Taran of Caer Dallben, also called Taran Assistant Pig-Keeper and later, Taran Wanderer, is the fictional protagonist of Lloyd Alexander's The Chronicles of Prydain series of books. Taran was a young man in late adolescence through early adulthood, who lived with Dallben the aged enchanter, and Coll, the stout warrior-turned-farmer. Taran was charged with taking care of the oracular pig Hen Wen, and throughout the events of the series was known under the title "Assistant Pig-Keeper".
Taran's age is never given in the series, though at the outset he seemed to be approximately thirteen years old. Nor are readers provided much description of the character's appearance, except hints that he was tall and strong, if somewhat skinny. As a result, Taran has been depicted in a variety of ways. In Evaline Ness's original 1960s cover illustrations, as in the 1990s covers by Jody Lee, Taran is depicted with lanky black hair. In Don Maitz's 1970s covers Taran's hair is wavy brown. In the early 1980s covers Taran's hair is shaggy and golden blonde. In the 1985 Disney film The Black Cauldron (see downpage), he has reddish-brown hair and brown eyes, and seems of about fourteen years of age. For all we may know, however, Taran could have been black, brown, pink, golden-yellow or red as clay. He is an every-boy.
Taran was courageous, though occasionally (in his early youth) rash and foolhardy. He harbored an intense desire to prove his worth and heroism through noble and warrior-like acts. Personal honor, adhering to oaths and upholding a basic morality were also uppermost in Taran's mind and heart. He is sometimes seen to doubt himself in making important decisions. Indeed, much of the series centers on Taran's search for, and validation of, his own worth -- as seen by both himself and others.
BiographyTaran was a foundling of unknown origin, discovered by Dallben the Enchanter amongst the slaughter on a battlefield. Dallben brought the baby to be raised and educated at a small farm called Caer Dallben, where the wise old man would protect him and educate him on laws and politics; while Coll, the warrior turned farmer, would give Taran a practical education in planting, harvesting and animal husbandry. As Taran grew up he became restless and longed for adventures beyond the borders of the farm. His time would eventually come when, directly after being granted the position of Assistant Pig-Keeper to Hen Wen, an oracular pig, the animal escaped her enclosure. Taran followed her and soon found himself caught up in a wider conflict that would determine the fate of the land of Prydain.
During his adventures Taran was befriended by the great Prince Gwydion Son of Don. After the two were captured by the Enchantress Achren, Taran met Princess Eilonwy, who freed the ancient, magical sword Dyrnwyn from Achren's clutches, an event that would set in motion a war that would bring about the defeat of Arawn Death Lord. Taran was assisted in his many quests by several friends, called the Companions, including the self-styled bard/king Fflewddur Fflam, the shaggy creature Gurgi, and the stalwart dwarf warrior, Doli.
Taran's adventures found him leading armies against Arawn, meeting a trio of witches, attempting to rescue the kidnapped Eilonwy from Achren's clutches, and struggling to come to terms with his own mysterious past. Eventually he proved his worth, both as a warrior and a man, and did his part in the defeat of Arawn following a pitched battle. With the Lord of Death's defeat, most of Taran's Companions had to journey to the Summer Country where they would be granted eternal youth and happiness. Invited on the voyage, Taran asked for Eilonwy's hand in marriage; yet soon, after reflection, he made the hard decision to stay in Prydain, to rebuild the country and society that had nearly been destroyed. Dallben warned Taran that he would give up eternal happiness for a difficult life that might end without any acknowledgement of his efforts. Taran remained steadfast in his decision. Eilonwy, descendant of enchanters, was bound to the journey along with all those of magic lineage.
With this decision, Dallben and Gwydion revealed to Taran that he has earned more than his honor; he had earned the title of High King of Prydain. Taran, through his own choices, had fulfilled a prophecy from The Book of Three which foretold that a boy of no known birth would rise up and, after defeating a serpent (a form taken by the Death Lord), choose a kingdom of sorrow over a kingdom of happiness. Taran, the sole survivor of a long-ago battle, had done all of that, and thereby proved his worth as the next High King. With Eilonwy as his Queen, Taran assumed the throne of Prydain, and ruled with justice and wisdom till the end of his days.
In all the trials that Taran had to face, he always had to "let something go". In The Book of Three he must quit his own quest to save Hen Wen so that he can alert the Sons of Don; in The Black Cauldron he had to exchange a magical brooch that granted him wisdom for the Black Crochan, and later had to surrender even the honor of capturing the deadly Cauldron so that he can transport it to be destroyed. In The Castle of Llyr he had to give up Eilonwy, though only temporarily while she was fostered in a royal court; and in Taran Wanderer, he gave up his quest to learn his parentage. In The High King he had to choose between his mission and his search for Eilonwy; and at the end there was his momentous decision of giving up eternal life in order to rebuild Prydain.
Like many figures in the series, Taran's name is derived from medieval Welsh legends collected in the so-called Mabinogion, where he is named as the father of a man named Glineu. Taran is also the Welsh word for thunder, and may be related to the Gaulish/Celtic god Taranis. Taran's role in the story seems to be based in part on the legendary figure of Pryderi, one of the heroes of the Mabinogion, the son of a king raised anonymously by farmers before discovering his birthright.
Taran, in somewhat altered form, is also the hero of the 1985 animated film, and the associated 1986 game, both of which were loosely based on the first and second novels in the series, The Book of Three and The Black Cauldron. Taran's story has a somewhat different meaning; Taran's arc throughout the film is realizing that he may actually not be born to be a hero or a great knight, as had been his ambition, and thus learning humility. This arc comes to a close when Gurgi (whom he treated as a rather pathetic sidekick) proves to have been far braver and more heroic than he, by choosing to sacrifice his life to stop the Black Crochan.
The name Taran, like so many others in The Chronicles of Prydain, appears in the collection of Welsh legends known as the Mabinogion, specifically in the tale "Branwen Daughter of Llyr", where a character called Gluneu Eli Taran (or Glinneu/Glifieu son of Taran) is listed as one of the seven men of Britain who survived an invasion of Ireland under Bran to retrieve a cauldron of renovation.
- "Now with this Donar of the Germani fits in significantly the Gallic Taranis whose name is handed down to us in Lucan 1, 440; all the Celtic tongues retain the word taran for thunder, Irish toran, with which one may directly connect the ON. form Thôrr, if one thinks an assimilation from rn the more likely. But an old inscription gives us also Tanarus (Forcellini sub v.) = Taranis. The Irish name for Thursday, dia Tordain (dia ordain, diardaoin) was perhaps borrowed from a Teutonic one."
In present day Welsh taranu and taran means 'to thunder' and 'thunder' (taraniñ and taran in Breton), and in present day Irish Tarann means 'thunder'.
Thoughts and Observations
Regarding Taran's physical appearance, it's reasonable to conclude that Taran's hair was brown, rather than black or red or blonde, because characters with all these other hair colors -- Adaon and Morgant, Eilonwy and Doli, Fflewddur and Rhun, respectively -- all have their hair color described. If Taran's hair color matched any of theirs, it seems reasonable that an association would have been made, as in, "Adaon's hair was black, like Taran's." Since author Alexander never makes any such association, it's at least possible that Taran's hair color was the only one never mentioned -- brown.