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Reviews of Farthest Shore, the (1972)

Review by jel (2004-08-22)
This book is interesting. Along with the other two of the first three books in this series, I found it very easy to read, enjoyable, and compelling. Also like the others, I found the concepts involved fascinating -- at least, when I first read them.

Magic is dying in the world, as another reviewer says. And the king is annoying, as, again, the other reviewer says. I'm not sure why he was in the story at all -- perhaps just so that Ged, the hero, didn't have to be rewarded with early treasures. I'm sure that's something Le Guin wouldn't like to do. And I have a feeling that this was supposed to be the end of the series, so that there had to be a new king and peace in the land, I suppose. Perhaps the next books took so long to arrive because they were never intended to arrive; it's just that people didn't accept this book as the finale.

However, this book can be understood on a much deeper level than restoring magic, or establishing a new king. It deals with deep concepts like life and death, in a very direct way. It could be understood as a warning about looking at life in the wrong way; about how to deal with pain and depression, and how to overcome it. Like the previous book in this series, I think the major point of the book is so subtle and easy to miss. But it's there, if you know what you're looking for. A single stone, at the end of a long journey.

This is one of those books that paints simple, vivid pictures representing huge concepts, that have stuck in my mind for years. The Earthsea Cycle continues for another two books. But they came out later, and honestly, I never understood the next book. The final book feels like a more obvious re-telling of this one. For me, The Earthsea Cycle, or rather, Quartet ends here, in Le Guin's usually great form. Worth reading.

Review by mwisse (2003-03-10)
The Farthest Shore deals with a common fantasy plot: the magic is going away. Not only are magicians and witches losing their abilities to work magic on some of the more remorte islands, on those islands so afflicted all people lose their creativity, their zest for life. Could this be a natural phenomenon or is this the work of some evil force? That is what Ged, by now the Archmage of Roke and his young companion, prince Arren of Enlad, who came to warn him of the danger, have to find out. Unknown to Arren, he is destinied for greatness, if he survives the quest...

Of the three Earthsea books, I found this one to be the least successful, in part because I disagreed with some of LE guin's philosophy underlaying the story. For one, she uses the old fantasy cliche of the rightful king as panacee for all evil, which grates on this republican's nerves. Usually I don't mind this in fantasy, I just found it odd that Ursula Le Guin, of all writers, would use such a timeworn cliche. The other thing that grated was the thought of longing for immortality and immortality itself as an evil thing, that death is what makes humans human, which is another fantasy cliche. I disagree with this philosophy: death and life are not unique to humans, they're not what defines us.

Those two objections aside, this is still an enjoyable story, just slightly disappointing.

(Taken from my booklog at http://www.cloggie.org/books/)

Martin Wisse




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