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He Was an Assistant Pig Keeper

The Black Cauldron and the beautiful fantasy world of Prydain

By Claudia NeavesPublished 3 years ago 3 min read
He Was an Assistant Pig Keeper
Photo by Artem Maltsev on Unsplash

It may not be popular among the animators at Disney, but you would be hard-pressed to find a more compelling tale than that of Taran in The Black Cauldron. The 1985 animated film is loosely based on Lloyd Alexander's The Chronicles of Prydain, a re-imagined take on Welsh mythology set in the Middle Ages. Taran, a teenage wannabe-warrior and his oracle pig face off against the Horned King, and make a few friends along the way. It's cheesy. It's predictable. And it is the best example of a classic fantasy since once upon a time.

He was just an assistant pig-keeper.

What child hasn't picked up a stick and pretended it was a sword? A magic wand? When Taran scrubs the mud off Hen Wen's porky back, he isn't just a pig boy. He's a hero. You can hear the cheers of admiration echoing in his mind as he falls into his dreamy distraction. When he looks at his reflection, he is unrecognizable from the scrawny adolescent we see on screen. He is older, more handsome, and glittering in golden armor. When Hen Wen is spooked by a vision and their master calls them inside, the illusion is shattered. Pig and pig boy. No swords, and no armor. At least not yet.

There is a certain familiarity to watching someone dissociate; we all do it. Commuting, sitting restless in an airport, cramped up at my desk with an espresso in hand, I can easily fall into a fantasy world like Prydain. I would strum along with Fflewddur and his enchanted lute. I'd wear dresses like Princess Eilonwy, illuminated prettily by the glow of her orb. I'd wield a sword like Taran. I could be a hero too.

And Prydain is certainly in need of a hero. The Horned King is a monologing, nightmarish ghoul with sunken eyes and a pair of dragon-like monsters at his disposal. Seriously, the guy is scary, and his screeching beasts are even worse. If his goblin chief Creeper, is meant to be comic relief, then it is surely short-lived. Hen Wen is dragged squealing into the dilapidated throne room. Just when it seems the location of the Black Cauldron may be revealed, Taran clumsily saves the day.

He finds a princess, and then he finds a sword. There are lots of magical relics in this fantasy world, but the sword is really important to the story. The sword moves as if by its own volition, slicing and dicing through the Horned King's soldiers. Taran hangs on for dear life, but it is he who is left standing, quite the warrior, among the fallen henchmen. The sword is the object of his heroic fantasy, and when he gives it up to save his friends, he thinks it's the pinnacle of sacrifice. It's not--I won't spoil the film for you, but you can probably guess there are more precious things to lose than a sword. Even if the sword is magic.

There are Fair Folk, who seem good, and then there are witches, who seem bad. There is drama and romance. There is a strangely cute gopher-bear-boy, Gurgi, who munches and crunches his way into the friend group, and a legion of the Cauldron Born undead. It really is your classic fantasy: a journey, a hero, a villain, and a few mythical artifacts to carry along the plot.

It's not a world where billionaires build bat caves and super suits. It's not about being chosen or groomed or trained for some higher purpose. Prydain is simply a fantasy where a boy can dream of being something more, go on an adventure, and become the hero of his own story. And that is really special.

Taran was just an assistant pig-keeper, after all.

fan fiction

About the Creator

Claudia Neaves

Mother, Soldier, Physician, Reader, and Writer

If you like me on the page, you may enjoy a more immersive listening experience. Catch my episodes, Destinations and Beyond a Shadow on Full Body Chillls by Audiochuck

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    Claudia NeavesWritten by Claudia Neaves

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