Reading Rec: The Count of Monte Cristo Part 2

Welcome back to the summary! If you missed the last entry in this series, I’d recommend reading that first to catch up on the story. To recap the color coding, our protagonist, Edmond Dantes (aka the Count, Monte Cristo, Abbe Bussoni, Lord Wilmore, and Sinbad the Sailor) gets the default black color. His old love and fiancee, Mercedes, is pink. Her current husband, Fernand Mondego (aka The Count de Morcef), in red, accused Edmond of treason to get him out of the way, and is now wealthy after a military career in Greece. Edmond’s kindly employer and true friend, Monsieur Morrel, and the rest of the Morrel family including Maximilian and Julie are green. The greedy sailor who schemed to betray Edmond, now the rich banker Baron Danglars and his family members are blue. The cowardly and selfish neighbor who said nothing during the betrayal, Caderousse, gets yellow. And finally, Villefort, the prosecutor who sentenced Edmond to life in prison for his own political gain, as well as his family, get violet.

Hopefully that paragraph doesn’t hurt your eyes too much to read. Any new characters or plot elements will also fit into one of those colors to indicate a connection to the main ones. Also, I’ve figured out how to embed the original illustrations, so this should be a little more visually interesting than a wall of text this time. Let me know what you think!

Italy, Chapters 31 – 39

This section starts 10 years after the last events covered in part one, and in a completely different part of the Mediterranean with a completely different character: a young Parisian nobleman named Franz who lands on the island of Monte Cristo to go boar hunting. It’s supposed to be an abandoned scrap of rock, but instead, he finds there the crew of Sinbad the Sailor. Franz is blindfolded and taken to have dinner with Sinbad, who shows him an incredible display of wealth before drugging him and sending him on his way to Rome to meet up with his friend, Albert de Morcef – son of Fernand Mondego (aka the Count de Morcef) and Mercedes.

These two young men have arrived in Rome to celebrate Carnival and begin making their grand plans for adventure and fun. The hotel owner warns them about bandits in a long tangent telling the story of famous highwayman Luigi Vampa and his wife Teresa, but they don’t take him seriously and go to explore the Colosseum after dark. While there, in an incredible act of timing (or perhaps plot device), Franz overhears a conversation between the Count and Vampa arranging for one of their friends, a shepherd who helped the bandits, to be pardoned from execution. Vampa pledges his loyalty to the Count and makes his escape before anyone else notices, but Franz fails to mention any of this to Albert.

Later they’re attending the opera and Franz recognizes the Count again, accompanied by a lovely Greek woman, who we later learn is named Haydee. They gossip about him for a bit with a friend, joking that he might be a vampire, then go to make his acquaintance properly. The Count is generous to the boys, offering them a coach to attend the carnival in high society and inviting them to a public execution the next day. (though.. you could argue the “generosity” of that invitation.) There, they discuss justice, the Count is apathetic as the other criminal there is killed, and watch casually as the shepherd is pardoned.

*vine with the dog voice* MAY THE POWER OF CHRIST COMPEL YOU

Franz and Albert are just a little traumatized, but it doesn’t stop them from having a good time at Carnival! Albert spends three days flirting with a pretty girl in costume, who turns out to be Luigi Vampa’s girlfriend. (Oops.) He’s captured and a ransom is sent to Franz, who takes it to the Count to beg for help. the Count agrees and easily frees Albert, appealing to Vampa’s alliance and asking him not to murder his friend. Albert is overwhelmingly grateful and promises to introduce the Count to his high society connections in France.

This is the reader’s first “formal” introduction to The Count, not through any POV or introspection on his part, or through any of the other established characters, but through an impartial stranger who’s largely incidental to the main plot. Franz serves an important role of separately showing us the different adopted personas Edmond uses – Sinbad the Sailor when he’s acting eccentric or dealing with his smuggler and bandit friends, and The Count for when he needs to act in high society which is his main disguise for the next part of the book. Through this, we get the impression that he’s oddly interesting and equally terrifying with a deep dissatisfaction in human justice systems. There’s some very unsubtle discussion of revenge and the fact that the Count has a lot of connections and a lot of power and money to throw around to suit his needs. We start to understand just what kind of a threat he can be, before any of the characters who are going to be threatened are privy to this, and that builds a sense of dramatic irony, especially contrasted to Franz’s silliness and frivolity. This comes into full forefront in the next arc:

France, Twisted Backstory, 40 – 46

Next Dumas time skips to the day the Count is due to arrive at Albert’s house, and the scene opens on breakfast with guests. We’re introduced to a few of Albert’s friends: Lucien Debray, Beauchamp, Chateau Renauld, and Maximilian Morrel. When the Count arrives they share stories, including the bandit kidnapping misadventure and that Max once shaved Chaeau Renauld’s life on the anniversary of the day his father was saved from financial ruin. The Count attempts to appear standoffish and somber, as is his usual persona, but he can’t help but be fond of Max because of his humility, bravery, and loyalty to Monsieur Morrel.

After the other guests leave, Albert presents the Count to his mother and father as “the man who saved his life from bandits in Rome.” Fernand does not recognize Edmond and takes a liking to The Count of Monte Cristo. Mercedes instantly recognizes him and is conflicted – she’s terrified at what he’s become, but he also saved the life of her son, and doesn’t know what his return twenty-four years later means for her and her family. She doesn’t say anything, except for to warn Albert to be careful.

pensive and pretty

The Count has come to Paris to start punishing the people who hurt him, but his old love for Mercedes and the friendship with Maximilian Morrel make this situation much less straightforward. Will his old love for Mercedes spare her, or will he be more angry that she married Fernand, and take out his anger on the whole Morcef family? If he only targets Fernand, will that still indirectly hurt Albert and Mercedes and their friend Maximilian? He’s still pulling the strings, but you start to see just how twisted they are as you learn more about the families.

The next part gets messy. We then follow the Count as he buys a house that previously was owned by Villefort’s late first wife. He goes to visit it with one of his servants and friends, a man named Bertuccio, who’s frantic as they walk through the place. When asked for an explanation, Bertuccio explains that years ago, Villefort had condemned his brother to death, and he swore an oath of vengeance on the prosecutor. He waited around the house waiting for the perfect opportunity. One night, when Villefort left the house carrying a wooden box and a spade, Bertuccio jumped him from behind the trees, stabbed him, and stole the box, thinking it held treasure. It actually held a half smothered baby boy who he brings back to his sister-in-law to raise as her own. They name the child Benedetto, but he grows up cruel and sadistic, and at the age of 11 kills her and runs away from home.

This was too epic of an illustration to pass up, just LOOK at that dramatic lighting

In the meantime, Bertuccio needed money and turned to smuggling. On the run from authorities, he hid in a a loft behind an inn – the same inn owned by Caderousse and his wife. He witnessed the scene as they invited a jeweler to buy the diamond that Abbe Busoni gave them, and received a large sum of gold. A storm forced the jeweler to stay at the inn overnight, and seeing an opportunity, Caderousse kills the jeweler to keep the diamond and the gold, and murders his wife because she would turn him in, then fled with the treasures. Bertuccio was arrested, but the Abbe Busoni (who he did not know to be Edmond’s other disguise) freed him with instructions to find Monte Cristo, and he’s been in the Count’s service ever since.

By finding out the Count knows all of this anyhow because of the alternate persona playing a role in the story, it shows a really interesting aspect of Dumas’s writing. All of the exposition and twists are told through dialogue and monologues – we never get a long bit of introspection from Edmond’s point of view, but instead we see the dynamics he has with other characters he’s manipulating. Dumas was a playwright before writing TCOMC, and so the dialogue-heavy style of narration might be a holdover from that experience, and he uses this really effectively in the narrative so that exposition is delivered chapter by chapter to slowly tangle the story even further. Now we, the audience, know that somewhere out there is Villefort’s not-dead son, and that Caderousse is a murderer and thief on the run which are two potentially very valuable pieces of information. Keep an eye on that.

France, Setup and connections, Chapters 47-53

Once Monte Cristo has some helpful exposition and a house, it’s time to do what any self respecting nobleman would do and show off how STUPID rich he is, specifically to earn his way into the good graces of the Danglars family. First, he opens an unlimited line of credit with Dangars’s bank, then comes up with an elaborate scheme involving Madame Danglars’s panicky horses and saving the lives of Madame de Villefort, and her son Edward when they runaway. He revives the boy with a potent elixir, which catches his mother’s attention and admiration. Villefort himself visits Monte Cristo to thank him for the heroic act, and they discuss criminal justice and natural law. During this conversation, the Count says, “I wish to be Providence myself, for I feel that the most beautiful, noblest, most sublime thing in the world, is to recompense and punish.”

The theme here comes in a little heavy handed, but since none of the characters at this point recognize Edmond, it reads as the eccentric beliefs of an exotic nobleman. We see into the psychology of The Count of Monte Cristo through his own exposition and actions. He orchestrates everything, from putting the Villefort’s lives in danger to saving them, for his own machinations and political gain, in a combination of a hero and god complex, where he believes himself to be above the law. This is disturbing to Villefort, who embodies the law in his role as public prosecutor but bends it for his own gain in the case of condemning Edmond to prison all those years ago. This immediately sets up a direct foil between old, honest Edmond, the manipulative Count he now is, and Villefort, who’s public role contrasts to his personal failings – in trying to kill and hide the child.

In the next chapter, Monte Cristo goes to visit his Greek slave, Haydee – who has 3 maids of her own and is treated like a queen in his household. He tells her she is free, to leave or to stay with him, and to do as she pleases, but she chooses to stay with him out of loyalty, since he saved her life once. The Count thanks her, and asks only that she not reveal her past to anyone in Paris. (for some reason, the book continues to refer to her as a slave after this, though it’s clear she has autonomy, so I’m not sure what Dumas’s reasoning was for this diction choice…).

Next stop is the Morrel family. Their house is happy, and they tell the Count about the red silk purse and the mysterious benefactor they never identified. He acts skeptical, suggesting the name of the English banker, but Maximilian says his father had a superstitious theory that it was Edmond’s ghost acting from beyond the grave all along. The Count is so touched by this that he leaves immediately. It’s the first time he shows any real emotion other than various intensities of anger since before his imprisonment and he can’t stand to be seen like this.

Maximilian shrugs off the odd behavior and goes to meet his secret love, Valentine de Villefort – the daughter of the prosecutor. She’s miserable because her father is distant and wants her to be married off to Franz, and her step-mother hates her. The only person who really understands the dysfunctional family dynamic is her grandfather, the old Bonaparte agitator Noirtier (we met him at the very beginning when Villefort first decided to condemn Edmond to prison to hide his ties to his father). He’s had a stroke, and can only communicate through blinking, and Valentine wants to run away with Max but can’t bear to leave him alone. Besides, Maximilian is too poor to be a good match for her and Villefort seems to hate the Morrel family (for their loyalty to Edmond).

The face of a stressed out 19 year old has not changed in 200 years.

The Count arrives soon after, which pulls Valentine away from their conversation in the gardens. Following her, the reader gets to see the ensuing conversation between the Count and Madame Villefort. They talk about toxicology of all things, as he reminds her that they’ve met before, once in Italy. Madame Villefort remembers that he had a reputation for being a great doctor, and peppers him with questions about different poisons and how he’s developed immunity to many of them (Iocane powder, perhaps?) He benevolently offers to send her a vial of the elixir he used to save her son after the runaway horse incident before taking his leave.

Besides the obligatory Princess Bride references, this series of scenes is interesting because it shows how differently the Count acts with his few trusted friends, like his servants, Haydee, and the Morells compared to the others. He tries to maintain an air of callous indifference in public, but he has a soft spot, and intends to protect the ones he cares about. We also have another tangle threaded into the situation of “who deserves revenge?” Dumas writes in the forbidden-love subplot with Maximilian and Valentine to add collateral damage. Much like the situation with Mercedes and Albert, as The Count tries to exact his revenge on Villefort, he runs the risk of hurting the innocents connected to the family. They challenge the Count’s dark worldview that humans are self-centered, and force him to change his plans to avoid letting them be caught in the crossfire. And even so, he’s only loading the traps, and the actual revenge is still long in coming. The building irony and suspense means that you keep turning pages, even as the chapters stretch on, because you want to know how this is all going to come full circle.

And that’s where I’ll leave off for this week. What do you think, and what have you learned so far? Let me know in the comments how you’re enjoying this.

Reading Rec: The Count of Monte Cristo Part 1

Welcome to February and March’s reading reccomendation! In keeping with the outlining theme of the month, today I’m sharing a book with one of the most complex and interesting plots I’ve ever read. I listened to The Count of Monte Cristo audiobook last summer and it is now one of my favorite classics. There are several movie and TV adaptations that I haven’t seen, but I want to focus on the book to demonstrate how Alexandre Dumas handles a story that spans several decades and dozens of inter-character relationships. Its the sort of story that works really well because of the slow pacing of a book, rather than being constrained by an arbitrary time limit, and hopefully by dissecting it, we can learn a few things about how to do this sort of plot as well.

This book is 1243 pages, 117 chapters, and over 375K words long, so I’m splitting this post up into four parts and stretching it out over the next month. I wanted to make sure I had enough page time to give enough context and that’s the winning option from my polls. That being said, I think there’s a statue of limitations when it comes to spoilers in 177 year old books, so I’m going to prioritize the “what can writers learn” aspect of the analysis in this article. If you’d like to read more, SparkNotes has a great study guide, and the whole work is available for free download on Project Gutenburg. True to form, I’m also color coding this! Try to spot the themes as I explain the twisty plot points!

The Creation of the Count, Chapters 1-30

The story follows the life of Edmond Dantes, a young sailor who finds himself in command of his ship after the captain dies at sea with the mission to take a message from the island of Elba to Paris. He comes home to Marseille, France, where he has everthing a 19-year-old in 1815 could possibily want – a loving father, his beautiful and faithful fiancee Mercedes, and the promise of a promotion from the owner of the company, Monsieur Morrel.

Unfortunetly, he’s also got three jealous enemies who have alcohol aplenty and motive enough to make ruining Edomond’s life sound like a really great idea. Danglars is another sailor who wants to be captain, and he writes an anonymous tip with his left hand suspecting that Edmond is a traitor to the crown. For context, at this point in history, Napoleon Bonapart was the former emperor of France, but he had been overthrown and banished to Elba – the island Edmond stopped at on behalf of the late captain. Now, Edmond is going to Paris to deliver a message he knows nothing about, but chances are good it could contain Bonapartist sympathies and get him in a lot of trouble with the current monarchical government. It’s just plausible enough to land Edmond in jail, or at least, get him out of the way long enough for Danglars to sweep in and snatch the promotion to captain.

The second member of the conspiracy is Edmond’s greedy and selfish neighbor, Caderousse. He doesn’t paticularly like Edmond, but he also doesn’t want the poor kid to get killed either. At this point in the dinner, he’s too drunk to help with the scheme, and too drunk to properly protest it either. To keep him quiet, Danglars promises that he was “only joking”, mashes up the letter, and throws it into a corner – getting rid of the ploy but not actually destroying it.

That intentional choice allows the third member of the conspiracy, Fernand, to later pick up the letter and mail it to the guards. He’s in love with Mercedes, but she turned him down in favor of Edmond. He’s also her cousin (blegh) and can’t take no for an answer. He would just kill his competition and marry her anyway, but Mercedes promised to kill herself if he did anything to hurt her finace. Danglar’s scheming gives Fernand the perfect opportunity to get Edmond out of the way for his own gain too.

It’s worth noting that Edmond has only ever been polite to these three men . He’s not stupid, and knows they don’t like him, but he does his best to work with them and even give them gifts as a sign of peace. But the letter is sent anyhow and the poor guy is dragged off to Paris for trial by the royal guards in the middle of his betrothal feast. Caderousse says nothing in his defense, Danglars convinces Morrel to give him the position as captain, and Fernand goes to comfort and woo Mercedes, exploiting her pain for his gain.

Meanwhile in Paris, Edmond meets the prosecuter Gerard de Villefort, who is responsible for deciding his fate. At first, everything seems to be going well and Edmond is hoping for an aquittal, until Villefort learns that the letter he’s carrying is adressed a man named Noirtier, his father, and a leader of the Bonapartist party. Afraid that the affiliation with a traitor could damage his own ambitious career, he sentences Edmond to a life sentence in the dungeon of the Chateau d’If and tells the king about the plot, earning a promotion for himself in the process.

In introducing the first of a very large cast of characters, Dumas helps make the important ones easily identifiable and memorable by giving them distinct motivations and personality traits. This helps avoid the writing equivelant of “same face syndrome” in art – even though we’re introduced to a dozen different players. This also sets up arcs for each character and their relationships as the story continues, with each character’s primary goal becoming an element of their downfall.

Jumping ahead.. some politicking happens, nobody tells poor Edmond what in the world is going on, and he nearly starves himself out of desperation and depression. Just before he actually dies, he makes a friend in prison who gives him hope and instructions on where to find buried treasure, and escapes 14 years later. Upon finding his wealth on the island of Monte Cristo, he creates a new persona for himself as The Count, befriends some smugglers with a few lies about his identity, and starts out to get some answers.

First, he disguises himself as an Italian priest called Abbe Busoni and finds the now impovershed Caderousse. He pretends that Edmond Dantes was bequeathed a large diamond while in prison, but died in his cell and wanted to have it divided amongst his “friends”. As the executor of the “will”, the Abbe says he wants to find the others: his father, Danglars, Fernand, and Mercedes. Caderousse feeling partially guilty and mostly greedy, tells of the whole plot to have Edmond imprisoned, and the Abbe gives him the whole diamond to keep as reward for his friendship. He also learns what happened to the others. Edmond’s father starved himself to death out of grief, cared for until the end by Mercedes and Morrel, who gave him a red silk purse of money, but is now on the verge of banktrupcy after several ships sunk. He’s now waiting for Edmond’s old ship to come into port, hoping it’ll be enough to save his family. In the meantime, Danglars resigned from his position as captian and began chasing money, becoming a wealthy banker and a baron. Fernand spent a tour in the military, fighting in Greece and earning a high rank before returning with a new (somewhat mysterious) fortune. After 18 months, Mercedes accepted that Edmond was probably dead, and gave into marrying Fernand.

Caderousse reflects that it seems the good are always punished, when the evil are rewarded – ironic considering his wishy-washy position between the two. Edmond, a good person who “died” to give way to the vengeful Count, intends to bring justice to the people who hurt him and to reward his friends. The other characters quickly start to fall into one of those two categories. But instead of diving off into parallel plots dealing with each friend or foe individually, their stories quickly intertwine, and add a new layer of complexity to the Count’s relationships with each family. Because I’m running out of colors, each family is going to get one color though.

After talking with Caderousse, Edmond goes to his home of Marsilles in a new disguise – pretending to be an Englishman named Lord Wilmore that has connections to Morrel’s bank. He visits the mayor to get information, buy up most of the shares in the shipping company (so now he owns Morrel’s debts), and in the process, learns how Villefort ordered him to be locked away for life, and confirms Caderousse’s story. He files this information away for later before going to visit Morrel, who is devastated after learning that his last ship has sunk. Lord Wilmore explains how he now holds the debts, gives the family another three months to pay them back, and as he leaves, pulls aside Morrel’s daughter, Julie, and makes her promsie to follow any instructions she receives from someone named “Sinbad the Sailor.”

Three months pass, and the family is still unable to pay back the debts. Morrel knows that if he cannot pay his debts, his children will be discredited both financially and dishonored, so he tells his son, Maximilian, that he plans to commit suicide on the day they are due, and let the insurance take care of the rest. Max tries to stop his father but ultimetly can’t do anything to change his mind. At the last moment, Julie recieves the lettter from Sinbad the Sailor with instructions to find a red silk purse – the same one Morrel gave to Edmond’s father all those years ago. It is filled with the debt notes, which have been paid, and a diamond for her dowry. Immedietly after, they get news that the ship, though sunk, has been exactly replaced with a new one, loaded with the same cargo, and sent back to Marseilles – saving the business, and Morrel. They rejoice over this anonymous benefactor, and Edmond quietly leaves Marseilles without revealing himself.

By completeing the setup of the story, we learn about Edmond’s new mindset and priorities in rewarding the people who were kind to him. His use of several different fake personas differentiates the benevolent Edmond from the vengeful Count of Monte Cristo, but the layers of secrecy obscure his true motivations from the people around him. We learn from the dialouge (especially in the Abbe persona) that he veiws himself as an agent of God’s justice, and how he will make sure everyone gets what’s coming to them eventually. At this point, the story takes a 10 year time jump, and the next arc focuses on the Count’s activities in Italy while on tour, so I will save that for the next post.

Thank you for your patience with this long analysis! It’s one I’ve wanted to do for a while and I hope you find it informative or at least interesting enough to keep reading. We’ll be back to the usual schedule for April. Have you read TCOMC before? What’s your best reccomendation for a story with a complex plot? Let me know your thoughts in the comments, and I’ll see you next week!

Reading Reccomendation: Character Voice in the Chronicles of Prydain

Welcome to the first of this blog’s reading reccomendations! In keeping with the theme of the month, each 3rd Friday, I’ll bring you a book that really shows off a certain aspect of storytelling that writers can learn from. Is this just a thinly veiled excuse for me to ramble about my favorite books? Absolutely. But there is something to be said for learning from other authors, so today, I’ll be sharing experts from The Chronicles of Prydain to show how Lloyd Alexander uses voice to introduce his colorful cast of characters. If you’re unfamiliar with the series, it’s a pentology of children’s high fantasy books that follow the life of a young man named Taran, an assistant-pig-keeper who stumbles into adventures where he helps protect his country from the evil forces of Arawn Death Lord.

[Image ID: The cover of The Book of Three, showing Taran hunkered down next to a tree root looking up at the Horned King. He’s a figure in red riding on a black horse, wearing an antlered skull mask and holding a sword above his head. End Image ID]

Summary and excerpts will be included to give context to the characters being introduced, but I will do my best to keep these posts spoiler free as possible, so that way if you like them and want to go read the books for yourself without knowing the end, you can. In the first book of the series, The Book of Three, the reader is introduced to Taran with this scene:

Taran wanted to make a sword; but Coll, charged with the practical side of his education, decided on horseshoes. And so it had been horseshoes all morning long. Taran’s arms ached, soot blackened his face. At last he dropped the hammer and turned to Coll, who was watching him critically.

“Why?” Taran cried. “Why must it be horseshoes? As if we had any horses!”

Coll was stout and round and his great bald head glowed bright pink. “Lucky for the horses,” was all he said, glancing at Taran’s handiwork.

“I could do better at making a sword,” Taran protested. “I know I could.” And before Coll could answer, he snatched the tongs, flung a strip of red-hot iron to the anvil, and began hammering away as fast as he could.

The Book of Three, Chapter 1, page 3

From the first lines, we learn a few important elements of Taran’s character: he romanticizes warriors and wants to make a sword so he can be a hero like them, he’s a simple farmboy who needs to learn how to labor, and he’s enthusiastic, if a bit reckless. His language is also simple and straightfoward – unlike some of the other more flowery or eloquent speaking characters who you meet later in the story – which makes him a grounded and relatable main character. Who hasn’t daydreamed while doing a boring difficult task?

Soon after we’re introduced to Taran and Coll, the reader meets the other residents of their little farm, Dallben, an ancient sorcerer, and the oracular pig, Henwen, who’s just escaped from her pigpen. Oops. Taran goes chasing her down, only to unluckily run across riders of the Horned King – one of the warlords of Arawn. When he comes to, he finds himself being cared for by a strange man who’s kneeling beside him, holding out a flask.

“Drink,” he said. “Your strength will return in a moment.”

The stranger had the shaggy, gray streaked hair of a wolf. His eyes were deep-set, flecked with green. Sun and wind had leathered his broad face, burnt it dark and grained it with fine lines. His cloak was course and travel-stained. A wide belt with an intricately wrought buckle circled his waist.

“Drink,” The stranger said again, while Taran took the flask dubiously. “You look as though I were trying to poison you.” He smiled. “It is not thus that Gwydion Son of Don deals with a wounded…”

“Gwydion!” Taran choked on the liquid and stumbled to his feet.

The Book of Three, Chapter 2, page 16

And thus we meet the greatest warlord in all of Prydain, dressed in common traveling clothes and acting as babysitter and nurse. From the confidence, language (“it is not thus”), title drop, (and Taran’s helpful exposition in the next paragraphs), we learn that Gwydion is a distinguished prince and great leader. From his phsyical description, we learn that he’s also used to roughing it on his own, not demanding pomp becasue of his station. From his kindness to Taran and knowledge of medicine, he also learn that he’s compassionate and somewhat stern.

As Gwydion and Taran start traveling together, it doesn’t take long for our impulsively courageous young protagonist to encounter the next member of the party when he dives face first into a thornbush after a weird sound. That sound turns out to be Gurgi, a creature that’s somewhere between man and beast, with twigs matted in his hair and smelling of wet wolfhound. When Gwydion scolds them both for being reckless, this is his response:

“O mighty prince,” the creature wailed, “Gurgi is sorry; and now he will be smacked on his poor, tender head by the strong hands of this great lord, with fearsome smackings and whackings…”

” I have no intention of smacking your poor tender head,” said Gwydion. “But I may change my mind if you do not leave off that whining and sniveling.”

“Yes, powerful lord!” Gurgi cried “See how he obeys rapidly and instantly!” He began crawling around on hands and knees with great agility. Had Gurgi owned a tail, Taran was sure he would have wagged it frantically.

“Then,” Gurgi pleaded, “The two strengthful heroes will give Gurgi something to eat? Oh joyous crunchings and munchings!”

The Book of Three, Chapter 3, pages 26-27

Gurgi has one of the most distinctive voices in the book and I love him for it. The third person, the couplet rymes, the whining combined with well-intentioned action, and as we see later, the enthusiasm for doing what he can to help his friends, make him such a memorable and endearing character. He’s stuck between very simple motivations like food and comfort, and wanting the wisdom to be part of something bigger than he is and his language reflects that in an earnest childish sort of way.

After they meet Gurgi, the protagonists go through several misadventures and when we meet the next of the main cast, Taran is stuck in a dungeon. A small golden ball drops through the grating, followed by a girl with bright blue eyes.

“Please,” said a girl’s voice, light and musical, “my name is Eilonwy and if you don’t mind, would you throw my bauble to me? I don’t want you to think I’m a baby, playing with a silly bauble, because I’m not; but sometimes there’s absolutely nothing to do around here and it slipped out of my hands when I was tossing it…”

“Little girl,” Taran interrupted, “I don’t…”

“But I am not a little girl,” Eilonwy protested. “Haven’t I just finished telling you? Are you slow-witted? I’m so sorry for you. It’s terrible to be dull and stupid. What’s your name?” she went on. “It makes me feel funny not knowing someone’s name. Wrong footed, you know, as if I had three thumbs on one hand, if you see what I mean. It’s clumsy.”

The Book of Three, Chapter Six, page 50-51

And as their conversation continues, later we get this proper introduction…

I am Eilonwy, Daughter of Anharad, Daughter of Regat, Daughter of – oh, it’s such a bother going through all that. My ancestors,” she said proudly, “are the Sea People. I am of the blood of Llyr Half-Speech, the Sea King.”

The Book of Three, Chapter Six, page 55

Right away, we’re struck by her talkativeness and the long, somewhat rambly sentences. She’s a girl who says exactly what’s she’s thinking, and no less, which can lead to her being blunt with poor tied-up Taran, but she also starts by saying “please” and introducing herself politely, as if she’s been trained to do that before going off. We also find out later that she is, indeed, a princess, and was probably raised to be formal, even though she has a hard time controlling her tounge. She also has a penchant for speaking in simile, which is a really fun verbal mannerism that none of the other characters use and shows her cleverness for coming up with such analogies on the spot. She’s a friendly but awkward girl, and her contrast with Taran makes for some entertaining conversations and interactions throughout the series.

There’s dozens of other characters I could mention that come up throughout the books, but either because of spoilers or the fact that this article is already ridiculously long, I’m going to include an honorable mentions section instead to give you a taste of the variety of characters and voices Lloyd Alexander writes over the course of the series.

  • Fflewddur Fflam – an “unoffical” bard and who consistantly adds a little color to the truth, and each time he exaggerates, his harp strings snap. Catchphrases include “Great Belin!” and “A Fflam is [adjective], but this situation is ridiculous!” First appears in The Book of Three.
  • Doli – a gruff dwarf who fits the “jerk with a heart of gold” trope. Catchphrase is”numbskulls and idiots!” as he bails his friends out of a sticky situation. First appears in The Book of Three.
  • Gwystyl – another one of the Fair Folk, who tries to get out of confrontation by apologizing, excusing, and saying good bye dozens of times in a single conversation. First appears in The Black Cauldron.
  • Orddu, Orwen, and Orgoch – three enchantresses who are kindly threatening, caling the heroes “ducklings” and inviting them into their cottage at the same time implying they might eat them. First appears in The Black Cauldron.
  • Prince Rhun – an optimistic and slightly inept noble who greets everyone with a friendly “Hullo! Hullo!” whether they be friend or foe. First appears in The Castle of Llyr.
  • Queen Teleria – Rhun’s mother, tasked with the practical side of Eilonwy’s education, who inturrpts herself to correct the younger girl on the finer points of being a lady before picking up right where her sentence left off to continue what she was saying. First appears in The Castle of Llyr.

Thanks for reading! I hope this case study could be helpful for you if you’re trying to develop your own skill in writing distinct character voices and clever introductions. Have you read the Chronicles of Prydain? If so, who’s your favorite character? If you haven’t, what’s another story with great character voice you love? Here’s your free excuse to ramble about your favorite books like I did 😉