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The Tombs of Atuan (The Earthsea Cycle, Book 2) Mass Market Paperback – September 1, 2001

4.3 out of 5 stars 361 customer reviews
Book 2 of 6 in the Earthsea Cycle Series

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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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Product Details

  • Age Range: 12 and up
  • Grade Level: 7 and up
  • Lexile Measure: 840 (What's this?)
  • Series: Earthsea Cycle (Book 2)
  • Mass Market Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Aladdin Paperbacks; Reprint edition (September 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0689845367
  • ISBN-13: 978-0689845369
  • Product Dimensions: 4.2 x 0.7 x 7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (361 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #68,177 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Of course I liked The Tombs of Atuan. It is well-constructed and beautifully styled fantasy, comparable to the works of Susan Cooper and Patricia McKillip. (No, Tolkien is in a class by himself.)
Le Guin's Earthsea books are all excellent, but some people feel that The Tombs of Atuan is slow to start, and less eventful than the other three. My opinion, for what it's worth, is quite the opposite. The introspective beginning of Tombs is not unlike the beginning of Wizard, focussing closely on a single character, that character's uniqueness, and the way that character is shaped by life. The reader approaches the threshold of adventure with the protagonist; the reader, too, is drawn into the struggle, shares bewilderment, doubt, and uncertainty; and the reader, too, has made a passage by the end of the book.
Too much of modern fantasy is all long journeys, heated battles, unquestionably terrible villains -- and swordplay, of course. Le Guin recognizes that moral ambiguity creates the greatest obstacle a character can confront...and that if the question is worthwhile, the answer is neither easy nor painless.
Tenar is a strong heroine and I would especially recommend this book for teenage girls, whose plight is sometimes not unlike that of the Eaten One; however, as all the best books are, this is a story which is based on human character and thus speaks to both sexes and all ages.
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Format: Paperback
LeGuin's third book in her Earthsea series is her most ambitious. Her thesis: you can only become whole by facing and accepting death, the darkest shadow. Lifted straight from Jungian psychology, this is the hardest and the important part of being whole. Sparrowhawk knows most of this truth already: remember the climax to Wizard of Earthsea. Arren, the young prince who accompanies Sparrowhawk on the epic voyages of this third book, has not yet learned this harsh lesson.
You don't need to know anything about Carl Jung to read and enjoy this book. At one level, this is a children's tale. But this book has many levels. Consider: the last king, Maharrion, had prophesied that there would be no king to succeed him until one appeared who had crossed the farthest shore. I'm not giving anything away by telling you that the farthest shore is physical - the western shore of the westernmost isle of Earthsea and metaphysical - death. And readers of earlier books know that for the wizards of Earthasea, there is a low stone fence that separates the living from the dead.
There is another wizard - humiliated by a younger Sparrowhawk - who has both great power and a terror of death. And he has worked a spell that will devastate the world, by denying and avoiding death. But by denying death, he has denied life, and magic, song, joy, reason and even life are draining out of the world. That spell must be undone before it is too late. And that task falls to Sparowhawk and Arren.
Arren must learn to understand and accept that death is necessary. Not just in the abstract but personally. He must cross that low stonewall with no hope of returning. He must cross the final shore.
This story has dragons, despair, joy, loss, discovery and marvelous surprises.
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By A Customer on October 23, 1999
Format: Paperback
I first read the Earthsea Trilogy at the age of 9. I re-read it at secondary school at 17, during a moody teenager phase. Now I read it to children to whom I teach English. I am struck every time by how many different layers of meaning dwell in le Guin's text. I think the technical word is polysemic. It appeals to children, teenagers and adults by offering something to each, though ultimately offering the same to all: drama, adventure, and a fearless assault on the big issues that confront every one of us. Birth, life, death. And always in original, often startling or beautiful ways. Le Guin's use of language is sublime too; she has an absolute mastery of how long a sentence should be, what the words in it should sound like and what 'rhythm' a sentence should have. Moving explorations of life's great questions, investigated with originality and sophistication, harnessed to a dramatic adventure story, conjuring up grand vistas of new and thrilling worlds, created through a command of language and imagery as fine as any I have ever come across and made alive through characters that a child can warm to and an adult love. What a book.
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Format: Paperback
Sparrowhawk, the protagonist of "Wizard of Earthsea," the first book of the triology, is a secondary character here; important but not the focus. This is the story of Tenar, a young priestess at the Tombs of Atuan.
Earthsea has places where there are elder powers present. Readers of "Wizard of Earthsea" encountered one in the Terrenon. Tenar, as an infant, is given to the elder power of the Tombs. Her name is taken from her and she becomes Arha, "the eaten one." She serves as a priestess to a nearly forgotten religion that treats the power of the Tombs as a god. But everything Tenar has been told is twice a lie; her religion is almost forgotten and the Power is anything but a god.
This is the story of how Tenar came to understand that her life, all of what she had been and most of what she believed was a lie. LeGuin makes it utterly convincing, in a spare, terse way that is stark and persuasive. Sparrowhawk plays a crucial role in all this, but he is not the protagonist. Sparrowhawk may have been the catalyst for Tenar's changes, but like a catalyst he is mostly unchanged by the process. It is Tenar who is changed. This is Tenar's tale.
Can you imagine how devastating it must have been for Tenar? How many of us could accept and understand that what we had been taught was evil or, worse still, utterly meaningless? Could you do as well if, say, Christianity were revealed to be an utter fraud? LeGuin makes it vivid. Any thoughtful reader is left in awe of Tenar's strength and resilience. And in awe of LeGuin's writing.
In most trilogies, the middle book is the weakest. Not the Earthsea books. This is a wonderful tale, superbly told. Very highly recommended.
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