The Chronicles of Prydain 5: The High King

Most books that I read these days are good for a few hours then gone. I rarely think about them again except to leave a review. Perhaps oddly, perhaps not, some of the books I read in my child and teen years are different. These books I come back to time after time. Not only do I think about them, I re-read them. Prydain is one of those series.

The final book in the series (save a collection of tales that take place before the series’ events) brings us full circle. Taran returns from his wanderings, ready to propose marriage to Princess Eilonwy. After the incidents of the Lake of Lunnet, he has come to peace with not knowing his parentage. Taran stands on the cusp of manhood just as Arawn Death Lord pushes his final attack into Prydain. The sons of Don call in all their favors, insisting the kings of the small kingdoms across Prydain join them against the terror. Worse, the sword Dyrnwyn has been taken! According to legend, it is the only thing that can slay the death lord.

Taran, Eilonwy, Fflewddur Fflam, Gurgi, and Rhun join Gwydion’s forces to prevent ruin upon the land. It’s a tale of high fantasy, epic choices, sacrifices, losses, and triumphs. Having said it is epic in scope, I spoil nothing by saying that none of the heroes taste victory without cost. When the stakes of victory are the kingdom of man, the triumph must be preceded by high sacrifice. Yes, Arawn and the deathless cauldron born are defeated, but Gwydion and the sons of Don must leave Prydain.

Mr. Alexander sprinkled in life lessons in his books. In this one we see how small kindnesses made long ago can come back, repaid twenty fold. We see that no matter the cost, the life of friends must be preserved. The book also teaches that betrayal costs. Finally, the book shows that the rewards of a job well done may pale in comparison to the consequences of choices that one must make.

Without shame, I tell you that I cry every time I read of Fflewddur’s sacrifice. No, he doesn’t die, though another of the party does. Col dies, fighting off the enemy. I cheer for him. Yet Fflewddur’s choice cuts deeply.

Taran and Eilonwy, too, make a choice and sacrifice. In some ways, their sacrifice should cut deeper than Fflewddur’s, yet for them, I cheer.

Few books hold up to repeated readings over literally decades, but this entire series does. I recommend it without hesitation.

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