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The Tombs of Atuan (The Earthsea Cycle, Book 2) Paperback – June 1, 1984
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Often compared to Tolkien's Middle-earth or Lewis's Narnia, Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea is a stunning fantasy world that grabs quickly at our hearts, pulling us deeply into its imaginary realms. Four books (A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, The Farthest Shore, and Tehanu) tell the whole Earthsea cycle--a tale about a reckless, awkward boy named Sparrowhawk who becomes a wizard's apprentice after the wizard reveals Sparrowhawk's true name. The boy comes to realize that his fate may be far more important than he ever dreamed possible. Le Guin challenges her readers to think about the power of language, how in the act of naming the world around us we actually create that world. Teens, especially, will be inspired by the way Le Guin allows her characters to evolve and grow into their own powers.
In this second book of Le Guin's Earthsea series, readers will meet Tenar, a priestess to the "Nameless Ones" who guard the catacombs of the Tombs of Atuan. Only Tenar knows the passageways of this dark labyrinth, and only she can lead the young wizard Sparrowhawk, who stumbles into its maze, to the greatest treasure of all. Will she?
From the Publisher
Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea cycle has become one of the best-loved fantasies of our time. The windswept world of Earthsea is one of the greatest creations in all fantasy literature, frequently compared with J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth or C.S. Lewis'Narnia. The magnificent saga begins with A Wizard Of Earthsea, continues in The Tombs Of Atuan and The Farthest Shore, and concludes with Tehanu --each book a treasure of wisdom, wonder, and literary wizardry. When she was still a child, Tenar was stripped of her name and family and dedicated as high priestess to the Nameless Ones, dark powers of The Tombs of Atuan. This is the tale of the young wizard, Ged, who came to the forbidden labyrinth to steal its greatest treasure--the Ring of Erreth-Akbe--and stayed to set Tenar free and lead her out of darkness.
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This book is powerful because it was originally published as a young adult novel but it has very grown-up themes and concepts. As a younger reader it might be easier to relate to passionate Arren, but the wisdom represented by Ged (who is now in his middle ages), is not lost in Le Guin's writing. And, obviously, those readers who have followed Ged through The Wizard of Earthsea and The Tombs of Atuan have a deeper understanding of the decisions he makes in The Farthest Shore.
In any case -- don't let "young adult" put you off from reading this book. If anything the short length makes this a wonderful weekend read, and really sparked that imagination in me that I thought was lost with maturity.
The antagonist in this novel is the unwillingness of people to accept death. This also causes them to lose their passions in life: "To refuse death is to refuse life... You will die. You will not live forever. Nor will any man nor anything. Nothing is immortal. But only to us is it given to know that we must die. And that is a great gift: the gift of selfhood. For we have only what we know we must lose, what we are willing to lose... Would you give up the craft of your hands, and the passion of your heart, and the light of sunrise and sunset, to buy safety for yourself -- safety forever?"
When the archmage is asked why he is unaffected by the malaise going over the world, he responds that wants to do what he is doing: "Because I desire nothing beyond my art... And if I am soon to lose it, I shall make the best of it while it lasts." In the book, his art represents all of the meaningful crafts and endeavors that people engage in and that make people happy. Desiring nothing beyond his art evokes Camus' "Myth of Sisyphus" for me -- that even though Sisyphus is only pushing a rock up a hill, we should still imagine Sisyphus happy. And making the best of his art while it lasts is a tight fitting analogy for making the most of a life that will end too soon.
He also accepts death: "Did you not understand that he, even he, is but a shadow and a name? His death did not diminish life"
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Ursula K. LeGuin was a gifted writer.