“Ahra”, the Eaten One, the high priestess of the Tombs of Atuan belongs to the Nameless Ones. She is, herself, nameless. Her name along with her family and future were taken from her in a ceremony on which the novel opens. At the beginning of the novel, her 6-year-old life is spared so that she may live the remainder of her life serving the Nameless Ones of Karg in the far East, outside of the Archipelago, in the realm of EarthSea. So it has always been at Atuan and so it has always been with “Ahra” – the high priestess is also The One Priestess in that she is continually reborn as herself. Within an hour of the old priestess’s death, a new One Priestess – who is the same in essence – is born.
Ahra is under the often indifferent and sometimes cruel tutelage of Kossil – High Priestess of the GodKing – the rulers of Autan, Thar – priestess of the Twin Gods, and (to some degree) Mannan – a eunuch and her life-long companion. Each often conveys their understanding of the Tombs, the Nameless ones, and the appropriate place and behavior of the One Priestess.
Thar, though harsh, is often an ally to Ahra. After Thar’s death, Ahra’s relationship with Kossil becomes increasingly strained. Kossil shows Ahra the Undertomb and Labyrinth that lay under the Tombs of Atuan – these are the dark realms of the One Priestess where the Nameless Ones have their greatest strength. Ahra becomes increasingly obsessed with memorizing all the twists and turns of the Undertomb and Labyrinth spending much of her time exploring their depths and learning the location of various spy-holes that look into the Labyrinth. Kossil makes mention of the ring of Erreth-Akbe that is the greatest and most magical treasure of all the many treasures kept in the Labyrinth.
Soon Ahra discovers Sparrowhawk, who’s origin story is covered in A Wizard of EarthSea, wandering the Labyrinth in search of the ring of Erreth-Akbe. Although Ahra has been taught to fear magic and sorcerers her curiosity about this intruder who has lived a life so different than her own dull existence leads her to imprison Sparrowhawk in the Labyrinth rather than kill him (as she told Kossil she would).
Eventually, Ahra grows to trust Sparrowhawk, particularly after he returns to her her name – Tenar, and after revealing his own true name – Ged. In EarthSea learning something’s true name gives you power over that thing. Magic is just a recitation of the original language and magic is enacted over objects and people by calling them by their original and true names.
After being won-over by Ged when Kossil’s intensity and treachery reach a fever pitch, Tenar decides to help Ged escape Autan which, along with the her and Kossil’s other indiscretions, leave the Nameless Ones a bit miffed.
The Tombs of Atuan was a very readable and approachable novel, probably owing to its young-adult target audience – it is short at only 211 pages. This is the second book of the EarthSea series and it seems slightly more focused and, perhaps, less expansive than the first – A Wizard of EarthSea. The themes of the power of names and places are mentioned throughout this book. It is interesting that the things over which no one has any control are nameless, specifically the Nameless Ones – the dark forces mentioned throughout the novel; however, it is only after regaining her own name that Tenar is able to exert any control over her own life.
It’s got a good beat and I can dance to it: 8/10.
As part of my effort to delve more deeply into reading, I will be featuring more review-type content. I will be tagging it all with the “books” tag. If you hate this, you can subscribe to the RSS feed for “computing” to continue to read my insights on something I’m perhaps even the slightest bit qualified to talk about in any sort of informed way.