This classic is an epic fantasy masterpiece. A perfect example that proves that works of this kind need not be sprawling volumes in sprawling series. Beautifully told (in an albeit antiquated prose style) and lusciously described it features everything that one might want including perilous journeys, great characters, court intrigue, dangerous sorcery and epic battles.
The characters are great heroes and villains of old, paragons of virtue, loyalty, determination or treachery. They deliver speeches to each other with great rhetorical effect. They jest, banter, jibe and insult each other subtly and mercilessly. They are all likeable (the villains loveable rouges) but they are not what we would think of in this day and age as well fleshed out characters. We never really get a sense of what they are thinking and feeling other than indirectly through their actions, sayings and expressions. Consequently they do not feel real but then they don't need to; this is a fantasy in the fullest sense of the word. Unlike modern fantasy in which the reader expects real characters put into unreal worlds, here the reader cannot expect to empathise and engage with the protagonists. Not a flaw in my opinion but mentioned to give warning to others who might see it as such.
In a brief introduction to the book, the author states: "It is neither allegory nor fable but a story to be read for its own sake"
. This defies anyone's attempts to find greater meaning underlying the surface but I personally think that it is hard not to feel one learns something about humanity in this story. If nothing else we learn that it is that the struggle and striving that is most important, not the achieving of our goals.