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A Thief By Comparison

Updated on April 25, 2019

So how do they compare?

A Thief by Comparison?

The first time The Black Cauldron premieres, it is 1985. The Lord of the Rings, written by Tolkien around 1917, is released in 2001. The Black Cauldron is a book in a series called the Chronicles of Prydain, written by Lloyd Alexander and published in 1965. Both book series are classified as fantasy, but what else can tie these seemingly different series together? What possible coincidences take place and does Alexander take some of Tolkien’s main themes to build on his series?


J.R.R. Tolkien is credited with writing the best fantasy series of all time and it is not hard to see how he earned such a title. He begins writing the Lord of the Rings series in 1917, and his efforts are delayed due to the war. The book is published in 1954. His series follows a hobbit, Bilbo and his nephew Frodo. It all begins when Frodo’s uncle, Bilbo, decides to leave a magic ring in his [Frodo] possession. Long story short, Frodo has to take the magic ring back to the place it was created, so he can destroy it. He goes on a journey with his friends and it takes years, but he ultimately succeeds and sails off into the sunset.

The Black Cauldron is book two in a series called the “Chronicles of Prydain”. It is published at least 20 years before Disney decides to make the animated version. In this story, the audience follows Taran, a young pig keeper. This also takes place in the “Middle Earth” time frame. Taran is charged with taking care of this special pig, it is found out that Henwen [the pig] has magic powers and must be protected. In the meantime, there is an evil “horned king” who wants a specific, magic cauldron. The pig is the only one who can show him where it is, due to the fact that the pig possesses a special skill, magical powers .So, off Taran goes to keep the pig safe and hidden. He loses Henwen and has to find her. That is the basis of the journey, to find the pig before the king does, because if they king gets the cauldron, it would be like Sauron getting the ring. Like Frodo, the boy holds the fate of the world in his hands.
There are so many similarities between the two that it seems as if Alexander took some of Tolkien’s themes and ideas. In both The Lord of the Rings and The Black Cauldron, both young men are on a quest. One is on a quest to find a pig before the dark lord does, and the other is on a quest to destroy the ring before the dark lord saves it. Basically, the same plot with different objects. Both series are fantasy based and they include wizards, magic, evil kings, bad places, and goblins/orcs. The names of the “bad places” are even set up the same way. In Lord of the Rings, it is referred to as the “land of Mordor”. In The Black Cauldron, it is called the “land of doom”. Though it takes place in Prydain, residents apparently call the area where the Horned King resides the, “land of doom”. Taran, the pig keeper, is ultimately trying to find the pig so he can locate the special cauldron too. In both series, if the evil king is to get the object they desire, middle earth will be destroyed.

There are also many similarities between the creatures that Frodo and Taran encounter along their way. Frodo finds Gollum, and Gollum seems unimportant at first to the reader. Taran finds Gurgi, who is a nuisance and just hangs around for some odd reason. Both of these seemingly irrelevant characters shape the events and outcomes of their stories in a drastic way. Taran needs Gurgi, and at the end of the story, Taran acquires the cauldron; yet the only way to destroy the dark magic it has, is to climb down in it, killing the person inside. Gurgi climbs down into the cauldron, of his own free will, rendering it powerless. Frodo on the other hand, needs Gollum to lead him to the gates of Mordor, so he can enter and locate Mount Doom. The names here are another similarity, “Land of Doom”, in The Black Cauldron; Mount Doom in Lord of the Rings. Frodo has to throw the ring into the mountain to destroy it, but Gollum grabs the ring, falling into the fires of Mount Doom on his own accord. Both Gollum and Gurgi will sacrifice themselves for the things that they love the most, though Gurgi comes back to life in Disney’s version of the story.

There are also many similarities between the main characters, Taran and Frodo. Frodo knows a wizard named Gandalf, who prompts him forward on the journey. Taran works for Dallben the Enchanter, as his pig keeper. Taran is sent off on his journey to find the wizard’s pig. Both characters are unsure and timid in the beginning, but begin to gain strength and courage as their stories progress. Even the endings are the same for both. In the movie adaptation of the Lord of the Rings, they literally sail off into the sunset. In the Black Cauldron, it ends with the characters marching off into a strange sunset as well.

When both of these movies end, nothing sheds light on to what may happen after. The audience is left to speculate.

Who really knows if Alexander stole some of Tolkien’s ideas, or if he just admired them? No matter the case, it is quite obvious to fans of the Lord the Rings series that these story lines are intertwined somehow. They seem to have the same basic principles, made for their own adaptations, only using different objects. Both stories have an object important enough that someone will die in order to render it powerless, as well as joyous sailing/marching off into the sunset.

They both leave more questions, not more answers. What more can an audience want? Kidding. Closure, closure is what the people want!


Works Cited
Alexander, Lloyd. The Black Cauldron / Lloyd Alexander. New York : H. Holt, 2006, c1965., 2006. The chronicles of Prydain: bk. 2. EBSCOhost, proxygsu-gamc.galileo.usg.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edshlc&AN=edshlc.012880849-7&site=eds-live&scope=site.
Barratt, David. "Tolkien Publishes the Lord of the Rings." Salem Press Encyclopedia, January. EBSCOhost, proxygsu-gamc.galileo.usg.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ers&AN=89316395&site=eds-live&scope=site.
McGregor, Robert Kuhn. "The Two Towers by J. R. R. Tolkien." Salem Press Encyclopedia of Literature, January. EBSCOhost, proxygsu-gamc.galileo.usg.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ers&AN=87575450&site=eds-live&scope=site.
McGregor, Robert Kuhn. "The Return of the King by J. R. R. Tolkien." Salem Press Encyclopedia of Literature, January. EBSCOhost, proxygsu-gamc.galileo.usg.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ers&AN=87575420&site=eds-live&scope=site.
"The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien." Salem Press Encyclopedia of Literature, January. EBSCOhost, proxygsu-gamc.galileo.usg.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ers&AN=87575344&site=eds-live&scope=site.

© 2019 Briana Smith

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