Decent Films Mail > Mailbag #12

Re: The Chronicles of Prydain books

Do you have an opinion on The Black Cauldron and other fantasy stories in The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander? I am a little disturbed by the concept of the human “un-dead” in the stories. I don’t know if these stories would be appropriate for my children, given that we are Catholic. Souls go either to heaven, hell, or purgatory, so is it okay to read about the “un-dead” in a fantasy story?

The Chronicles of Prydain are favorites in our household. I’ve read them aloud to my children at least three or four times, as each child becomes old enough to follow them. (We are not, however, fans of the dreadful Disney adaptation of The Black Cauldron.)

The books are very largely about Taran’s gradual, bumpy acquisition of wisdom and maturity; his slow, sometimes painful transition from foolishness to wisdom, irresponsibility to responsibility, pride to humility, self-sacrifice and service to others, love of glory to satisfaction in meaningful accomplishments.

I love that in each book in the series Taran is forced to advance to a new level of growth, and that in the next book he isn’t back to square one but has really grown, and now has some new challenge to face, some new area to grow in. Each book in the series is larger and grander than the one before, culminating in The High King, which really is a masterpiece of mythology for children.

I don’t think that Catholic parents need scruple at the Cauldron-Born. The Cauldron-Born are essentially automatons — mute, unthinking slaves who are said to have no memory of their earthly life and clearly have no free will. Eschatologically, it is not necessary to suppose that the souls of the dead have been somehow reunited to their bodies. Rather, the corpses are given a semblance of life by the malevolent use of magic.

One might posit, to bring the picture closer to a Catholic worldview, that the bodies are animated by evil spirits. But this isn’t necessary; it is enough to attribute it to magic. Of course the real world has not been invested by its Creator with magical forces per se, but in fiction it is possible to imagine worlds that God could have created differently. See my essay “Harry Potter vs. Gandalf” for more.

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