Thursday, February 13, 2014

The High King (The Chronicles of Prydain, #5) by Lloyd Alexander

Sometimes it can be hard pinpointing what didn't quite work in a novel. This doesn't read like a Newbery winner for me. Perhaps it is a nod toward the entire series, although books one and five imitate Tolkien's work and do not fill the Newbery criteria of being original. Hmmm... whatever. I do enjoy making my own Newbery guesses for the upcoming year and reading past winners. I don't always agree with choices, but awards never satisfy everyone. Perhaps it won because it satisfied the feelings of most people and hurt the feelings of the fewest. I think Churchill said something to that effect regarding medals.

I liked the action scenes in this final book, but coincidences weakened the plot, such as Eilonwy happening over a ridge while a counterattack was in the progress or the hard-sought magical object appearing on a rock; plus, character changes were minimal and resulted in less tension. Taran has resolved his issues and is a grown-up hero who doesn't make the mistakes found in previous books. He is ready to embrace the responsibilities and consequences of being a leader. When Prince Gwydion's magical sword is stolen by Arawn the rulers of Prydain know that he can take over their kingdoms.  Forced to fight Arawn, the people gather armies with Taran asked by Prince Gwydion to rally the common folk he met in "Taran Wanderer."

The first battle ends in defeat as the armies are betrayed and the Cauldron-born warriors slay the forces of good. Gwydion leads a raid on the unguarded Annuvin where King Arawn lives, in hopes to find the magical sword that will turn the war in his favor. Many of Taran's companions die in the fight against evil and they courageously, and at times willingly, give up their lives for the good of everyone else. Their heroic acts and battles are supposed to be epic and while this is achieved at times, it also falls short in areas.

In the final confrontation, I was expecting more between Achren and Arawn given their past history. It seemed abrupt. Eilonwy is a strong character and I always gravitated to her when she was in the story. I found her adventure interesting, although I think the author should have explained more the connection between the animals of the forest and why they helped her. It was better explained in previous books and I could see if someone was reading book five as a stand alone it would not make sense. I would recommend reading the previous books. There are too many characters that are not explained and the character arc of Taran learning to be a hero is going to be lost on the person who only reads this book. This tale is more of the happy denouement versus the characters struggles to grow up.

The ending has the magic disappearing and the land being given to mortals. This symbolizes the child that grows up and no longer uses fantasies or imagination to deal with problems but has learned to face issues and deal with them realistically. What I like about fantasy is that the hero and heroine tales keep hope alive through vanquishing evil. Life is difficult with hatred and evil evident. When folklore and legends give situations that empower young readers on a visceral level, it helps them deal with unconscious and conscious fears. By questing with Taran, readers can vicariously be afraid and lonely at times and courageous and kind at others. They must decide how they want to be when dealing with similar issues as they grow up in the modern world.

3 Smileys

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