The Castle of Llyr, in addition to having the most Welsh name in the Prydain Chronicles, introduces one of the best characters in the book series: the gigantic mountain cat, Llyan. You can always tell when an author loves cats and is writing from their own experience, including terrible, willful behavior peppered with affection that is almost lethal. Diana Wynn Jones is another classic author for this sort of thing.
The story begins at Caer Dallben, when the Princess Eilonwy gets the worst news imaginable: she must travel to live with a lord and lady and learn to be a proper young noblewoman. No more swordplay and adventures, in their place she’ll learn to curtsy, dance, and cross-stitch. In this we see surprisingly modern sensibilities for a YA novel from 1966. The story is primarily from Taran’s perspective, but Eilonwy’s concerns are treated as valid and she is presented as a robust and three-dimensional character. She wants to live her own life and doesn’t see the value in learning to curtsy, but she comes slightly around on the idea when the promise of learning magic is thrown into the mix.
Adding to the mix, Eilonwy is slated for marriage to an absolute putz by the name of Prince Rhun. Taran is forced to make nice with this bumbling idiot, pretending that he isn’t wishing ill on him as he falls off docks and into water or rides into danger without realizing it. This serves as the primary moral throughout the story, with Taran learning that he has to still be a just and kind person to people who are unfairly getting what he wants. Eilonwy in addition is mad about this affair, understandably believing that she should have a say in who she marries.
Trouble ensues when Eilonwy is kidnapped by the scheming Magg, chief steward of Eilonwy’s new home. Taran and Rhun must travel across the island of Mona, encountering the aforementioned giant cat, the malicious and pathetic giant Glew, and the scheming machinations of the evil witch queen Achren. Taran continues to grow across his adventures, learning to be brave and compassionate in equal stead, even when it doesn’t benefit him.
I recommend reading this book much the same as I recommend the others. Two thumbs up, lots of fun.