“The High King” by Lloyd Alexander

The High KingHere we are at the end of Taran’s adventures. One would think I would be happy about it or at least sad for having to part with the story, but instead I’m pissed.

Quick summary:

I’m using the Goodreads synopsis here because I read this back in November and have since forgotten some of the details.

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.

My thoughts: (a rant with spoilers)

From the beginning of this installment, I didn’t like it. I guess I’ve lost interest in the series or have somehow become disenchanted by it. Have I outgrown it? I’m in my 20s reading a middle-grade series that I started roughly a year ago so it’s possible that my reading tastes have changed some, but I doubt that’s the reason. I think it just wasn’t good.

The story was simplistic and rushed and its attempts at creating some depth came off as condescending. The obstacles were easily overcome and I hate, HATE, the ending. Now, thinking back to how the previous books in the series are, I guess it’s a bit silly for me to think this of the last book since the others are also simple and rushed in some spots; but since this is the last book, the thickest of them all, I expected more and I expected it to be better than all the others.

One of the reasons why I think this installment isn’t great is because the plot progressed too quickly. It was sometimes hard to tell when characters were doing certain tasks and when they had switched to another. For example at the end when Achren was hurt and weak. Taran and his friends had to carry her and he didn’t have enough herbs to heal her. But by the next day, she is up again and leading the way through Annuvin to find the evil Arawn. Tell me, where did she find the health and strength to do that? Did I miss something? Did I glaze over a few sentences?

Also, I still find it hard to tell Taran’s age. It was disconcerting to have characters refer to him as a boy and treat him as such in some passages and as a man in others where he’s the obvious leader. Because of that, it annoyed me a bit when Gwydion allocated such a large task (to slow the cauldron-born) to him because in my mind’s eye, Taran was a small boy leading a small army to accomplish a near impossible goal. I think it’s odd that this annoys me now in this book than in the others, but I would appreciate some indication of his age. It’s obvious he has matured, so I later assumed that he’s in his late teens, especially since he harbored thoughts of marrying Eilonwy though even then I imagined him as a boy. It would have also been less confusing if the references to him as a man were consistent.

Now that I’m looking back on my notes, it seems that I took issue with everything that I liked about the previous books. I even took issue with the lessons in this one. This time, I didn’t think them illuminating but condescending instead. They were so damn obvious! Maybe I am being hard on the book or maybe I’ve matured some. Maybe the foul mood I was in when I read it (PMS) affected what I thought of the book. I don’t know, but I was very angry with the progress of the story the entire time I read it.

Another thing that annoyed me was how easily the evil characters were defeated. That was a huge let down but really, should I have expected anything else since the climactic battle in the first book was anticlimactic? The previous books, and this one as well, builds to the moment when we and Taran finally face the mysterious, evil Arawn. I expected a massive showdown, but there was hardly a fight. All we get is a quick confrontation and an even quicker chop to end him. That’s it. It happened all in a second. Quite unfulfilling. No difficulty, no face-off, no last words, nothing.

It was a huge let down and it made me wonder what was the point of the long-ass journey and gathering everyone in Prydain together? Sure, it’s good to unite for a common cause, but it all seems unnecessary now that all it took was a chop with the right sword, which, by the way, the all-powerful, evasive, mysterious, evil Arawn hid under a rock on a mountain in front his house. A mountain, I’ll add, that’s easy to climb and even easier to descend. What was the point of stealing the damn thing if you’re not going to hide it well? It’s the one thing that could be used to defeat him and there weren’t any spells around it. You know what? Arawn probably got tired of being evil and having the Huntsmen and cauldron-born stink up his fortress so he wanted a quick end.

Another major let down was the defeat of Dorath and Prince Rhun’s death. Let’s start with Prince Rhun whose death was obviously supposed to elicit some emotional reaction from the reader. That didn’t happen for me. I thought his death was pointless and now I don’t see what purpose his character served before except to be a foil to Taran. I don’t see why he couldn’t just go back to his kingdom and be the good king he was shaping up to be. As for Dorath, I expected Taran to face and defeat him since it seemed that Dorath’s only purpose is to torment Taran. But that didn’t happen. I thought maybe Eilonwy would defeat him, then, since she was in the vicinity and he held her hostage and she hadn’t done much except shine some light. But no, didn’t happen either. Alexander just used some animals to remove him because how else would that happen.

As for Eilonwy, I was upset that her character didn’t have a more significant role. In a way, all she really does is complain, show she’s kind, and say what others fail sometimes to admit. Unfortunately, despite her attempts to prove that she’s more than a pretty, delicate princess, the men do not take her seriously and instead smile and think her antics are cute. Though, she doesn’t help to improve their reaction by constantly complaining about trivial things like having to sleep on a feathered bed instead of a forest ground.

The final chapters were underwhelming as well. In a way, I thought it was a total rip-off of the Lord of the Rings because all the magical people leave Prydain forever to return to their mystical home country where they will live forever in happiness. It upset me that those who want to stay in Prydain can’t, except Eilonwy who conveniently has a way to remain with Taran in Prydain. Also annoying is that it’s at the end that we learn of an important prophecy that concerns the protagonist, that the whole story seems to hinge on. Why weren’t we told of this earlier? Just poor storytelling there.

And you know what angered me most? We STILL don’t know who the hell Taran’s parents are. I mean, sure, Dallben says how he found Taran but we don’t know who exactly the people are. Taran spent much of the first three books hoping he’s nobility, I wanted to know if it’s true. Obviously he isn’t, but I wanted it to be more specific. With this ending, Alexander seems to say that Taran is from the people of Prydain. He is Prydain. I like that, but I still want to know who his parents are.

I’m out of steam now. Sorry for all the “seems”.

Overall: ★★☆☆☆

I didn’t like it. It made me angry. I don’t recommend it. Read the first two in the series, maybe the third, and probably the fourth. Skip this one.

<- Taran Wanderer (book 4)


13 thoughts on ““The High King” by Lloyd Alexander

  1. Oh what a shame! I really mind when I feel that a final book has been thrown together, or simply not up to the standard of the previous books – and I do wonder if the author had maybe intended for the series to be over sooner, and is asked by the Publisher to elongate the series… But the net result tends to be disappointment.


      1. Or… to put it another way – this book simply didn’t chime with your experiences and/or mindset. There is no doubt that we all bring ourselves into the equation when we pick up a book as it has to be experienced over a period of time in a very intimate way…

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh dear, sorry you didn’t like this one- didn’t read much cos of the spoilers, but it’s such a shame when a series you love doesn’t end the way you want it to 😦 I hate when things go too quickly, cos I’m a fast reader, so I always feel like it’s my fault- and so I go over it again and again, until I realise it’s the author’s fault, and that makes me mad!


  3. Ah, I feel the same about my books. have you thought about doing a series if you feel like that though? just a thought.


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