For ATY’s 2019 Reading Challenge prompt #40, a book you stumbled upon, I chose to read The Tombs of Atuan. I frequently browse the used book sections of thrift stores, and I ran across this book in one of those. I knew it was one I wanted to read, so I picked it up, despite not having the first book of the Earthsea series. I have since read that book – A Wizard of Earthsea – last year, making this a very natural choice for this prompt.
In this story, we meet Tenar, a young girl taken at the age of five to be trained as the next First Priestess to the Nameless Ones. In preparation for this new role, she is stripped of everything, including her name. She becomes Arha, The Eaten One. The bulk of the story is learning who Arha is and what her world is like. As she grows up in this Place where she serves as Priestess, she is trained by the Priestesses of the Twin Gods and of the Godking.
And then a stranger arrives and turns Arha’s world upside down. She is no longer sure of what is right or real. She is confronted with her own belief system, forced to face everything she has been taught.
I love LeGuin’s writing style. It is beautiful, and flows so smoothly, you don’t mind the time it takes to get anywhere. LeGuin tells Tenar’s story with such subtlety, you can’t help but get a sense of the deeper political story that underlies what’s immediately clear. Tenar herself is kept in ignorance, but through the action and the words left unsaid, the reader can’t help but feel the dangers that surround her.
A 1972 Newbery Honor book, The Tombs of Atuan has received much recognition. LeGuin’s Earthsea books might be her best known series. It is well worth reading, and I am looking forward to “stumbling upon” the rest of the series, a bit more deliberately, most likely.