For His Friends: Sacrificial Love in The Raven Cycle

by Jessica Prescott

Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”

Sometimes we forget that “friends” bit, don’t we? In storytelling, at least, we seem to forget it. So often, romantic lovers make the sacrifice play “because I love you,” because you’re my one and only, because we have an exclusive, sexual bond which motivates me to give myself up for you. And don’t get me wrong. That’s beautiful in its own way. But every once in a while, I want to see sacrifice motivated by good, old-fashioned friendship.

I want to see a man (or woman) who really would lay down their life for their friends. Which is exactly what Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven King gave me, when Noah Czerny traveled back in time to die for his best friend, Gansey. Throughout The Raven Cycle, young Richard Gansey carries a strange, secret burden. Magic saved his life when he was ten years old; but he doesn’t understand why. All he remembers is a deadly allergic reaction, an out-of-body experience, and these words in his ears: “You will live because of Glendower.”

Who is Glendower, Gansey wonders? How could he save me? What could he want with me? These questions lead him on a wild goose chase through both medieval history and modern occult circles, until Gansey winds up—somewhat improbably—in sleepy little Henrietta, Virginia, scouring the nearby foothills for King Owen Glendower’s hidden grave. Because that totally makes sense. Right?

Don’t worry, folks… the story gets only gets weirder from here.

Weird or not, the quest for Glendower does something to our little philosopher boy. It teaches him how to make friends. Bit by bit, the loner collects an army. First, Gansey finds Ronan Lynch, an Irish street racer with one finger on the self-destruct button. Together, Gansey and Ronan collect Noah, a soft, smudgy-haired lad who turns out to be—don’t scream—a ghost! Next to join the party is Adam Parrish; abused by his father, ignored by his mother, aching for a new life. Finally, Gansey’s posse snags their only female member, Blue Sargent, who shreds her skirts with scissors to make them look more, ah, unique. Such a well-adjusted group of teens. What could go wrong?

Plenty. Plenty goes wrong. But no matter what, Gansey never gives up on his little gang. Ronan’s wandering the streets at night? Gansey drives out to look for him. Adam’s dad beat the hearing out of his left ear? Gansey shows up to testify in court. Noah’s scared of dying a second time? Gansey searches for the cure. There must be some way to bring ghosts back to life. And on and on it goes, through a hundred acts of support and sacrifice, big and small. Richard Gansey may not know what his purpose is, or how long his borrowed time will last; but man… does he know how to treat a friend.

Until The Raven King, when Gansey is in danger; and Noah steps up to save him. Noah Czerny, the boy who couldn’t bear to die twice—who couldn’t bear to let go—quietly travels back to that fateful night seven years ago, substituting his own, fading life for his best friend’s. “You will live because of Glendower,” Noah whispers, setting young Gansey on the path that eventually leads him to Ronan, to Adam, to Blue; to those glorious summers of golden friendship that never seem to end. If Noah hadn’t made that sacrifice, Noah’s ghost could’ve hung on forever: but forever (I think he realized) carried too high a price. It would mean the gang never got together… their adventures never happened… Gansey, himself, never lived beyond age ten. Only Noah could judge what Gansey’s life was worth. Because, in the end, only Noah could save him.

And he did. And yes, I cried.

“Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jessica Prescott writes books under the name Katie Hanna and blogs under the name Charles Baker Harris (confusing, she readily admits). You can find out more about Jessica, her pet projects, and her obsession with Doctor Who at I’m Charles Baker Harris (And I Can Read).

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