- Age Range: 8 - 12 years
- Grade Level: 3 - 7
- Lexile Measure: 900L (What's this?)
- Series: The Chronicles of Prydain (Book 5)
- Paperback: 272 pages
- Publisher: Square Fish; First Henry Holt Paperback Edition edition (May 16, 2006)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 080508052X
- ISBN-13: 978-0805080520
- Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars See all reviews (180 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #149,007 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The High King (The Chronicles of Prydain) Paperback – May 16, 2006
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“Greater, more disastrous, and demanding more courage are the battles into which Taran leads his followers against Arawn Death-Lord.... The book has the philosophical depth and overtones of great fantasy.” ―The Horn Book
“The last may be the best.” ―Kirkus Reviews
From the Publisher
When the sword of dyrnwyn, the most powerful weapon inthe kingdom of Prydain, falls into the hands of Arawn-Death-Lord, Taran, Assistant Pig-Keeper, and Prince Gwydion raise an army to march against Arawn's terrible cohorts. After a winter expedition filled with danger, Taran's army arrives at Mount Dragon, Arawn's stronghold. There, in a thrilling confrontation with Arawn and the evil enchantress Achren, Taran is forced to make the most crucial decision of his life. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top customer reviews
Taran Wanderer has wanted to be a hero, a warrior, his whole life-----till he became one. Through four books, Taran has wanted glory but gradually become acquainted with the gritty, deadly, dirty business of fighting wars and battles, gradually realizing that glory is not what it seems and sometimes one can be a hero just for getting up every day, raising a family, growing crops, herding stock, and being a decent human being.
As a kid, he was given the title Assistant Pig Keeper, to make up for the unenviable job of being, well, a pig keeper. Of course, pigs are intelligent creatures, and Prydain's Hen Wen is even more so, being an "Oracular" pig, a pig who can foretell prophecies. As the series has gone on, Taran has ridden into battle and seen his friends fall under his leadership, but the true change in his character shows in a simple exchange, as he agonizes over a difficult decision as a war leader. "Are you a war leader or an Assistant Pig Keeper?" Another character asks him.
"Need you ask, old friend?" Taran responds. "I'm an Assistant Pig Keeper."
In embracing his true place in life, and all his flaws, Taran finally discovers that he can rise above his humble background, and be more than a humble pig keeper, because if you live more for others than yourself, you have tried something more heroic than many people ever even attempt.
"The High King" is a wrenching conclusion to the series, but it's kind of a cathartic wrench. Taran is impatient, leaps headlong into decisions----or once did---and sees, too clearly, the difficulties of the things he must attempt. When he succeeds, it is often only with the assistance of others, or with luck. What makes him special is that he is fully aware of this. He is the sort of person who facilitates and makes it possible for others to achieve heroism or glory, but he doesn't begrudge them that. His apprecation for his friends comes from losing so many so tragically, losses that hit the reader here with great effect and realism, if underplayed for the sake of the younger readers. There is no gore or sex or bad language, though Eilonwy experiences an unmistakably ugly confrontation with a believably evil character. It was so real, in fact, that the magical escape was *almost* too magical. *Almost.* Alexander is a miracle worker in how delicately he balances all the threads here.
Even at the end, Gwydion still has a lesson or two for Taran, who is still quite a young man. Reading this series again after decades, I was struck by how elegant and simple Alexander's writing was, hinting enough to give the reader a push, yet making the reader do some of the heavy lifting. If you don't experience some sniveling at various points in this book, I don't think I want to know you.
In an era of Super Special Chosen Ones with special talents and supernatural skills, it's impossible refreshing to read about a young man who moves forward not because he's special but because he's ordinary yet tries so hard he accomplishes much, who finds the one thing he loves doing, only to realize that he lacks the talent for it, and whose heroism is born, often, of desperation rather than ambition. Taran touches one's heart because he's so much like so many of us. Being ordinary is not what limits you. Never trying is.
Having gone through the previous four books with hope and a sense of wonder that I hadn't had since the Percy Jackson Books, I am proud to say that The Chronicles of Prydain has taken its place among my all-time favorites, alongside the Percy Jackson series, and the His Dark Materials Trilogy.
The ending leaves me satisfied, in how their story ends.
Throughout the last four books the allied forces of Prydain under leadership of Prince Gwydion and the enchanter Dallben have waged war against the evil Death-Lord Arawn, whilst the Assistant Pig-Keeper Taran has grown from man to boy. Now returning from his journey of self-discovery in "Taran Wanderer", he is eager to be home, especially since Princess Elionwy has returned from the Isles of Mona. Soon everyone is reunited in the cottages of Caer Dallben, which is a special treat if you've read the previous books as everyone is there: Gwydion, Fflewddur Fflam, Gurgi, Doli, Llyan, Kaw, Hen Wen, Glew, Rhun, Coll, Hen Wen - you name it and they're there. Predominantly among them is the conquered enchantress Achren - a shadowy figure who despises Arawn and has her own secret plans to have her vengeance.
But Arawn has struck sooner than the good guys intended, and the magical black sword Dyrnwyn has been stolen. Now Taran is swept up once more on an adventure that's way over his head. Guided by the mysterious prophesy of the oracular pig and devastated by a betrayal amongst the allied forces, Taran gathers together the people of the Free Commots and begins a dangerous journey through the mountains to reach Annuvin in time to help Gwydion's fleet. On the way we re-met every possible character we've ever met in Prydain - Magg, Gwystyl, Eiddileg, Smoit, Medwyn, Dorath, Melynlas, all the common folk from "Taran Wanderer", and of course Orddu, Orwen and Orgoch - Alexander hasn't missed a single one, and they all have important and meaningful parts to play.
Previously, the books have been told solely from Taran's point of view, but now for the first time we see events through the eyes of other characters - everyone from Elionwy to Dallben to Kaw gets a chance to be in the spotlight. "The High King" is an exhilarating read, as by this stage most readers will be deeply invested in these characters and the land of Prydain, and the author swings us continually back and forth from despair to hope and back again. The fortunes of the good guys are always up for grabs, and Alexander makes sure we know that the stakes are high and the cost of defeat is unthinkable.
As well as Alexander's wonderful sense of humour that is found throughout the series, there are (many) moments of great wisdom, poignancy and bitter-sweetness, not to mention romance, magic and mild horror. There are sacrifices, deaths of major characters, destruction of beautiful things and many a difficult decision to be made. Some of the issues are incredibly deep, and not at all what you'd expect to find in a children's book.
Every story is wrapped up satisfactorily, from Magg's escape in "The Castle of Llyr" to Taran's role to play in `The Book of Three' to the gwythaint fledgling that was saved in the first book. Very few endings to series leave you with a sense of completion, but I believe "The High King" is one of them, as well as having my highest recommendation in terms of a truly worthwhile and rewarding read - a perfect five stars.