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Title: The Tombs of Atuan Author: Ursula Le Guin Published: 1970 Summary: The second part of the Earthsea Cycle focuses on Arha, the Priestes of the The Dark Ones. She feeds them with the souls and bodies of Godking’s prisoners and is the only one allowed to enter the Labyrinth in which the Nameless Ones rule. With nothing in her heart or mind but rules and regulations of worship, fed to her from an early age by other priestesses, she lives a sheltered and barren life until a man, a heathen, a wizard invades the Labyrinth in search for the ring of Erreth-Akbe.
When she breathed in the drug-fumes to dance at the dark of the moon, her head grew light and her body was no longer hers; then she danced across the centuries, barefoot in black robes, and knew that the dance had never ceased.
In The Tombs of Atuan Ursula’s (yeah, we’re on a first name basis now) anthropological background comes to the fore in the creation of the belief system of the Kargad Lands. Once again, the reader is treated to her amazing ability to create an entire culture, without going into over-explaining mode which leads to absurdity. This time we follow the story of Arha, or Tenar, ever-changing, but constant, just like Ged in A Wizard of Earthsea. I disliked Arha, then I liked her, but I could always find reason behind her behaviour. If there was ever any doubt about the affection I felt for Ged, The Tombs of Atuan dispersed it. He i s powerful, yet strikingly human and vulnerable; his power is mentioned only once or twice and for a reason – never to show off.
If I can hold off an earhtquake, do you fear to meet one human soul with me?
I cannot resist to quote a passage which, for me, embodies Geds character :
His face in sleep was stern, almost frowning; but his left hand lay relaxed on the dirt, beside a small thistle that still bore its ragged clock of grey fluff and its tiny defence spikes and spines. The man and the small desert thistle; the thistle and the sleeping man…
After struggling with A Wizard of Earthsea, I was a bit surprised when I found myself effortlessly gliding from page to page of The Tombs of Atuan. I guess it took the first part of the Cycle for me to get accustomed to Earthsea. I really, really, really loved The Tombs of Atuan (in case you didn’t notice). I enjoyed the stark beauty of it, the way the black and the white are used to paint all the nuances of life and civilization, as is often the case in Ursula’s writing. The long narratives such as the story of the Ring of Erreth-Akbe, are written in a way that makes you want to know more; you want an entire book about it, not just several pages. Nothing is superfluous in this book; every word and sentence, each story told fit in. Only a few sentences are enough to fill you with a sense of calm or cold dread. The dark depths of the Labyrinth and the desolate desert are infused with such warmth and understanding, the source of which is possible to find only in the beauty of the language and the complexity of society and culture. Continue reading “She Danced Across the Centuries, Barefoot”
If anyone other than Ursula Le Guin wrote this book I wouldn’t have finished it. It’s slow-paced, thick with imagery and impressions. Perseverance paid off, because it’s precisely all that which made me think about moving on to something else turned out to be the most beautiful thing about A Wizard of Earthsea.
It’s unlike anything else I have read. There really isn’t any real plot to talk about, there’s scarcely any catharsis at the end. It’s just somehow there and it’s beautiful. It’s all about feelings and impressions, about fear and loneliness, about not belonging. There is only one comparison that springs to mind when I think about this book. Reading it felt like trying to run through water. It was difficult, but strangely rewarding.
What I love about Le Guin is the way she does not create new worlds. She just tells you a story which takes place in a world you didn’t know existed. She’s unassuming in her writing, careful with words; almost shy in her respect of the story she’s telling.
By far, one of the most interesting reading experiences I’ve had, and I’m looking forward to reading The Tombs of Atuan.
Interestingly, whenever I mention Le Guin to someone, if they’ve heard of her, they’ve heard of her as the author of “that fantasy novel…what its name?”. I’ve started with The Left Hand of Darkness, moved on to The Dispossessed and onwards to the Lathe of Heaven. I’ve decided to give this fantasy thing a go, and I was not disappointed. The future seems more bright knowing that there’s a lot more of her work out there, waiting to be read.
In the end, bear in mind, I’m not much of a fantasy reader, so this might not be the most representative review.