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Bookends: A young girl is led from darkness to the light February 6, 2015

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends.
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Bookends: A young girl is led from darkness to the lightTombs of Atuan

By Dan Davidson

December 22, 2014

– 855 words –


The Tombs of Atuan

By Ursula K. Leguin

Atheneum Books for Young Readers

224 pages



The Tombs of Atuan is the second book in the saga of Earthsea, a series which began with a trilogy in the 1970s, added a novel 20 years later and a collection of short stories and another novel 20 years after that.

Like the first book, A Wizard of Earthsea, it is a coming of age story, though the span of its years is shorter, the setting more restricted, and the central character more naïve. Ged, or Sparrowhawk, from the original novel, is a secondary character in this book. For a time he might almost be seen as the story’s antagonist, until in becomes clear to Tenar that he is not.

Tenar is the name our central character had when she was born, but she was taken from her family at the age of six, after a search by a religious order that believed their high priest was continually reincarnated as a child. Rechristened Arha, she is indoctrinated to be the high priestess to the ancient and nameless Powers of the Earth. Her symbolic new name actually means “the one without a name” or “the Eaten One”

As the story progresses we become aware that Tenar’s position is really under the control of the local warlord and that she is hemmed about by those who are manipulating her. The woman she sees as her mentor, Kossil, is the real power in the ancient temple and a servant of the warlord, who styles himself the Godking, and his gods.

At age 15 Tenar is finally old enough to be initiated into the more adult responsibilities of her role, which involves the mastery of the dark tunnels in the labyrinth under the temple and, sometimes, human sacrifices to the Nameless Ones. There is a great treasury vault deep in the tunnels and another of her duties is to guard that.

What she does not know is that the greatest treasure of all is half of the Ring of Ereth-Akbe, a talisman that was forged centuries before to contain all nine of the rune symbols that bring peace and stability to the world. It was broken some years earlier. Ged has obtained half of the ring during his travels about the world, and now breaks into the Tombs of Atuan to find and restore the power of the ring.

Tenar discovers Ged in the tombs, is fascinated by him, and determines to keep him there as long as possible, partly because of her curiosity, partly out of her sense of duty.

The Tombs are really under the sway of some rather Lovecraftian elder gods, who are truly evil and corrupt their followers. Their power is greatest in the tombs, where a sort of miasma soaks into everything. For Ged this means that his normal abilities are leached away and he becomes progressively weaker. Finally, to save him from Kossil, who has discovered him as well, Tenar hides him in the treasure chamber. Bit by bit she becomes convinced that he is a good man and sees the evil side of the life she has been living.

Together they manage to escape from the tombs, and the Nameless Ones collapse the entire temple in their rage. But that is less important that that the Ring has been made whole.

LeGuin is one of those rare fantasy writers whose reputation has spread well beyond the confines of the speculative fiction world and she was recently awarded the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. I want to quote a bit from her acceptance speech, given in November of this year, because it says so much about what she believes to be the power of this type of literature. You can find the entire thing online, both in text form at ursulakleguin.com, or on YouTube as a video clip.

Books, she says, as more than just commodities to be produced for profit.

“Hard times are coming, when we’ll be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine real grounds for hope. We’ll need writers who can remember freedom — poets, visionaries — realists of a larger reality.

“Right now, we need writers who know the difference between production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. Developing written material to suit sales strategies in order to maximise corporate profit and advertising revenue is not the same thing as responsible book publishing or authorship.

“I’ve had a long career as a writer, and a good one, in good company. Here at the end of it, I don’t want to watch American literature get sold down the river. We who live by writing and publishing want and should demand our fair share of the proceeds; but the name of our beautiful reward isn’t profit. Its name is freedom.”





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