Newbery Book Review

The High King

Before delving into my review of Newbery winner The High King by Lloyd Alexander I’d like to recommend a non-Newbery to you.

I finished a French novel (translated into English of course) called The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery.  It is the most beautiful book I’ve read in a long time.  Why do I think this?  I actually made a list:

  • Its constant philosophizing of life
  • Describing the beauty of Japanese culture
  • The characters experiencing freedom from previous emotional restraints
  • Extremely well-written
  • Dual perspective of both old and young
  • The importance of living life for others
  • It’s meaningful ending

The novel is set in modern-day France in an apartment building where the main characters are 1. the old concierge who tries to adhere to everyone’s perceptions of what a French concierge should be (mumbling, shuffling, ignorant) but is actually interested in philosophy, art, books and good movies and 2. a 12-year-old girl who lives in the building and is planning on killing herself when she turns 13.  It’s her belief that life really is a rat race and once you are no longer a child there is no point in going on.  Each chapter is either from the perspective of the concierge or the young girl and, as you would expect, their stories intertwine.  I wish I hadn’t already returned the book to the library and had the sense to include a tid bit from the book here.

I really want you to read it.  It stretched my brain by introducing new vocabulary and it caused me to examine my own definition of the meaning of life.  Books usually inspire me to action – sometimes it’s the inspiration to put the book down and not pick it up again, but in this case I was inspired to watch Ozu movies, read Manga, drink Jasmine tea, try sushi again and continue to write.  Read it.  You won’t be disappointed.

Okay, now for the moment we’ve all been waiting for…

I was able to finish year 1969 in sunny Estes Park, Colorado.  This picture was taken by Forrest (I’m fake reading because I had already finished it) on the Johnson family front porch with the beautiful mountains in the background (not fake).  Unfortunately, I packed for Portland weather, aka rainy and cold.  When we landed in Denver it was 85 degrees and only a few degrees cooler in Estes.  Thankfully it cooled off most days and I didn’t feel so silly for my warm weather attire.

The High King was fantastic.  I feel pretty lucky that after finishing one incredible novel I was able to read another one.  Even though Alexander says in his “Author Notes” that each book in the Prydian series can be read independently of each other I am so glad I read the preceding four stories.  Book five is the obvious climax of the series where Arawn, death lord of Prydian is about to strike his final blow and of course the good guys are the underdogs, but like my review of book four it wasn’t the adventures that made me love this book – it was the continued formation of Taran’s character.  At the end when good has triumphed Taran and the rest of the heroes are given the privilege to leave Prydian and go to a place where everything is perfect and you never die.  Taran can go and spend eternity with the people he loves and essentially have all his desires fulfilled but his heart is not at rest.  He realizes his place is with the people of Prydian even though that means he has to say goodbye forever to friends like Flewddur Fflam, Gurgi, Dallben and of course his love, Eilonwy.  He says:

“Long ago I yearned to be a hero without knowing, in truth, what a hero was.  Now, perhaps, I understand it a little better.  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,” he added, “you told me that the seeking counts more than the finding.  So, too, must the striving count more than the gain.  Once, I hoped for a glorious destiny,” Taran went on, smiling at his own memory.  “That dream has vanished with my childhood; and though a pleasant dream it was fit only for a child.  I am well-content as an Assistant Pig-Keeper.”  (Alexander, 238)

Now, that might not mean a lot to you but as a fellow traveler with Taran through five stories I was pretty moved by the evolution of Taran’s character and his transition from childhood to adulthood.  (And just so you know, Eilonwy chooses to stay with Taran and they live happily ever after.)  It’s a great series.  After you’re done reading Hedgehog you should take time for the Prydian chronicles.

While in Colorado I also finished Year 1968, The Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, but I’ll wait a few days until I post about it.

Till next time…

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2 thoughts on “The High King

  1. Definitely need to read hedgehog (as I’m affectionately calling your french book). And I absolutely love your photo with fran. Gosh. Reading your blog makes me miss you.

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