2018-06-01 00:14:41 UTC
I posted this in the 2007 obituary thread for Lloyd Alexander:
I remember one critic saying that the main theme in his fantasies is that "magic just doesn't matter." Certainly that comes out clearly in "The Wizard in the Tree," where the unloved, dreamy orphan girl is forced to realize over time that wishing doesn't solve anything and accepting adult responsibilities just might - and that that doesn't even necessarily include finding anyone to love.
But, in the Prydain Chronicles, that's not so clear when it comes to the character of Eilonwy. Here's what I wrote elsewhere in 2000:
I realize now that Eilonwy's decision (in "The High King") was supposed to be part of Alexander's thesis that "magic just doesn't matter" and that it's supposed to make her look like more of an adult. Except that when I first read it, I didn't feel that way, since I never felt she ever rose above the level of "clever child" and her magic tricks were the only thing that seemed to help her in that respect. I still can't really think of her as a woman. Though she almost seems like one in the last two chapters of "Castle of Llyr".
Not to mention that Dallben doesn't necessarily want her to be the equal of Taran when he said "we must be more than what we are." But we'll never really know.
Anyway, I thought this little recent debate was good - while one person says that Eilonwy is a dated character, another person responds and points out that even Taran is not allowed to rely on magic and Dallben would not want him to do so.
"...Magic is, almost exclusively, Lloyd’s metaphor for laziness and/or immaturity, the vain grasp for a quick fix or solution that would be better and more worthily attained by hard work, sacrifice, learning, and time. In every book, the villains (or, in book 4, the hero) seek some sort of magical McGuffin that will grant them supreme power or ultimate knowledge at whim - the pig, the cauldron, the peledryn, the mirror, the sword. It’s usually the villains who want the Magical Thing for all the wrong reasons.
"Notable exceptions such as Adaon’s brooch - granting powers to a man so virtuous he doesn’t actually need them - or Dallben’s and Gwydion’s acts of self-defense - necessary to interact with men who have ceased to think or act like men so must be dealt with like beasts - just serve to underscore this. Other instances in which magic is more or less neutral, it’s usually disappointing: Doli’s invisibility makes him miserable, Gurgi’s inexhaustible wallet produces tasteless food; Glew hates himself just as much regardless of his size. Magic is a cheat, an empty promise.
"This is why the series culminates in the end of magic in Prydain AND ALSO a restoration of the secrets of agriculture and craft that Arawn has stolen. If you read the short stories in the Foundling, the account of this in The Smith, the Weaver, and the Harper makes it even clearer...
"...There are notes in his archives at the Philadelphia public library indicating that at one point he intended to write a companion novel to Wanderer; its working title was Eilonwy’s Education. I want to cry when I think of that untraveled road, but it does show that he thought her story was just as important as Taran’s, at that time..."
And I've always wondered what C.S. Lewis would have thought of the series - he died the year before "The Book of Three" was published. Too bad.