Welcome to this week’s Newbery Pie! We’re finishing up the 60’s this week with the High King, the 5th and last book of the Chronicles of Prydain. We’ll start with Sara’s review.
Guess what happens when you try to read the 5th book in a high fantasy series (pun intended) without reading the others, and the author does little to reintroduce characters or explain what has already happened. Confusion. Lack of focus. My mind wandering. I put the book down several times; it felt comparable to reading a foreign language where you’ve had a couple of years of study and then you try to read a novel, yet you are nowhere near ready.
First challenge: who is who? Here is a helpful wiki site I found:
It is not light reading though and I was still confused. Then I found a movie!
No, I didn’t cheat to get out of reading! I was born in 1978 and I vaguely remember the 1985 release of the Black Cauldron. I accessed it via Amazon Instant Video. The Wiki page described it as a critical and box office bomb. It also mentioned that it terribly departed from the books (it was supposed to cover the plot of the first two). However, I found it helpful in setting up who was who among the main characters (although some were left out) and detailing the basic premise of the series (oracle pig, cauldron that can call the dead back to life, love story between an enchantress and who we assume-to-be a lowly assistant pig-keeper).
Once I understood the story, I did enjoy it for the most part. It was long and tedious at times, although I loved how Taran and his crew often defeated their enemies with their brains rather than brawn. One time, they melted a frozen sheet of ice that turned into a waterfall and washed their enemies away. My favorite character was Eilonwy. She was amazing, right there fighting alongside Taran and the others. I like that she wasn’t a damsel in distress; she was a very fitting role model for girls in 1969. Movie Eilonwy is a typical Disney princess. If the movie had been really popular, she could have been princess royalty along with Belle, Ariel, etc., but alas, it was not to be. She’ll just have to be a kickass book character instead.
I got so mad at how I thought the book was ending that I almost threw it across the room. However, to say anymore spoils not only the end of the book, but the whole series. If you want me to tell you why, DM me on Twitter at @sralph31. Alexander fixed it though so I can give The High King 3.5 pies.
Honestly, I do not see myself reading the rest of these because I already know the outcome and there are too many great new books to read.
I’ve heard it so many times this year when I tell people that Penderwicks in Spring is my favorite for the 2016 Newbery Medal. “Yeah, it’s a good book, but does it stand alone?” (I do think it does, for the record, and I even got one of my students to read it who hadn’t read the rest of the series. You can read her interview here if you want.) I don’t know when this whole stand alone thing became an issue, but it was definitely some time after 1969 because The High King definitely does not stand alone, and it still won the Newbery medal.
Like Sara, I was really confused in the beginning trying to figure out who everyone was and what their backstories were. Alexander definitely seems to have expected his readers to read the other four books before attempting this one. (Speaking of Alexander, he called Jenn Holm! Like on the phone. Sara directed me to this Nerdy Book Club post, and I loved it.) The Wiki page helped some, and I did start enjoying the book before too long. I do feel like the mini-giant would have been funnier if I had known more of his back story, and the partings at the end would have been more sorrowful if I had been with the characters for the other four novels.
My favorite character was Fflewddur Fflam. I loved the idea of a bard whose harp stings broke every time he stretched the truth, and instead of just learning to tell the truth, he was just repairing harp strings all the time. Storytellers, huh? A dishonest bunch of people. I made me wish I had read the other books, and known more of his tale.
In the end, I did really like the book. It was a bit long, but there’s nothing in there that didn’t really need to be. I just have a lot of reading on my plate, right now, so longer books tend to frustrate me a little. Luckily, our next book, Sounder, is less than 100 pages!
I didn’t watch the Black Cauldron movie like Sara. I tried to find in on YouTube, but you had to pay, and I can be a cheapskate sometimes.
I probably will read the rest of the series someday. I want to know more about Hen Wen and Fflam, the king who wanted to be a bard, and the tiny guy who drunk a magic potion to become a giant and got stuck in his cave. I give The High King four out of five Newbery Pies.
Next Up: Sounder by William H. Armstrong