets!). He lives on whatever happens to turn up and turn up something always does. Taran, having adopted the surname Wanderer, learns he cannot lead this life, takes his leave, and comes to Heyvd the blacksmith. Here Taran learns the art of blacksmithing by making a sword from iron ore, but despite his skill, it is not the calling for him. So he comes to the old weaver woman Dwyvach, who teaches him to make a new cloack, but again, with skill has not come a calling. Lastly he meets Annlaw Clay-Shaper, master potter. Here, in the molding of clay, Taran finds his calling, but alas, he has not the skill. So again he sets off for the Mirror of Llunet, now close by, rescuing another Cammot from the marauding Dorath in the process.

He indeed finds the Mirror, a small, shallow pool in a cave, which is promptly destroyed by Dorath, who has been following Taran, trying to discover (and steal) the treasure Taran seeks. But before Dorath destroyed it, Taran had seen his reflection in the Mirror and realized that he was what he made himself, that life was clay to be shaped, a pattern to be woven. And though he did not find who he was, he returns to Caer Dallben satisfied, because he is who he makes himself.

During Taran’s wanderings the reader discovers a bit more about the history of Prydain. From the beginning Arawn was described as having stolen the best of the land, hording it solely to prevent Prydain from benefiting from it, but we find out more about what Arawn stole. Originally the fields of Prydain were fair and productive, tilled by enchanted scythes and reapers that worked by themselves. But Arawn stole them and wars trampled the land leaving only a poor land behind. Similarly metalsmiths, weavers, and potters once had knowledge of the secrets of metallurgy, cloth, and pottery, now stolen and locked in Annuvin, denied to Prydain’s use while the people suffer from their lack. Prydain is a land of wistful memories of prosperous, sorrowless times past, but peopled with a race determined to make the best of what is left.

Taran Wanderer is a book about discovering oneself, discovering why life should be lived. Much like the writer of Ecclesiastises, who trys all things trying to discover the meaning of life, Taran trys many vocations and meets many kinds of people. And like us older “children” who are gradually discovering that life is what you make it, so Taran discovers that you are who you choose to be.

Review: 9
A bittersweet exposition on finding the purponse of one’s life. Humorous, creative, and poignant.

Character Assessment

Assisstant Pig-Keeper in search of an identity
Truly “faithful Gurgi” following “kindly master” even to the fearful Marshes of Morva
Farmer in Lord Gast’s territory bravely struggling to farm even though he does not have the strength
Lord Gast
Proud horserider (who cannot ride Melynlas, Taran’s horse)
Lord Goryon
Tightwad who thinks himself generous.
Wizard who seeks to raise himself above the animals that are humans
Marauding bandit for whom the pleasure is in the taking
Old herdsman in the shadow of the mountains struggling to keep a farm alive in the wilderness. Desires a son as much as Taran desires a father and who misrepresents himself to be that father.
Happy-go-lucky farmer. “Trust your luck, Taran Wanderer. But don’t forget to put out your nets!”
Blacksmith. “Metal’s [and mettle] worthless till it’s shaped and tempered”
Old weaver woman. “If life is a loom, the pattern you weave is not so easily unraveled [as with a physical loom]”
Annlaw Clay-Shaper
Wise and exceptionally skilled potter who always seeks to outdo himself. His pots are worth more than the gold in Goryon’s treasure house. “It is a heavy question. ... There are those who have labored all their lives to gain the gift, striving until the end only to find themselves mistaken; and those who had it born in them yet never know; those who lost heart too soon; and those who should never have begun at all. Count yourself luck that you have understood this now and not spent your years in vain hope.”
Young shepherd who helped Taran fend off Dorath’s band

Magic Items

  • Farm implements that work by themselves. (Stolen by Arawn)
  • The gem of the House of Llyr: gift of the Fair Folk to the House of Llyr, intended to be used to make burdens lighter.
  • Morda’s finger-bone: holds Morda’s life, which he poured into it with the help of the gem
  • Mirror of Llunet: Not really enchanted, except “to those who deem it so”, just a regular pool.
  • Cornillo: Cow who always knows where safety is. Lord Gast and Lord Goryon fight over her, ruining Aeddan’s meager, hand planted field with their fighting. Gast and Goryon are punished by being forced to give up Cornillo (although they each get one of her next calves) and to help Aeddan re-till his field.

Literary Notes

  • A timely book for an old “child” who still has no more idea who he is than Taran has.
  • Taran’s journey is not a terribly happy one; he meets with as many enemies as friends, as many betrayers as mentors. But at the end of it he has certainly experienced the world and all it has to offer.  And very realistically, he still hasn’t found out who he is. Prydain is not a fantasy land and the realism is especially resonant (at least with me) in this book. The people of this land have real problems, many of which are not fixed (just like real life).