The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander. Reread: 186/186.
Probably the thing that is MOST like Lord of the Rings is the dirty king on a quest who is the only person worthy of a mythical sword. He is wise and weary and Taran doesn’t immediately think that much of him because Taran is basically the Hobbit of the story and Gwydion is not sparkling enough for his ideas of ULTIMATE HERODOM. But Taran grows as a person and for awhile everyone thinks Gwydion is dead, and at the end he is not dead, but very beautiful and shiny and wise and possessing of the mystical sword.
WELSH ARAGORN, EVERYONE.
So a nice thing about this book is that they beat the bad guy that they’re after, and it’s the hero who does it. Taran, who is a kind of ignorant kid, helps things along, but he doesn’t do the Heroic Acts, per se. That’s…everyone else. And it’s great! It is actually a fantasy book about a group of people who actually rely on teamwork, and the big finale doesn’t land on the main character by default. In fact, he kind of passes out for most of it.
Another nice thing is that Eilonwy is never made stupid or sweet in this book. She is a smart, opinionated, somewhat obnoxious, frequently correct character who talks in imagery and demands respect. And she knows what she wants! She is a much more interesting person than Taran and obviously is my favorite.
A third nice thing about this book is that it has a pronunciation key at the back for those of us who do not in fact know anything about Welsh.
I am looking forward for wandering through more of these books (perhaps I’ll read the whole series someday???). There’s almost nothing as pleasant as finishing something and thinking, I can’t wait to give this to somebody else!