Monday, January 9, 2012
The High King, by Lloyd Alexander
I don't think I'll be hanging onto it, though (don't worry, I'll donate it rather than throwing it away!). It's a book with value, but not exactly my type.
This is the fifth and final book in Lloyd Alexander's "Chronicles of Prydain". It's the first one I read, and to be fair, I might have liked it better if I'd started at the beginning (the second, "The Black Cauldron" was the 1966 medal winner). For while the author uses the introduction to tell us that it is part of a series, but, like all the books in the series, it can be read perfectly well on its own, I found this not to be true. This was certainly its own story, but everyone in it seemed to have a backstory that I didn't know - it was like watching a reunion episode of a TV show that you never saw while the series was running. The horseman we meet in the very beginning turns out to be an "Assistant Pig Keeper". Then it turns out that the pig he keeps is an oracular pig. These things are interesting, but I got the sense that I would have known a lot more about them had I read the other books. Instead, my experience was basically "okay, an oracular pig. Acting the part of Oracle." I think Hen Wen has a story, but it wasn't explained well. There are many more examples of this type of thing.
All of that said, I think I know why some like it. It's a little like Lord of the Rings Lite. There's magic, there's a quest, there are deeds of great bravery, characters redeem themselves or are shown to be treacherous... If that's your sort of thing, you'll like this one. But I'd recommend starting at the beginning of the series!
A little further research on the author, by the way, reveals that he is a local guy - he only died in 2007, and lived in Philadelphia. I think I'd have liked him - describing his first published book, he said it was "the story of a young person going out into the world for the first time and finding the world a very difficult place indeed. That's the story that all of us have to tell."