Thursday, 28 June 2012
Thursday Thoughts: Book Review of The High King by Lloyd Alexander
Warning: Spoilers for the first four Chronicles of Prydain below!
I said when reviewing book 4, Taran, Wanderer, that we’d come a long way from the epic fantasy of The Book of Three and The Black Cauldron over the last couple of books. This takes us full circle, with a suitably outstanding conclusion which reunites the vast majority of the surviving characters, good and evil, and gives us thrilling action, adventure, and romance.
Taran and Gurgi return to Caer Tallban a few days after the conclusion of Taran, Wanderer. There, they find Princess Eilonwy, Rhun of Mona, and the former giant Glew. Almost immediately, though, Fflewddur Fflam and an injured Prince Gwydion burst in, with grave news – Gwydion’s sword Dyrnwyn has been stolen by Arawn. With the danger that the loss of the magical weapon presents, the companions embark on a hazardous journey to rescue it, and perhaps confront Arawn himself.
We get to catch up with many old favourites here – Gurgi, who when I read the Book of Three seemed to be little more than a Gollum rip-off has become a truly outstanding supporting character, while Fflam, Rhun, and Eilonwy are nearly as great and most of the others are superb as well. As for Taran, without a shadow of a doubt he’s the best hero I’ve ever read about.
I’ve seen a few reviews – mainly from people determined to read every Newbery Prize winning book – that this doesn’t make much sense if you haven’t read the first four. I’d probably agree with that – so if you haven’t read the first four for God’s sake go and do that now, rather than jump in at the conclusion with this one! For those of us who have read the first four, this is poignant, sad – with some heartbreaking death scenes - and ultimately wonderful. It’s the only fantasy ever to bring me to tears, and if pushed to choose my favourite children’s fantasy series of all time I think this one would take it. There’s not a poor book in the sequence, the development of the characters through the five books is outstanding, and Alexander created one of the most compelling words I’ve ever had the pleasure to read about.
Massive, massive recommendation, of course.