Where Is Prydain in 'The Black Cauldron'?

Prydain on the cover of 'The Black Cauldron' OST

This week marks 100 years since Disney's founding. To get to where it is now, the world's second-largest media company had to go through numerous peaks and troughs over the course of a century. 

Glossed over at times in the celebrations are the failures that paved the way for its many successes. For most of the 1980s, Disney had to endure its own Dark Ages, a period marked by discontent among employees and a string of poorly received films. 

None flopped harder than "The Black Cauldron," the big-screen adaptation of "The Chronicles of Prydain." Despite its extravagant budget and then-state-of-the-art animation techniques, the movie bombed at the box office upon release in 1985, following years of delays in production.  

On paper, the story of a young farmhand finding adventure in a magical realm called Prydain sounded very captivating. 

Prydain is actually a real place, a whole country. The Welsh called the entire island of Britain by that name in medieval times. 

And the Prydain books themselves drew from the myths and folklores of Wales. "It has marvelous castles and scenery. It has its own language," the Newbery Award-winning author Lloyd Alexander told publisher Scholastic. "It was quite a big experience for me. I'm sure that stayed in my mind for a good many years and became part of the raw material for the Prydain books."

Concept art of the Horned King's Spiral Castle by Tim Kirk (above via Heritage Auctions) and Harlech Castle (photo below via Darren Tennant), one of many medieval structures in Wales that inspired Lloyd Alexander to write The Chronicles of Prydain

Prydain fans have noticed that the Great Avren River has a real-life inspo in the Severn River, Britain's longest river, while the Ystrad River is somewhat reminiscent of the River Wye, the country's fourth-longest. The fictional Isle of Mona is clearly named after Ynys Môn, an old Welsh name for the very real Isle of Anglesey. 

Surprisingly, Alexander was not British at all. The Philadelphia-born author was just briefly stationed by the US army in Wales during World War II. But even in America, Alexander cultivated a lifelong love for the legend of King Arthur, who originated in sixth-century Welsh literature.

In his note for the final book of the series, "The High King," Alexander acknowledged that although Prydain grew from Welsh legend, it has broadened into his "attempt to make a land of fantasy relevant to the world of reality."

If "The Lord of the Rings" and "Game of Thrones" could do it, will "The Chronicles of Prydain" find favor with viewers as a live-action retelling? Only time will tell if this is just, well, high fantasy. But for now, "The Black Cauldron" is available in all its boiling, bubbling glory on Disney+.


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