Thursday, September 24, 2015

Tombs of Atuan

The wonders of Earthsea continue with Ursula K. Le Guin's The Tombs of Atuan. The second book in the loose series features another protagonist, another coming-of-age of sorts. This time the protagonist is a teenage girl, Tenar, the reincarnated focus of a religion that (to pick up on outside clues) is confined to a small part of Earthsea, and diminishing.  Tenar is in many ways the opposite of young Ged: she is accustomed to solitude, and not asking too many questions or receiving too many answers. She does not receive training or much guidance. She has no great dreams of adventure or power, content to be more inward-looking; but she fully explores her domain (a remote religious installation in the desert) and masters it. Like Ged, she must give up childish ideas to become adult, and like Ged, her choices have far-reaching consequences which she must learn to accept and weave into her own character in order to be a whole, complete person.

Just like the previous one, this book was a short, quick, satisfying read. As you, dear reader, may perhaps have realized, I am usually reading several books at once, and this means that my brain draws strange connections between them. This book was wonderful in contrast with Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle (blog post forthcoming), which robbed its sole featured female character of any agency. Here, women are abundant, and interact with each other as people. The book passes the Bechdel test with flying colors, surpassing that minimum requirement and going on to make female characters important, to make their choices matter, to make important plot points and even the continuation of the book, or the universe. Also, to make this not a big deal.

Our previous protagonist, Ged, does make an appearance. He shows up partway through the book, and serves as a nice connection to the rest of Earthsea outside the parched abbey's walls and closed mindset. This is nice, but Ged doesn't take center stage, and although we readers know the outcome of the book from quite early (it is listed in Ged's long list of mythic accomplishments, at the end of the previous book), it is nice to see the detail that surrounds the one-sentence Summary of Legend. And this does not detract from Tenar's centrality or importance. Ged himself bows to her decisions, puts his life in her hands, and listens carefully when she decides, and often changes her mind, about what she wants to do.

This post's theme word is darkle, "to make or become dark." The darkling cave quenched all light, crushed all hope, and was decorated with many pretty pictures (which unfortunately no one would ever see again).

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