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.

Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

163 p.; 5.62 inches


0689316844 / 9780689316845



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 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.

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 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.
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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 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.
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LibraryThing member SarahEHWilson
This is a short novel but it is perfectly realized that it astonishes me. The little civilization of the tombs is painted with flawless brushstrokes and extraordinary writing. The character conflicts are utterly believable and deeply disturbing. The boredom of the place is evoked so interestingly; what a feat for a writer! I am deeply moved by the acknowledgement of the "dark powers" and yet Tenar learns by the end that not all power is deserving of worship, especially not the dark ones. Ged had already had a run-in with such powers in A Wizard of Earthsea (the stone in Osskil). Also as with many of LeGuin's works, there is a deft depiction of cultural conflict. This was one of my most favorite books as a young person and continues to reward me every time I re-read it.… (more)
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 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.
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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 the story. Many books are satisfying; this one is rewarding. And to think I almost didn't read it....… (more)
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 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.… (more)
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, 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.
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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, claustrophobic tension, as she essentially decides Ged's fate -- pretty heady stuff.… (more)
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, 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).… (more)
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 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.… (more)
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 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.
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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 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.
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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 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.
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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 want to return as soon as possible.… (more)
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 ben_a
Re-read while down at the Cape. A perfect place for it.
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 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 tale. Wonderful reading for any age, I can't wait to start the next one!… (more)
LibraryThing member willowcove
A classic and a great series. While all three are good, I personally enjoyed the first two the most.
LibraryThing member Diwanna
Part 2 of the Earthsea Cycle. Follows the life of Arha, her purpose, her transformation, and a meeting with a familiar stranger. Excellent book.
LibraryThing member briandarvell
This was the second book of the Earthsea collection by Le Guin. It was a short novel that only took about 3 or 4 hours to read. The novel gets off quite slowly with a lot of description and introduction. The second half of the story however gets much more enjoyable and there are also many of the small wise snippets that are customary for a Le Guin story. The world of Earthsea remains creative, intriguing and fun! Overall the story was fairly good and I shall continue to read the Earthsea stories.… (more)
LibraryThing member kthomp25
I read this book for my children's literature class because it is a Newbery Honor selection. It is the kind of book that would make think that any book with the Newbery medal ought to be avoided.

I did not enjoy it. It was vague and without much explanation. The characters were somewhat flat. It is the second of a trilogy, but I will not be reading the others. I would not recommend it for children unless they avid fantasy readers.… (more)
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 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.
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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 Sullywriter
Not as strong of a plot in A Wizard of Earthsea but Le Guin's prose is exquisite.




(1976 ratings; 4)
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