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Reviews of Tombs of Atuan, the (1970)

Review by jel (2004-08-22)
I enjoyed this book, once I figured it out. After the first book in the series, I expected to hear about lots of magic, etc., by the now very powerful wizard, Ged.

But that's not what happens. Ged is present a lot, but seems to do nothing. Only one phrase in the entire book really indicates that this isn't the case, and that phrase sticks in my mind even now, as an inspiration.

I can't even remember the ending, now. Though I know what happens from later books. So it's definitely weak in that area, but perhaps that's the intent -- although I 'get' a lot of what drives Le Guin's writing, she seems to have a purpose to her books beyond my understanding sometimes.

I'm not sure how others will feel. I know a lot of people enjoy this series. This second book might seem like one of the weaker volumes to some. But I enjoyed it a lot.

Review by mwisse (2003-03-10)
The Tombs of Atuan, of the three Earthsea books, is the one which features Ged the least. Here the focus is almost exclusively on Arha, the Eaten One, priestess of the ancient and powerful Nameless Ones. Everytime the priestess dies she is reincarnated at the moment of her death. The temple then has to find an unblemished female child born at the exact moment of her death, which if she stays unblemished will be taken from her family to become the next incarnation of Arha. Not a good life, especially since worship of the Nameless Ones is dreary and their priestess is little more then a figurehead in the hands of the priestess of the more recent Godking. For the current priestess, Tenar, this happened only fifteen years ago. Not that long ago, but long enough for her to forget all about life before the temple took her, even her real name.

Powerless and trapped in dreary ritual, everything changes for Tenar when a young wizard comes to the tombs of the Nameless Ones to seek its greatest treasure, the broken ring of the Earthsea heroe Erreth-Akbe, a young wizard named Ged...

This is the shortest of the three books and it shows how much Le Guin can pack in so few pages. The atmosphere in The Tombs of Atuan is claustrophobic and oprresive after the open and sometimes exhilarant atmosphere of A Wizard of Earthsea, especially in the descriptions of Tenar's daily life. What I found impressive was in how Le Guin ended the story. No fairytale happy ending for Tenar; life doesn't end, isn't made perfect by her liberation.

(Taken from my booklog at

Martin Wisse

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