The High King
First edition cover
|Cover artist||Evaline Ness|
|Series||The Chronicles of Prydain|
|Published||October 27, 1968 (Holt, Rinehart and Winston)|
|Media type||Print (hardcover & paperback)|
|ISBN||0-8050-1114-5 (first edition, hard)|
|LC Class||PZ7.A3774 Hi|
|Preceded by||Taran Wanderer|
The High King (1968) is a high fantasy novel by Lloyd Alexander, the fifth and last of The Chronicles of Prydain. It was awarded the Newbery Medal for excellence in American children's literature in 1969.
The series follows the adventures of Taran, the Assistant Pig-Keeper, as he nears manhood while helping to resist the forces of Arawn Death-Lord. In the concluding volume Taran and companions join the rest of Prydain in a great effort to defeat Arawn directly. Finally Taran must decide whether to be High King.
Thirty years later, Alexander explained to Scholastic students: "The High King was the final logical development of the first four books in the Prydain Chronicles. It was not an easy book to write, but at least I was building on a foundation that I had already made. I never considered a different ending ...". He did cry afterward, as the exchange implies many readers have done. After seven years "the characters were as close to me as my own family. ... I wept at the end – to see Taran confronted with such a brutally difficult decision."
"The final choice is never offered to us in the real world ... In another sense we face this kind of choice again and again because for us it is never final."
The series was inspired by Welsh mythology and by the castles, scenery, and language of Wales, which the author experienced during World War II intelligence training. At one stage it would conclude with a fourth book entitled The High King of Prydain, approximately following the first three as published.
"While it grew from Welsh legend, it has broadened into my attempt to make a land of fantasy relevant to the world of reality."
The story begins only days after the conclusion of Taran Wanderer. It is nearly winter, less than two years after events of The Castle of Llyr.
Taran and his companion Gurgi return from wandering to Caer Dallben, in haste after getting news from Kaw the crow that Princess Eilonwy has returned from the Isle of Mona. Indeed they find her at home, along with her escort King Rhun of Mona and the former giant Glew who had been magically restored to human size by potion from Dallben. Taran knows himself now and he is determined to marry Eilonwy.
The Cauldron-Born have never before left Annuvin in numbers. Gwydion determines that the best chance is to attack while it is guarded by mortal men alone. He will lead the Sons of Don to waiting ships on the north coast, and attack by sea, while Taran leads the Commots to delay the Cauldron-Born return march (their power wanes with time and distance from Annuvin). There is no time to wait for other allies to arrive.
Taran and his army reinforce a broken wall and "man" it with branches; they are able to hold the tired Cauldron-Born warriors beyond arm's length by brute force, and turn the march from a straight and easy route into the rugged hills. Thanks to a company of Fair Folk, and to the wolves and bears, they destroy most of the Huntsmen who accompany and lead the undead. At last the Cauldron-Born break free of the hills and return to the lowland route, however. Regaining strength as they near Annuvin, it would be futile for the exhausted allies to meet them again head-on. Inevitably they will march the long, easy route to Arawn's stronghold.
Taran and the remainder of his army finally reach Annuvin by a combination of the direct route, a mountain path of Doli's, and a secret pass over Mount Dragon (shown to them by Achren). Taran sees that victory is nearly in Gwydion's hands—he is already in the courtyards of the stronghold—but that the Cauldron-Born are about to reach Annuvin and enter the fray. A few of the undead break ranks to meet Gwydion. Taran's group attempts to slow the Cauldron-Born by hurling stones upon the warriors, and Taran tips the great "dragon" rock off the very summit to roll down on them. Where the rock had been resting, Taran finds the sword Dyrnwyn where it had been hidden by Arawn. As a Cauldron-Born warrior approaches him, Taran desperately draws the blade. Wielding Dyrnwyn, Taran slays the undead warrior. At that instant, all of the Cauldron-Born die as well, crying out for the first and only time.
Taran's group enters the fray, and the battle continues through the halls of Annuvin. Taran is almost deceived by Arawn, who has taken the guise of Gwydion, into giving up the sword. After the chaotic defeat of Arawn's forces, the companions gather before the Great Hall. Achren identifies Arawn in the form of a serpent near to striking Taran and grabs him; he strikes her fatally, but Taran cleaves him with Dyrnwyn before he can strike again.
Dallben reveals that Taran completes a path prophesied in the Book of Three whereby an orphan of "no station in life" would succeed the Sons of Don as High King. Dallben had traveled to seek such a one and try to hasten the day of Arawn's defeat; on this journey, he found a baby, hidden in the trees beside a battlefield of great carnage, without any token of parentage.
Taran receives many gifts including The Book of Three itself, although "it no longer foretells what is to come, only what has been". In it Dallben writes a conclusion, "And thus did an Assistant Pig-Keeper become High King of Prydain." In time, only the bards knew the truth of it.
- "Newbery Medal & Honor Books, 1922-Present". Association for Library Service to Children. American Library Association. Retrieved 2011-01-11.
- Lloyd Alexander Interview Transcript (1999). Interview with Scholastic students. Scholastic Inc. Retrieved 2011-12-17.
- The High King, Author's note, p. viii.
- Lloyd Alexander: A Bio-Bibliography by Jacobs and Tunnel [clarification needed]
- The High King, Author's note, p. ix.
- Tuck, Donald H. (1974). The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy. Chicago: Advent. p. 6.[clarification needed]
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
|Newbery Medal recipient