One of my reading goals this year is to read through the Earthsea series. The Tombs of Atuan is the second book in the series and I was drawn into this story even more than A Wizard Of Earthsea. It’s probably because I was excited to learn about Tenar’s story. I started the series by reading The Other Wind first and Tenar was so wise and understanding that I wanted to know more about her story even then.
When the One Priestess of the Tombs of Atuan dies, she is reborn. So, the other Priestesses and the Wardens go and search for a little girl who was born the same night the One Priestess dies. If the child remains healthy until the age of five it is understood that this is the One Priestess reborn. She is then taken from her parents and brought to the Temple. Her name will eventually be taken from her as she becomes servant to the Nameless Ones. She becomes Arha, The Eaten One. Tenar is said to be the reborn Priestess and becomes Arha. She is isolated in the desert with very little life around her. She is to daily repeat that she is The Eaten One, a reminder that all is consumed and there is nothing left of her from her previous life. She is discouraged from having close friends or meaningful relationships, even punishment is withheld from her. She is set apart to serve the Nameless Ones, the ancient Dark Powers.
LeGuin does a great job of creating this isolated place in the desert. I really got a good sense of how lonely and isolated a life this was. There is no life, no hope, no joy. There is also an origin account the Tombs creation. Things get interesting when we learn the story of Erreth-Akbe. He was defeated by the High Priest when his amulet was cut in half. One half is hidden in the Treasury of the Tombs, the other half is believed to be lost. Now, the only real thieves who would attempt to break in and steal from their treasury are sorcerers hoping to get the ring of Erreth-Akbe back.
This is a very different story from A Wizard Of Earthsea. We don’t even see Ged until much later in the book. There is a focus on darkness here. Tenar is Arha, the Eaten One and her world is a sad and lonely existence in service to her masters. She serves these Dark Ones and explores the dark caves with her hands and mind for light is forbidden in the deep of the caves. She is also responsible for determining the appropriate death her Masters would choose for prisoners brought to her. Darkness, death and evil surround her until the day a wizard breaks into the Tombs with a light–defiling the dark place– and opens her eyes to so much more: the beauty and riches of the Tombs, the choice of life over death and the chance to leave that horrible place.
I enjoyed getting to read Tenar’s story from the beginning. I also enjoyed seeing Ged again and appreciated how he has grown since A Wizard Of Earthsea: he is patient, kind and wise. He still bears the scars on his face from his own dealings with the powers of darkness and probably always will. Tenar, too, is scarred, not physically, but mentally. She carries with her the guilt from previous actions committed. She wants to remain isolated as fitting punishment, but Ged offers to let her stay with his old teacher instead as a place to heal.
The struggle for Tenar lies not only in deciding whether she should stay and remain Arha, or to leave it all behind and courageously step forward into the unknown to discover who she really is, but, additionally, in how she deals with her painful past. This is something that will shape her as she moves forward. Then again, how could it not? She is brave, though, and I look forward to reading on about her personal journey and transformation.
I’m also interested in reading more about the ring of Erreth-Akbe. Is this another ring to rule them all, only that this one holds the promise of peace? I suspect that the story of finding the right person to wear the ring and rule the people will be fascinating. I think there is a lot to look forward to in the next few books!