Review: The High King

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.

Review: Taran Wanderer

While thus far The Black Cauldron has been my favorite book in The Chronicles of Prydain, Taran Wanderer is a close second. The fourth installation of the series, Taran Wanderer focuses in on Taran trying to find himself in a truly well-done coming of age story.

The book begins with Taran pining for Eilonwy, as she is now away on the Isle of Mona learning how to be a proper princess. When asked about Eilonwy’s wellbeing, Dallben replies that she is about as happy as you could expect for someone like Eilonwy being forced to learn how to do needlework. However, more than Eilonwy’s wellbeing is on Taran’s heart; he wants to marry her someday. Knowing nothing of his birth, he does not know whether he is of noble or common blood. This is a problem, since he wants to marry a princess. Now, as readers, we all know Eilonwy would take Taran in a heartbeat, common or noble. Taran is not privy to this information as far as I can tell, and even if he is, he feels it would be completely inappropriate for somebody as common as a pig-keeper to be married to a princess. So, he asks Dallben if he can set out and try to find if he can discover his heritage. Gurgi insists upon going with him, and so the two set out.

They begin by heading to the Marshes of Morva, where the witches (for lack of a better term) who previously owned the Crochan (the Black Cauldron) live. Taran hopes that he can get the answer of his origins from them, but he knows they never give away anything for free. So when they ask him what he is willing to give, he replies that he will give them a pledge: whatever his greatest treasure is in the future, they may lay claim to.

At this point, I was gripping the book, dramatically shouting, “Taran, no! You fool!” (I often shout while I read, like an obnoxious movie-goer at a horror film.)

Fortunately, the witches don’t like dealing with pledges, so they reject his offer. They tell him that the answer he wants is not easy, and that “The robin must scratch for his own worms.” They do, however, give him a hint that such a thing as the Mirror of Llunet exists, and it might show him the answer he is looking for, even if it is not the answer he wants.

With this new hope, Taran sets off for the mountains of the Free Commots, and has many adventures along the way.

I liked a lot of things about this book. I liked that the book had an episodic feel, as if it was a series of short stories tied together with an overarching plot. As a result, we get to see Taran shine (or not) in a variety of situations. We see him succeed in some places and stumble in others. It fits the character driven story perfectly.

I loved Taran himself as a character in the book. He has determination and a sense of duty. It is cool how he is faced multiple times with a hard choice or an easy choice, and always chooses the right, but less easy choice. The three labors he undertakes in the Free Commots are reminiscent of Greek Mythology and fairy tales, lending a more magical feel to the books, almost as if his hard work is magic itself. In a way, hard work is a type of real-life magic; this is a great lesson for young readers, and a good reminder for adults.

There was really only one thing I did not like about the book, and you will probably guess what it is. There was no Eilonwy. She is absent for the entire book, as she is still in her castle learning to be a lady. I will never be satisfied when it comes to the character, will I? However, her constant presence in Taran’s thoughts is adorable while not being over-the-top, which would have been an easy thing to do—so there is that, at least.

All in all, this is yet another Prydain book which I recommend. What are you doing? Get to your library and pick up these books, if you haven’t already! Go! Go now!