Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The High King (1969)

The High King is the fifth and last book in the Chronicles of Prydain.  As such I felt that I was a little behind the curve even though the author writes in his author's note, "Like the previous tales, this adventure can be read independently of the others.  Nevertheless, certain long-standing questions are resolved here." (p. 7)  At first it was difficult getting into the story because I felt that I was missing a lot not having read the others first. (I have actually read all of them, but it has been about 14 years and I really only remembered the very basics of the storyline.) Once I got past that, it was very enjoyable reading.

The story centers on Taran, assistant pig-keeper to Hen Wen, a pig who foretells the future.  In the previous books he met and travelled with many characters, many of whom appear in this book.  Eilonwy, princess and love interest.  Gurgi, some sort of creature, not brave, but super loyal.  Dallben, Taran's teacher, enchanter, owner of Hen Wen.  Fflewdddur Flam, harp wielding minor king of a nearby land.  And many more.

And of course, there is Arawn, the Death Lord with his Cauldron born army of undead soldiers.  The battle against whom does not go well while there is infighting amongst the lesser kings. 

I will leave it to you to find out how the battles were fought and lost and won.  What happens when Taran has to make the most crucial of decisions.  How Eilonwy gives up her one treasure for something of far greater worth.

Quotes I liked.  Many have to do with leadership.

Taran went to gather troops.  One group responded, "Our pride is not in fighting but in farming; in the work of our hands, not our blades.  Never have we sought war.  We come now to the banner of the White Pig because it is the banner of our friend, Taran Wanderer." (p. 122)

"It is harsh enough for each man to bear his own wound.  But he who leads bears the wounds of all who follow him." (p. 129)

"There are those who must first learn loss, despair, and grief.  Of all paths to wisdom, this is the cruelest and longest...Those who reach the end do more than gain wisdom.  As rough wool becomes cloth, and crude clay a vessel, so do they change and fashion wisdom for others, and what they give back is greater than what they won." (p. 142)

"Is there worse evil than that which goes in the mask of good?" (p. 148)

"A grower of turnips or a shaper of clay, a Commot farmer or a king--every man is a hero if he strives more for others than for himself alone.  Once you told me that the seeking counts more than the finding.  So, too, must the striving count more than the gain." (p. 292)

"Do you believe evil itself to be so quickly overcome?  Not so long as men still hate and slay each other, when greed and anger goad them.  Against these even a flaming sword cannot prevail, but only that portion of good in all men's hearts whose flame can never be quenched." (p. 300)

Alexander, Lloyd.  The High King.  Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc., 1968.

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