THE TOMBS OF ATUAN by Ursula K. Le Guin
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A finely realized fantasy set in the ancient Place of the Tombs, a desert society of women and eunuchs, where Tenar is taken at six and renamed Arha, the Eaten One, because her former existence must be cast off when she becomes high priestess to the Nameless Ones, the spirits of the tombs. The girl is raised with other neophyte priestesses until at fourteen she assumes her grand and isolated role of guardian of the sacred underground labyrinth, where light is forbidden and no one but Arha may enter. She accepts her new identity solemnly and completely, and the account of her life as a growing priestess is appropriately stately. But the story becomes more than the skilled creation of a closed, exotic world when a trespasser enters Arha's underground domain; then the stifling formality becomes a background that adds impact to the stranger's violation of the Place and drama to the girl's subsequent rebirth. The man is Sparrowhawk, the Wizard of Earthsea some years older, and he has come for the missing half of the amulet of Erreth-Akbe, which can bind the warring kingdoms and which is buried with other treasures in the labyrinth. Arha traps the wizard in the labyrinth and plans to kill him, but instead she begins to pay him compulsive visits, first to taunt, then to listen to his tales and watch his feats of illusion, finally to weep because her gods are dead. But the wizard answers that they are not dead: "They are immortal, but they are not gods. They are dark and undying, and they hate the light: the brief light of our mortality. . . . They exist. But they are not your masters. You are free, Tenar." Thus Sparrowhawk gives Tenar back her name and helps her to escape from the Place and the dark powers of the Nameless Ones. The usual tidy ending is foregone, though, just as the story is not the usual allegory; the abstractions do not so much dictate the events as rise naturally from Tenar's real struggles and transformations in her firmly structured underground world.
Pub Date: Sept. 10th, 1971
ISBN: 1416509623
Page count: 183pp
Publisher: Atheneum
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1971


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