Gwystyl is a character in Lloyd Alexander's fantasy Chronicles of Prydain book series. He first appears as one of the Fair Folk in the second novel of the series, The Black Cauldron. He also makes an appearance in the fifth and final novel, The High King.
Gwystyl is one of the Fair Folk, (possibly a sidh), a race of magical creatures who live in the fictional land of Prydain. He is described as resembling "a bundle of sticks with cobwebs floating at the top." He appears sickly, with sparse, long and stringy hair. He wears a mournful expression and with his anxious eyes, seems constantly on the verge of tears. His personality is no cheerier; he constantly complains and snivels, is a pessimist, and appears cowardly. He avoids conflict by asserting, "I am not up to it today...I'm not well, not at all well, really."
In the novels
The Black Cauldron
Taran and his companions meet Gwystyl as they are escaping the Huntsmen of Annuvin after their failed attempt to obtain the Black Crochan. Under the pressure of fellow Fair Folk, Doli, he gives them refuge from the vicious Huntsmen in his underground lair, but he immediately encourages them to leave. To the annoyance of Gwystyl, Kaw (who can speak one word sentences) blurts out the names of Orddu, Orwen and Orgoch in connection with the Cauldron. Gwystyl reluctantly reveals that the three sorceresses possess the Cauldron in the Marshes of Morva. After the companions have rested, Gwystyl sends them with directions to the Marshes with a supply of magical aides.
Gwystyl reappears near the end of the novel and assists the companions in the final battle scenes. It is revealed that Gwystyl is actually shrewd and brave, portraying a weaker image to his advantage. "Did you believer King Eiddileg would trust a lesser servant so close to Annuvin? But if you misjudged him, it was his intention that you do so." As the Cauldron is destroyed, Gwystyl gives Kaw to Taran as thanks from the Fair Folk. Kaw becomes a trusted companion throughout the remainder of the novels.
The High King
Gwystyl reappears in the fifth and final novel of the series, The High King. When Taran has been kidnapped, his companions Eilonwy, Fflewddur Fflam, and Prince Rhun enlist Gwystyl's aide in organizing an attack on Caer Cadarn, using additional supplies from Gwystyl's bag of magical tricks. They defeat Magg only because of Gwystyl's help.
Much later, Gwystyl leads an army of Fair Folk reinforcements in the final days of climactic battle for the control of Prydain. It is again revealed that his melancholy personality masks a brave and true individual. In his first appearance in the novel, he was reporting from a dangerous spying mission; in the second, he was one of the few who could lead the Fair Folk to fight with the humans.
In a final note, Gwystyl returns to Eiddileg's underground kingdom with the passing of magic from Prydain, never to return above ground. It is also explained that Gwystyl's personality and health were affected by living so close to the region of Annuvin, further burnishing his valiance.
According to a 1999 publisher's note, first quoting Alexander on The Chronicles, "'The people in it were born, like most children, at unlikely and inconvenient times.' ... The author first met the hopelessly distraught and harassed Gwystyl while sitting, under protest, in a dentist's chair!"
Alexander seemed to enjoy creating the self-pitying Gwystyl. When a friend complemented him on his "interesting self-portrait", he only very reluctantly agreed that he was qualified to play hypochondriac!
According to Alexander, nearly all of the proper names in Prydain are from Welsh myth or history, perhaps all except Eilonwy and Taran.
Like many others, the name Gwystyl is from the collection of medieval Welsh-language prose tales known as the Mabinogion. However, none of the characters in those tales resemble Alexander's character.[clarification needed]
Sources and References
- Alexander, Lloyd, The Black Cauldron, Holt, 1965. p 53
- Alexander, Lloyd, The Black Cauldron, Holt, 1965. p. 158
- Tunnell, Michael O., The Prydain Companion, Holt, 1989. p 133
- The Black Cauldron (Henry Holt, 1999), "About the Author", [page 181].
This is from the first paragraph of "About the Author", which differs from volume to volume in the 1999 reissue, and precedes five 1973 paragraphs essentially unrevised. (The Foundling and Other Tales of Prydain, 1973).
- Lloyd Alexander Interview Transcript (1999). Interview with Scholastic students. Scholastic Inc. Retrieved 2009-04-17.