The High King is the fifth and final installment of The Chronicles of Prydain. Because so much of what makes this book awesome is toward the end, this review is full of spoilers. The High King is a Newbury Medal winner, one of the highest marks of excellence in children’s literature. It is deserving of this honor, but I still think I liked The Black Cauldron better. Nevertheless, this is an excellent book and a fitting climax for a terrific series.
The story begins with Taran returning home to Caer Dallben after the events of Taran Wanderer. He find that Eilonwy is waiting for him—much to his joy. Much to his dismay, however, he finds that the evil Arawn was waiting nearby, too. Fflewder Flam arrives, helping along a severely injured Gwydion. Arawn disguised himself as Taran in order to lure Gwydion into a trap in order to steal the magical sword Dyrnwyn. Since Dyrnwyn is crucial in orchestrating Arawn’s defeat, they consult Hen Wen in order to determine the sword’s whereabouts. Using the rods, Hen Wen tells them they might as well ask the stones where the sword is, and that it’s not until midnight turns to noon will the sword be found. The rods shatter before Hen Wen can finish the prophecy. They then set out to reclaim the sword and defeat Arawn once and for all.
One of the things I loved in this book was how Hen Wen’s prophecy was fulfilled in every aspect, but not in the ways expected. When Hen Wen says that they might as well ask the stones where Dyrnwyn is, it is fulfilled by Taran almost hearing the rocks themselves whispering—not with his ears, but hearing them nonetheless. This leads him to Dyrnwyn. Hen Wen’s prophecy that night will turn to noon is fulfilled when Eilonwy’s bauble glows so bright the whole world lights up. These are just a couple of ways the prophecy is fulfilled in some kind of unexpected ways. I thought it was pretty cool, anyway.
Of course, I loved when Taran got his moment to shine—finally, after all these books, Taran got his moment in the spotlight of awesomeness! The moment he drew Dyrnwyn gave me goosebumps, and when he was the one to kill Arawn, it was super bawss. (‘Bawss’ is a technical term in the literary world.) I think what was so great about this was that we had to wait for it for so long, and the payoff is so sweet.
The continuity between this book and Taran Wanderer is excellent, too. We see how Taran’s wandering in the Free Commots has bred an immense amount of loyalty, which becomes crucial in The High King. Also, one of the main antagonists in Taran Wanderer shows up again, and the way he meets his just demise is totally awesome and deserved. The only thing that could have made it better was if Taran got to be the one delivering the final blow, but that does not particularly seem to be his character.
Finally, the thing I really loved about this book—Eilonwy! Yes, yes, yes! Eilonwy kicks BUTT in this book. She dons men’s armor, refusing to stay behind. She has an active role at last, including springing the others from jail and sending a warning that saves everyone’s skins. Hurray! I loved it so much!
There was one thing about this book which I did not like as much. Nearly every single villain has a monologue. A really long one, in the sort of stereotypical way during which the heroes stand unable to fight back, for some reason. At any rate, it seemed a little trite. Still, it is a small complaint about an otherwise wonderful book.
If you’ve been reading these reviews and still haven’t read the Prydain books, you really need to. They are a delightful, fun series of easy reads and are sure to delight the child in your heart.