In this story, we are introduced to Arren, prince of Enlad, an island in the north of the Earthsea archipelago. Something is causing wizards, sorcerers, and others with magical propensities to lose their abilities. Arren is sent to Roke, the island where wizards are trained, to find out why. Ged Sparrowhawk, who is now Archmage on Roke, decides to go on a quest to solve this problem with Arren in tow. They visit various islands in the South and West Reaches of Earthsea where they try to figure out what is stealing the magic in Earthsea. Finally, with the aid of a dragon, Ged gets an idea of what the cause might be and travels to The Dragon’s Run and Selidor islands to find out. On Selidor, Ged and Arren travel to the land of the dead to resolve the loss of magic. The adventure is a success, Ged returns magicless and retires to his homeland, Gont, and Arren is crowned king of Earthsea.
This is the third book in the Earthsea series and I didn’t like it much. The first book was great, filled with Ged’s adventures as he runs from and then chases his shadow. The second book was not exciting but wasn’t a bore either because Tenar escapes and frees herself. This book too wasn’t a bore but it’s adventure was subdued. For most of the book, the reader is either in Arren’s thoughts or kicking it from a distance with the narrator, simply analyzing the actions of characters and their thought processes.
The story dragged on and the plot was confusing to me hence my very brief summary of the story. I got the message that Le Guin wanted to impart but I didn’t get the story. I think if it was told from Ged’s point of view, it would have been tons more interesting. But it was told from Arren’s point of view, which makes it drag since Arren is basically dragged around by Ged, though Ged says he follows Arren (basically it’s Arren’s innocence that will help resolve the problem so Ged says he follows Arren).
I think I understand, though, why it’s written from Arren’s point of view. I think the message wouldn’t be as effective if it was told from Ged’s point of view. The story is about balance and accepting death as a part of life. It’s because of people’s lust after immortality that Earthsea begins to lose its magic, amongst other things. This throws off the balance. Arren, who begins the novel as an innocent boy, fears death. But by the time we reach the novel’s end, Arren is a young man who has traveled to the land of the dead and back and has learned the importance of death to life. Ged aids him in understanding this. The message has a stronger impact with Arren because the majority of people reading of this book can see themselves as Arren and relate to his fear of death. This would not have carried well if told from Ged’s point of view because he first learned this lesson, or part of it, in the first book, where he learned to accept a dark part of himself.
Though I did not like the story, I did appreciate the philosophy and insight that Le Guin imparts. Here is a quote that stood out to me and sums up the message of the story. You can find more on my Pop Out Quotes page:
“Life rises out of death, death rises out of life; in being opposite they yearn to each other, they give birth to each other and are forever reborn. And with them all is reborn…In life is death. In death is rebirth. What then is life without death? Life unchanging, everlasting, eternal?–What is it but death–death without rebirth?
Tehanu (book 4) ->
- “The Tombs of Atuan” by Ursula Le Guin (zezeewithbooks.wordpress.com)
- Ursula K. Le Guin (tasmith1122.wordpress.com)
- The Defining Science Fiction Books of the 1960s (jameswharris.wordpress.com)
- “The Farthest Shore” by Ursual LeGuin (twittertales.wordpress.com)