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The Tombs of Atuan (The Earthsea Cycle, Book 2) Mass Market Paperback – September 1, 2001
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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? --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"New and longtime Earthsea fans will be drawn to these impressive new editions."
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I was struck by the total opposition of the philosophy of this book to another I read recently, The Transhumanist Wager, by Zoltan Istvan. Istvan is seeking immortality through recent scientific breakthroughts. LeGuin puts it plainly in her afterword, “The idea of individual immortality, an endless ego-existence, is more dreadful to me than the idea of letting go the self in death to rejoin shared, eternal being.” Her fantasy writing puts that point of view even more clearly in the reader’s mind.
I read The Farthest Shore as a break from Philip K. Dick’s 900 page Exegesis, but when I returned to that I immediately found this comment by Dick, “... the two modes of interpretation (of his strange experience) which I hover between are S-F and theology, which surely tells us something about S-F we otherwise might not know. The two must be related in some important way.”
Of course, you can’t think of LeGuin without dragons, so here is one of my favorite parts. “It did not move. It might have been crouching there for hours, or for years, or for centuries. It was carven of iron, shaped from rock – but the eyes, the eyes he dared no look into, the eyes like oil coiling on water, like yellow smoke behind glass, the opaque, profound, yellow eyes watched Arren.”
As with Tombs of Atuan, Ged is a major character but not the primary point of view character. By writing the story with Arren and placing some distance between the reader and Ged, I think LeGuin is able to emphasize Ged's mystique and power a bit more (at this point, Ged is Archmage). Arren himself is pretty interesting and struggles with his own reactions to death. He never becomes a cliche child hero, something I appreciate especially in light of Harry Potter.
While I like the plot of The Farthest Shore, I can't help but feel that it treads some of the same territory as A Wizard of Earthsea. Without revealing too many spoilers, both involve Ged on a journey to restore the balance between the worlds of life and death. In both, they land on new islands and encounter new cultures. Farthest Shore has by far the more detailed depictions of the peoples, as well as the consequences of the world being out of balance. The scene with the Masters at Roke was wonderful for how it succinctly demonstrated the effect of the problem on even the greatest wizards. But I still prefer the original book for the sense of wonder and mysticism it managed to convey.
Overall, another fun entry into Earthsea, one that will definitely encourage me to continue with the saga.