Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula K. Le Guin

Tenar, the high priestess to the Powers of the Earth, loses her faith when a wizard penetrates the Tombs of Atuan

Everyone kept telling me I needed to read Ursula K. Le Guin, that she was as good as any literary writer. So I read The Tombs of Atuan. A short novel, the prose was beautiful, tactile, spare and meaningful, and the plot was gripping, but there was a dragon in it, ok? I’m too old for dragons.

In a faraway land, a high priestess dies. In the same way a new Dalai Lama is appointed, the high priestess' acolytes search for the reincarnation of her soul in the country's new babies. The child Tenar is found, chosen, symbolically beheaded (in a wonderfully depicted scene) and is renamed “Arha”, the Eaten One. She spends the rest of her childhood figuring out the rituals and secrets of her religion. Arha is the guardian of the labyrinth, the Tombs of Atuan. It is her job to memorize the twists and turns of the dark tunnels. Light is forbidden. Kossil, the High Priestess of the powerful Godking, is her enemy/tutor. After Arha, to prove her toughness, lets three prisoners die a dismal death, she starts losing heart, and the discovery of a trespasser in the tombs, Ged, causes her to question her faith, her purpose. This blasphemy committed in the tombs causes the world to collapse. So perhaps the Gods, or the Powers of the Earth, are real after all. Arha becomes Tenar again, and she follows Ged to his world.

This was a story about learning and knowledge, about re-evaluating one's acceptance of the received truth.  Upon second thought, the dragon was an alleged dragon, so I will be open to reading more Ursula K. Le Guin.


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