And now the first in a long running series of articles highlighting those I consider feminist heroes in fiction.
There’s a reason I bet you’ve never heard of The Black Cauldron. It’s a dark, hot mess of a film that came from a time where Disney animated films were so unprofitable that the parent company considered scrapping the house of Snow White and Sleeping Beauty.
And let’s get this out of the way; notwithstanding top notch visuals, 1985’s The Black Cauldron was one of the most disappointing films ever to be released in the studio’s history.
My personal beef with the project is because the way they lazily slapped together the first two books in my favorite series; The Chronicles of Prydain,
More accessible than Lord of the Rings, yet more mature than the early Harry Potter books, The Prydain books hit a very sweet spot for me: High adventure, humor, and romance in a light fantasy that won’t send you to wikipedia trying to understand the mythology.
I’m not going to speak of the Disney film much. (yes, I totally click-baited you) I haven’t seen it in 14 years, and my last viewing left a terrible impression on me. The portrayal of the lead heroine may or may not have been faithful, but I don’t remember it well enough to say. But recently I introduced my 9 year old son to the book series, and was deeply impressed how amazing a feminist role model Eilonwy is.
When we’re introduced to Eilonwy (pronounced eye-Lawn-wee) in the Book of Three, she’s been confined to live with the wicked Queen Achren whom she believed was her aunt. But in a great gender role reversal, Eilonwy rescues our main hero Taran from his dungeon cell, and joins up in Taran’s mission to warn the High King from an onslaught of evil.
Eilonwy’s merit doesn’t stop there. She is brave, always willing to head into action along her male counterparts, insisting that she comes from a lineage that included sword maidens, every bit as capable as the male warriors.
But Eilonwy’s true appeal comes from her wit. She never allows the men to put her in her place, she refuses to be silent, and she constantly is leaving Taran speechless and confounded by her slightly twisted logic and sharp rhetoric. She often calls into question Taran’s intelligence, and babbles incessantly in funny ways.
It’s obvious from the start that Eilonwy and Taran are designed to fall in love, but it is a very VERY long journey before they get there, spanning the entire series in the process. Taran and Eilonwy are are attracted to each other from early on, but the story allows their friendship blossom first and foremost, and a great deal of time is given for both of them to grow up considerably before any romance starts.
Perhaps equally as important, Eilonwy is not a LINETS (Love Interest Non-Essential To Story). She is not a footnote in Taran’s Journey. She has her own coming-of-age tale embedded in the epic. Her showdown with Queen Achren which plays out in the third book is particularly spectacular. She’s written with distinct characteristics that make her memorable. The princess with the Red-Gold Hair is definitely worth our praise.
Not bad for a book published in 1966.