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The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula K. Le Guin

The Tombs of Atuan (original 1971; edition 1975)

by Ursula K. Le Guin

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5,64388755 (3.99)182
Title:The Tombs of Atuan
Authors:Ursula K. Le Guin
Info:Bantam Books (1975), Edition: paperback / softback, Paperback
Collections:Your library
Tags:Earthsea Cycle, Fantasy, Newbery, Newbery Challenge, Young Adult

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The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula K. Le Guin (1971)


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The Tombs of Atuan
by Ursula K. Le Guin
Bantam, 1975
ISBN 0553135945 (paperback), 146 pp.

Review date: June, 2015

Ged is back! The renowned mage of the archipelago of Earthsea returns in The Tombs of Atuan, Ursula K. Le Guin's 1971 follow-up (actually an expansion of a 1970 novelette) to her 1968 classic, A Wizard of Earthsea. The second book in the Earthsea trilogy (later extended into five novels and numerous short stories and relabeled as the Earthsea Cycle), The Tombs of Atuan reintroduces readers to the famed mage Ged and continues the story of his life—albeit in a roundabout way.

Two things are almost immediately apparent to those who enjoyed the Earthsea Cycle's first book: firstly, the writing style is different—less ‘literary‘, less ‘poetic’, less ‘Dunsanian’—yet still enjoyable nevertheless; secondly, Ged, who is ostensibly the hero of the trilogy, is missing for almost the entire first half of the tale (closer to 40%, to be a bit more precise). Although this is, in a way, another bildungsroman in the vein of the first novel, it is set about five years after the end of it predecessor, when Ged is in his mid to late twenties and, at least to some extent, more mentally and emotionally mature than when he first began his life as a mage; thus, it is not his coming of age with which the novel is concerned, but that of a Kargish girl named Tenar.

Taken from her family at a young age, after having been sought Dalai Lama-style, by worshippers of ancient gods known as the Dark Ones, and raised as another incarnation in an endless cycle of reincarnations of a priestess of those dark powers, Tenar is renamed Arha (meaning ‘The One Who Has Been Devoured’) and isolated from the outside world, forced to forget her past and to live as a ritual servant of darkness, of powers older, perhaps, than the wizardry of Earthsea, powers mostly forgotten outside of the Kargad Empire. That is, until Ged, engaged in a quest foretold (not merely foreshadowed, since it was explicitly mentioned) in the epilogue of A Wizard of Earthsea, comes to Kargad seeking a powerful artifact, the lost Ring of Erreth-Akbe.

Arha, whose duties include keeping the labyrinthine caverns located beneath the Tombs of Atuan and their temple complex, meets Ged one day while he is searching in the caverns. Now in her early teens and having fully assumed her role as priestess, Arha perceives the wizard as a defiler of the Dark Ones' sacred space and has him imprisoned there in the Undertomb.

Now, one should be aware that the politics and social configuration of the temple complex are not the most straightforward. Arha, although the reincarnated priestess of the oldest powers of Kargad, is nominally independent but functionally subservient to Kossil, the priestess of the incarnate Godking, who rules the empire. It is her dislike and distrust of Kossil that partially informs what happens next, as Arha's human compassion comes to the fore and she takes pity on Ged, secretly feeding him and giving him water—even visiting him when possible until she comes to know him. Ged, too, comes to know Arha, and in one fateful moment, he magically discerns her true name, the name to which she was born and which she had hitherto forgotten. He restores to her the name Tenar, and from that moment, the two are bonded, and the girl finds herself intently questioning her allegiance. From there on out, Ged and Arha share equal time as the protagonists of the tale, both fighting and fleeing the dark powers together.

My main disappointment in this sequel to A Wizard of Earthsea is the slightly more prosaic writing when compared to its predecessor, but other than that I found it to be just as enjoyable as the first book, perhaps even more so. I particularly appreciated the depth and strength of Tenar's character, the examination of politics (including gender politics) and religious indoctrination, the author's continued use of archetypal symbolism, and the skill with which Le Guin continues Ged's story (the larger journey of this hero that spans multiple books and of which his first cyclical adventure was but a single part) while also introducing Tenar's (which will continue later in the cycle) and making the girl a three-dimensional, sympathetic character in a starring role. Honestly, if not for the disappointment I felt at the shift in narrative tone, this book would have received the same four stars I gave the first; alas, as it stands, it receives half a star less—but it is fundamentally just as good and just as highly recommended, either as a followup to the first book in the series or even on its own, for those who don't want to get bogged down in a fictional world that has grown as large as that of Earthsea since its introduction so many decades ago.



3½ stars: It was very good. Technical, conventional, and other errors are rare or nonexistent, and the work stands out among others of its kind. A 3½-star work is nearing excellence. I am likely to add it to my permanent collection and recommend it to others. This rating may be more subjective than others, as it relies to a slightly greater extent on my tastes in genre and style. Creative writing is more likely to receive 3½ stars than conventional nonfiction. Equivalent to an 'A–', or very good, grade. ( )
  tokidokizenzen | Jun 25, 2015 |
A very convincing heroine and a fascinating and alien world ( )
  lee-mervin | Jun 7, 2015 |
I liked this one better than the first Earthsea book (A Wizard of Earthsea). Still doesn't live up to Tolkien, Lewis, or Jordan, but worth the lazy Sunday afternoon read. :-) ( )
  JenW1 | May 19, 2015 |
I've heard the second and third book in the Earthsea trilogy were better than the first book, which I gave a three star. And in regards to the way the story is told, I do think I liked it better. However I did not like the character that this second book focused on and that killed it for me. Sometimes I dislike a character and then they start to grow on me, but Tenar never grew on me. Thus the low rating. I am determined to read the next book in the series as that will cross it off my list and these books aren't very long, and because the third book moves it's focus back to Ged, but this second middle book is a lost cause for me. Too bad. ( )
  Kassilem | Feb 27, 2015 |
I first read this book in a college course, separate from the rest of the Earthsea Trilogy and loved it. I decided to reread the whole trilogy just to see if this held up...and it has, moreso than the other books. The character of Tenar is unique in voice and growth and it turns out that Ged is much better as a secondary character than a primary one. I think this book is brilliant, and clearly the best of the series. ( )
  CherieDooryard | Jan 20, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 83 (next | show all)
Carol Reich (KLIATT Review, March 1995 (Vol. 29, No. 2))
Le Guin's 1970 fantasy for YAs (part two of the Earthsea Trilogy) has held up well over the decades and remains engaging. Narrative predominates throughout, but during the dialogue Inglis' voiced characters are never confusing to the listener. The three main female voices are acceptably done, the two main male voices are well done, the recording is clear, and Inglis is skilled enough to drop out of character for phrases such as "she said." Between the two of them, Le Guin and Inglis paint a vivid picture of the devious, threatening labyrinth that exists both underneath the temple and within the heart of the High Priestess whom the Wizard Ged rescues from service to the Nameless Ones. This book can stand alone. Category: Fiction Audiobooks. KLIATT Codes: JS*--Exceptional book, recommended for junior and senior high school students. 1994, Recorded Books, 4 tapes, 5.5 hrs.
added by kthomp25 | editKLIATT, Carol Reich (Mar 1, 1995)

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Ursula K. Le Guinprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Garraty, GailIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rikman, KristiinaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0689845367, Mass Market Paperback)

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?

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:42 -0400)

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Arha's isolated existence as high priestess in the tombs of Atuan is jarred by a thief who seeks a special treasure.

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