I’ve so enjoyed this series. If you’ve never read it, check out my other reviews (scroll to bottom) then get thee to a library and check out book one. These are among the cream of the crop in children’s literature, and all five books are chock full of fantastic adventure and fabulous writing. They relate the story of Taran, a lowly Assistant Pig-Keeper with a valiant heart. He is only a rash eleven-year-old child at book one’s outset, wanting desperately to find glory on the battlefield—and he does, more often than he’d like—but his repeated quests serve to fill him with a good deal of wisdom. The takeaway value of these books is so rich. Book two, The Black Cauldron, received Newbery honors but this last book, The High King, took the crown (sorry, bad pun), and it well deserves its Newbery medal.
In my book four review, I made several easy predictions, including my guess that Taran would get the throne of Prydain. With a title like The High King, I don’t think it’s really a spoiler to say I was right. My dog could have seen it coming. Taran does fight the evil Lord Arawn and comes out successful, but it’s the getting there that is so fantastic. It’s the journey, the growing, the struggling along the way that make this such a fit ending to the series. Yet Taran finds out that kingship is “like jumping headfirst into a thorn bush” and a crown “more discomfort than adornment.”
I also guessed that Princess Eilonwy would return to the storyline, and I’m so glad she did. I just adore her character. She’s brave, yet Mr. Alexander doesn’t have her fighting unrealistically on the front lines. She’s sharp and outspoken, but she balances Taran so well. And she’s completely miffed over everyone’s expectation that she wash her hair and act like a lady. The banter between Taran and Eilonwy is still funny and light, but there is now a depth to it, a maturity, an adult awakening, a realization of what losing the other would mean. Taran and Eilonwy have grown up.
All the characters I’ve come to love have returned for this final installment, each comically consistent with their snapping harp strings, buzzing ears, and unique styles of speech, but not all of them make it to the end. War is costly and painful, but some things are worth dying for. Taran and company once again prove themselves valiant, honorable, and brave.
As in my four previous reviews, I have a whole list of fabulous quotes I want to share. Quotes that illustrate the rich quality of the series:
“Surprising how easy it is. The planning, at any rate. The doing, for some reason, always seems a little harder.”
“A man’s life weighs more than glory, and a price paid in blood is a heavy reckoning.”
“Every man is a hero if he strives more for others than for himself alone.”
“The deeds of man, not the words of a prophecy, are what shape his destiny.”
And when Taran is asked sharply asked in the heat of battle “Are you a warlord or a pig-keeper?” he replies gently, “Must you ask, friend? I am a pig-keeper.”
But my favorite quote is from Princess Eilonwy: “It’s been long since I’ve slept on comfortable roots and rocks. What a pleasant change from goose feathers!”
So much good stuff! I want to conclude, however, with a quote from Mr. Alexander:
“(Book five’s) structure is somewhat different, its range wider. If there is more external conflict, I have tried to add more inner content; if the form follows that of the traditional hero tale, the individuals, I hope, are genuinely human. And although it deals with a battle on an epic scale, where Taran, Princess Eilonwy, Fflewddur Fflam, even the oracular pig Hen Wen, are pressed to the limits of their strength, it is a battle whose aftermath is deeper in consequences than the struggle itself.”
The High King is indeed a grand finale. Mr. Alexander, you’ve been successful on every level.
Here are my reviews of the other books in the series: