The last may be the best--movement toward an ultimate confrontation between the forces of life and the forces of death give this final Prydain adventure a stronger frame and tighter weave than the preceding four. The companions, grown a little more real and a little less irritating, gather the fairy folk and the common folk together for a last-chance assault on Annuvin, the kingdom of death. Their fight to reach Arawn's domain takes the lives of three dear to Taran--the potter, King Rhun, and the farmer Coll--tragedies that Alexander makes us feel and believe. Though an ancient "lion and thorn" contrivance saves Taran at a crucial moment, the finding of the enchanted sword and the defeat of Arawn are credible in conventional fantasy terms and exciting as well. (Echoes of Tolkien are louder than ever, reflecting some of his grimness but never approximating his terror.) The anticlimax should please both the popular philosopher and the sentimentalist: all enchantment will vanish from the world; Taran must choose between a deathless kingdom of happiness and our earthly kingdom of sorrow. He takes earth, fulfilling by his deeds the prophecy in the Book of Three; Eilonwy gives up her magic to be his bride.