The Tombs of Atuan (The Earthsea Cycle, Book #2)

by Ursula K. Le Guin

Hardcover, 1971



Local notes

Fic LeG




Atheneum Books for Young Readers (1971), Edition: F Fifth Printing Used, 163 pages. $15.95.


Arha's isolated existence as high priestess in the tombs of Atuan is jarred by a thief who seeks a special treasure.


Sequoyah Book Award (Nominee — Children's — 1974)
Mythopoeic Awards (Finalist — 1972)
Newbery Medal (Honor Book — 1972)

Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

163 p.; 5.62 inches

Media reviews

Carol Reich (KLIATT Review, March 1995 (Vol. 29, No. 2)) Le Guin's 1970 fantasy for YAs (part two of the Earthsea Trilogy) has held up well over the decades and remains engaging. Narrative predominates throughout, but during the dialogue Inglis' voiced characters are never confusing to the
Show More
listener. The three main female voices are acceptably done, the two main male voices are well done, the recording is clear, and Inglis is skilled enough to drop out of character for phrases such as "she said." Between the two of them, Le Guin and Inglis paint a vivid picture of the devious, threatening labyrinth that exists both underneath the temple and within the heart of the High Priestess whom the Wizard Ged rescues from service to the Nameless Ones. This book can stand alone. Category: Fiction Audiobooks. KLIATT Codes: JS*--Exceptional book, recommended for junior and senior high school students. 1994, Recorded Books, 4 tapes, 5.5 hrs.
Show Less

User reviews

LibraryThing member MeditationesMartini
Occasionally there's this difficulty in knowing how to rate things when they're parts of a whole and the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. On its own, The Tombs of Atuan is a stunning, sombre little piece of fantasy--a Bildungsroman about a girl selected Dalai Lama-fashion to be high
Show More
priestess of this death cult and raised cloistered and twisted, until a stranger comes into her life and teaches her how to walk away and start life anew. Gives her herself back. It's a parable about hate and healing and feeling guilty and broken and finding a way, not to love yourself, or not right away, but to start again even though you don't love yourself and move away from what happened, for which the fault was none of yours. It's a story that I can very easily imagine speaking to victims of sexual abuse, child soldiers, the innocent and damaged.

And then you slap it up against A Wizard of Earthsea, and it is certainly inventive in the ways that book is generic, and its characters are certainly psychologically real--Ged in particular seems as if he has stepped out of the pages of history or legend and come alive. But it doesn't have that mythic sweep--Wizard is a timeless story that you can imagine coming out of an unfamiliar mythology, but Tombs is decidedly and defiantly modern. In some ways it's an uneasy mix, and I wonder if Le Guin changed the way she wanted to go with the series--the first book is like a chronicle, the second one like a thriller, and the first one deals in dragons and gebbeths, whereas in this book the Nameless Ones are never directly seen--we feel them only through Tenar and Ged's reactions, and of course that plays up the fact that they are your own fears--as opposed to Ged's shadow in the first book, which is his dark ambition but also a beast with four taloned legs and no face. The indirectness is very, very effective, but it also plays up the genre clash, and I'm curious if/how Le Guin is going to resolve it in The Farthest Shore.
Show Less
LibraryThing member paradoxosalpha
Like the first book of the Earthsea series, I had childhood memories of key figures and scenes from The Tombs of Atuan, but much of the story seemed new to me in this re-read half a century later. In particular, my recollection had falsely collapsed this second book into a simple sequel with Ged as
Show More
its protagonist, when in fact it is Tenar who is the main character. Ged doesn't appear at all until the fifth of twelve chapters, and even then isn't positively identified until late in the sixth. Tombs is a girl's magical bildungsroman as Wizard was a boy's.

In her 2012 afterword, Le Guin admits that the story and its heroine fall short of ideals latterly promoted for feminist fantasy. Girlbossery is nothing admirable here, and women and men do rely on each other for fulfillment and freedom. This lesson is bluntly symbolized by the reassembly of the two pieces of the Ring of Erreth-Akbe (even pictured on the cover of the recent edition I read). Tenar faces far more adversity than Ged did. While he was allowed to win his own power, she was "given" an authority that bound her into a catena of oppression. His catalyzing of her liberation could be read as a "rescue."

I have much more cultural context now than I did as a young reader to appreciate the Kargish religion that Le Guin presents. In particular, the tulku One Priestess Arha was a concept that was worked out in a convincing and intriguing way. The supernatural elements of the story are handled with a gentler touch than in the first book.

Where Wizard had Ged ranging from one end of Earthsea to another, this one takes place almost entirely in a single insular community, cut off from the larger culture and commerce of the world. Even so, some nested exposition allows Le Guin to considerably fill in the lore of her larger setting. Ged's experiences have given him stories worth sharing. He observes, "Dragons think we are amusing" (135). It's a natural outcome of the fact that the book was written in some measure to explore the throwaway allusion at the end of the first book to one of Ged's later accomplishments to have "brought back the Ring of Erreth-Akbe from the Tombs of Atuan to Havnor."
Show Less
LibraryThing member EmScape
I enjoyed this second book in the Earthsea Trilogy much more than the first, which is odd, because usually the middle book in a Trilogy is the most dull, functioning to connect two more climactic stories. In Atuan we meet Arha, the dedicated priestess to the Nameless Ones. Sparrowhawk wanders into
Show More
her life, and she must make a choice between service to her gods and her own freedom.
Arha's land and it's mythology are well built as well as dissimilar to the culture of the first novel. At first, I was confused as to how this fit in to the Trilogy, but all was explained when Sparrowhawk made his appearance.
The underlying theme of the novel seems to be the nature of freedom as opposed to the nature of service (to a religion or a more human ruler). This is most elucidated in the final chapter, but brings the rest of the book into perspective, so one looks back over what one has already read and applies the action to the theme. Well done. A book more for fantasy readers than fans of Le Guin's harder science fiction.
Show Less
LibraryThing member AltheaAnn
One of my favorite books of all time - I've probably read this one over two dozen times.
It's a deceptively simple story, simple in the way that all truths are simple, allegorical in that it can be applied to all of our lives. it's a story of growing up, of claiming freedom and independence, and
Show More
all the fear and pain and joy that can accompany that. But it's also just the story of Tenar, called Arha, priestess of the Nameless Ones and mistress of the Undertomb - a girl who believes herself hard, cold and powerful. And it is the story of Ged, the young wizard who finds himself at her mercy. It is a story of finding compassion, and how strength lies not in the dark and restricted ways, or in bringing death - but instead lies in having the courage to admit vulnerability, in daring to step outside all that is taught and to find ones way to the light.
The writing is just beautiful - some of the descriptive passages here are unparallelled. A perfect book.
Show Less
LibraryThing member Kplatypus
In the second Earth-Sea novel, Ged, the mage, meets Tenar, Priestess of the Unnamed Ones of Atuan. Less traditionally fantasy-oriented than the first book (A Wizard of Earthsea), The Tombs of Atuan looks at religion and rituals, devotion and freedom, and relationships between humans instead. The
Show More
story explores the question of what a person ought to do when the belief behind religious practice is called into question, and when a personal sense of morality contradicts traditional teachings. Even better, it do so without the saccharine voice that so often accompanies such conversations.

Although I found this story a little harder to get into than A Wizard of Earthsea, in the end I think it's just as strong as a book and has some very insightful things to say about reality and belief systems. The plot is not fast-paced, so those looking for nonstop action would probably want to look elsewhere, just as those looking for more traditional fantasy, with explosive magic, dragons, and elves might be disappointed. However, someone looking for a more philosophical work should be well pleased.
Show Less
LibraryThing member Crowyhead
For some reason, this was always my favorite of these books when I was a kid; I think that while I loved Ged like crazy, I really was hungry for a female character who was his match in strength and bravery. Tenar comes pretty close, despite her comparative youth. Plus there's all kinds of creepy,
Show More
claustrophobic tension, as she essentially decides Ged's fate -- pretty heady stuff.
Show Less
LibraryThing member fiveforsilver
I liked that the main character was not the same as in A Wizard of Earthsea - although I usually don't like that in a series, but here it seems that each book has a different main character, but some recurring character(s). It also seems like they could be read out of order without much confusion,
Show More
but also without the lengthy explanation that often accompanies such things (summarizing the first book at the beginning of the second, a practice I hate).
Show Less
LibraryThing member msjoanna
I can't believe I never read this trilogy before now. I read the first book in the trilogy over the weekend, then read this one in practically one sitting. I think I actually liked this book slightly better than the first book, but that may just be related to this one having a strong female lead. I
Show More
also appreciate that the characters and events in the books have slight overlap, but that it really isn't necessary to have read the first book to enjoy the second. I'll definitely be reading the third book from the set after a break to read something else.
Show Less
LibraryThing member Griffin22
This is my favourite of the Earthsea series, book two of the original trilogy. It is my husband's least favourite, so maybe I liked having a female main character? Pretty rare in those days. You can count the number of main female characters in Tolkien on the fingers of one foot (don't be mislead
Show More
by the movies). I still enjoyed it on this re-read. Tenar is brought up as High Priestess in an isolated desert complex in Kargad, and comes into contact with Ged when he arrives to steal an artefact from the Tombs. She has rarely ever seen a man, let alone a black man (why is Ged white in the cover image?) or a wizard. She defies her advisors and her Gods to learn more about him and his world.
Show Less
LibraryThing member wirkman
The best of Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea books, perhaps because in this book a girl is the focus of the story, while a dark magic, the Nameless Powers of the Earth (I'm reciting from memory; I may have this wrong), weighs the book with a sense of the mythopoeic -- and plays the back of the spine,
Show More
which is, after all, what literature is supposed to do, said Nabokov.

Great cover artwork for these early editions, no? It amazes me how bad the artwork for fantasy and science fiction devolved to, after the '70s.
Show Less
LibraryThing member threadnsong
A book that might have been shocking for its time, with the hidden Priestess who is taken as a child, the underground passages, the mysterious rites . . . and as always, told in a few quick but well-chosen words. The first time I read this I kept wondering Where's Ged?" Now, I read it seeing a new
Show More
take on the Archipelago and a new society that emerges most skillfully. And the fact that there is a female character who grows, who is not just the hedge-witch of the first novel, is a good development in Ms. LeGuin's world.
Show Less
LibraryThing member DeltaQueen50
The second book in Ursula Le Guin’s Wizard of Earthsea Cycle is a quieter book than the previous one. This is not a book of high adventure, of sailing out into the unknown and at first I do admit I was a little put off at not finding Ged off on another adventure. But thank heavens I was patient
Show More
and allowed the story to develop because before I knew it, Ursula Le Guin had worked her magic and I was totally drawn into the story.

In The Tombs of Atuan the main character is Tenar who through an elaborate ceremony has been chosen to be the priestess reborn called Arha and to serve the Nameless Ones in the Tomb of Atuan. Her life is rather bleak and all she knows is duty, but one day, while walking the labyrinth she discovers an intruder, a young wizard who calls himself Sparrowhawk. She imprisons him but through discussions with him and the magic that he shows her, she starts to question all that she has been taught.

I listened to this book as read by Rob Inglis, and although he isn’t my favorite narrator, he did an adequate job. It was Ursula Le Guin’s descriptive writing and beautiful prose that made this book such a wonderful experience. This is a much slower moving book than the first, but the payoff comes with Le Guin’s elaborate world-building and character development. Her descriptions of the dark, underground maze painted a picture of a very creepy and claustrophobic place with a sense of evil lurking in the dark. The pace of the story does pick up once Ged makes his appearance and the ending not only brought closure to this story, but has perked my interest in finding out what happens in the third volume.
Show Less
LibraryThing member Karlstar
The 2nd part in the Earthsea Cycle, this book does not pick up where the previous left off. Instead, we meet a new character, Tenar, the reborn priestess of the Nameless Ones. Trained from a young age to resume her duties after the death of the previous priestess, her life is a lonely one, but the
Show More
only one she knows. Unlike the previous book, we don't see any more of Earthsea, just this one lonely island where there are no wizards and no dragons. That all changes one day when the light-less labyrinth under the temple is invaded by a robber.
This book had the same tone and excellent world building as the previous book, so despite the abrupt turn in the plot at the beginning, it fits right in with the previous. It is short in length and scope, but it really feels like part of the trilogy and as always, the writing is outstanding.
Show Less
LibraryThing member drbubbles
Much of the story is interesting and nicely told, even if the story itself is nothing special. The prologue and the two final chapters, however, have a rare grace to them. The prologue gives poignancy to the bulk of the story. The last two chapters offer expiation for what happens in the bulk of
Show More
the story. Many books are satisfying; this one is rewarding. And to think I almost didn't read it....
Show Less
LibraryThing member ansate
this story is hella more disturbing than i realized when I was 12.
LibraryThing member gbill
In the second installment in the Earthsea series, a girl is declared to be the reincarnated Priestess of a remote, timeless place and is taken from her family at an early age. She grows up learning its customs and believes herself to have great power, but has very limited experience of the actual
Show More
world. She’s also got a rival in the form of the head Priestess of the State, which has its political power increasing.

What could have been a conventional coming-of-age tale in less skillful hands than Le Guin’s becomes a critique of cloistered, religious institutions that deny reality and don’t affirm life and joy, and I love the book for that. Much of the action takes place in subterranean tombs and an enormous labyrinth, all in darkness, which is telling. The young woman administers ancient rites with little meaning, and has no qualms about ceremonially executing enemies of the State who have been brought there. Her personal flaws and the flaws of the religious system she finds herself in are evident. There is real darkness here, and I don’t just mean the claustrophobic, blind environment Le Guin successfully creates. Just as in ‘A Wizard of Earthsea,’ the first book in the series, there are elements of identity and finding one’s self, but there is also profound disillusionment and loss of faith. It’s a mature, very intelligent work with a gravitas not often seen in young adult fiction.

“The Earth is beautiful, and bright, and kindly, but that is not all. The Earth is also terrible, and dark, and cruel. The rabbit shrieks dying in the green meadows. The mountains clench their great hands full of hidden fire. There are sharks in the sea, and there is cruelty in men’s eyes. And where men worship these things and abase themselves before them, there evil breeds; there places are made in the world where darkness gathers, places given over wholly to the Ones whom we call Nameless, the ancient and holy Powers of the Earth before the Light, the powers of the dark, of ruin, of madness…”

Also, this one from the Afterword, Le Guin explaining the limitations of the main character, which unfortunately led to criticism. Personally I loved the balance in this book and for just how progressive it was, with its critique of religion and its protagonists, one of whom was female and the other of whom was black:

“In such a world, I could put a girl at the heart of my story, but I couldn’t give her a man’s freedom, or chances equal to a man’s chances. She couldn’t be a hero in the hero-tale sense. Not even in a fantasy? No. Because to me, fantasy isn’t wishful thinking, but a way of reflecting, and reflecting on reality. After all, even in a democracy, in the second decade of the twenty-first century, after forty years of feminist striving, the reality is that we live in a top-down power structure that was shaped by, and is still dominated by, men. Back in 1969, that reality seemed almost unshakeable.”
Show Less
LibraryThing member RebeccaStevens
This is the second in a series of stories about Earthsea. In this book, Arha is a priestess at a temple that worships spirits of the Old Power. The setting is a stark island with a temple, tombs, and a dark labyrinth that Arha is free to explore. In the tunnel, she meets Ged, a wizard from
Show More
Earthsea. They become friends, and Ged helps Arha to overcome the evil influences of the Old Power and regain her true name.

I read this book when I was in middle school, and although I found it a little dark, I identified with Arha's loneliness. It was a touching book that has remained one of my favorites.

The book is deserving of the Newberry award, for it is an excellent fantasy book for young adults. The theme of the power of friendship to overcome dark influences is universal. As it is a part of a series, it is not a stand-alone book, and should be read after reading the first one.
Show Less
LibraryThing member rayechu
Much more fun then the first Earthsea. Finally a female character! I plowed through this, and can't wait for the next one.
LibraryThing member ragwaine
I still like Geb but not much happened in this book and it all took place in the same area. Not much magic being used. Story of castaways explained at end.
LibraryThing member nesum
While not as good as A WIZARD OF EARTHSEA, this book brought me happily back to Ursula K. Le Guin's wonderful world. Tenar was a joy to follow for a time, and the shadows surrounding her simple life a worthy enemy. While we did not travel as much in this book, I still got a sense of the world, and
Show More
want to return as soon as possible.
Show Less
LibraryThing member eenerd
The saga of the magical world of Earthsea continues in Le Guin's second installment. What I love about this one is that it comes from the point of view not of Ged but of the Priestess of the Tombs (Tenar), so it is fresh and new. The entrance of Ged enhances and pulls together the string of the
Show More
tale. Wonderful reading for any age, I can't wait to start the next one!
Show Less
LibraryThing member RBeffa
After being so impressed with "A Wizard of Earthsea" I moved right on to "The Tombs of Atuan", the second book in the original Earthsea trilogy by Ursula K. Le Guin. Atuan is a very different book. It is much slower paced and quite a sad and dark novel. The focus of the story is on a young girl
Show More
Tenar who has been chosen sort of like the Dalai Lama as a reborn incarnation of the one true priestess Arha. Her old soul is "eaten" and she becomes the embodiment of a long line of Arha's. She serves the ancient nameless ones at the Tombs. She has a sad, dark and lonely life until the young wizard Ged (Sparrowhawk) arrives unexpectedly about a third of the way in. The slow pace of the novel picks up a bit then. After the careful set up of the initial portion of the story we start the slow process of Arha's rescue from the old powers.

I liked the overall story quite a bit, but the narrow focus didn't enchant me as much as A Wizard of Earthsea did. I'll be moving on shortly to another in the world of Earthsea.
Show Less
LibraryThing member maggie1944
This is the story of Tenar, a young woman stolen from her family to be a priestess for the dark powers. She is rescued by Ged in a convoluted trip thru a labyrinth; she knows the way, he provides the motivation. Not a compelling read although it is helpful to read as a part of the Earthsea series.
LibraryThing member willowcove
A classic and a great series. While all three are good, I personally enjoyed the first two the most.
LibraryThing member edgeworth
This is the second book in Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea series, being a sequel to A Wizard of Earthsea. I read the first book a very long time ago, probably when I was about twelve, and again more recently. My impression of it was the same both times: oddly boring. It has all the makings of an
Show More
excellent fantasy adventure, but never seems to quite pull them together, resulting in a novel that's only slightly above average.

I think a large part of this lies in Le Guin's narrative tone, which is extremely dry. Unfortunately, this carries over into The Tombs of Atuan, which follows the story of Tenar, a young girl taken from childhood to be raised as a priestess in service to the "Nameless Ones." Her life is interrupted by the arrival of Ged, the titular wizard from the first book, who breaks into the tombs below her temple and raises some struggles of belief for Tenar.

Fantasy is meant to be escapism. We're meant to be dazzled by it, swept along in a tide of swashbuckling adventure, enchanted by gleaming white cities and jungle-covered ruins and airships floating high in the clouds. What Le Guin gives us instead is a very cold, sterile, dull world; a place of tombs and temples and strict religious orders. It is a well-realised world, but not a world I want to spend time in.

Having said that, I did enjoy The Tombs of Atuan more than A Wizard of Earthsea. It's a well-told story, much more tightly paced and structured than the last, and at only 155 pages it doesn't drag on. The crumbling of Tenar's personal belief system is particularly well-handled; as she gradually rejects what she has been taught to believe, and makes the decision to flee the temple with Ged, I never once found her mental processes to be unbelievable. In spite of its flaws, I'd give this a thumbs up, and may consider reading the rest of the series at some point. Le Guin is certainly a gifted writer; I just wish she could instill more of a sense of fantasy.
Show Less




(2398 ratings; 4)
Page: 3.3036 seconds