The Tombs of Atuan is the title of Ursula K. Le Guin's second Earthsea novel. It was first published by Atheneum in 1971.

Summary[edit | edit source]

The book is based around a girl named Tenar, renamed Arha, who is placed in the tombs of Atuan as the high priestess for the "Nameless Ones".

When she is fifteen years of age, Ged (Sparrowhawk) arrives at the tombs of Atuan in search for half of Erreth-Akbe's ring. Arha traps Ged, but later spares his life after he tells her of the outer world. Although, she keeps him as a prisoner.

A priestess named Kossil learns of the presence of Ged within the tombs of Atuan, and so informs Arha that she must sacrifice his life to the Nameless Ones. Unable to do so, she asks her only friend eunuch Manan to dig a fake grave, and hide Ged in the treasury of the tombs, where only she can go. She and Kossil have a relationship that is beyond an enemy, beyond just a nemesis. Kossil informs Arha during an argument that the Nameless Ones do not exist, and that the real power lies with her. Arha refuses to believe it, and curses her in the name of the Nameless Ones. She realises that Kossil will now wish to kill her for her actions. In finding a place to think, she sees Kossil unearthing the fake grave, and so she runs to the treasury to confess everything to he prisoner, Ged.

While kept prisoner, Ged has located the half-ring of Erreth-Akbe, and so he asks Arha to escape the tombs with him. Eventually, she succumbs to his kindness, and revokes her role as priestess. The tombs collapsed when they escaped, and returned to Havnor, knowing that the reunited ring of Erreth-Akbe is safely back together, bringing peace to Earthsea.

Inside The Tombs[edit | edit source]

The Labyrinth of the Tombs of Atuan

The tombs of Atuan are an underground set of tunnels and labyrinths, all occupied by the High Priestesses, who are there to serve the Nameless Ones.

Above the tombs is the island of Atuan, located in the Kargad Lands. It is said that people are taken to the tombs, usually prisoners, are sent to be sacrificed to the Nameless Ones for a slow death. It is said that each priestess is a reincarnation of the first, and are therefore taken into the tombs for a lifetime of servitude at a young age. Tenar, or Arha, is the only priestess who is allowed to roam the labyrinth above. Because the tombs are below Kargad Lands, there are no wizards present because of the Kargad belief that wizardry is impermissible.

The Place of the Tombs of Atuan

Characters[edit | edit source]

  • Arha (Tenar); the High Priestess of the Nameless Ones
    • Manan; Arha's guardian
  • Kossil; the High Priestess of the Godking
    • Duby and Uahto; wardens who serve the Godking's temple[1][2]
  • Thar; the High Priestess of the Twin Gods
  • Mebbeth; serves in the Godking's temple; fishing woman[3]
  • Gobar; captain of the guards[4]
  • Nathabba; cook[5]
  • Penthe; novice in service of the Godking[6]
  • Poppe[7]
  • Munith[8]
  • Punti[9]


Adaptations[edit | edit source]

In 2004, A Wizard of Earthsea and The Tombs of Atuan were adapted to a miniseries starring Shawn Ashmore as Ged. The series made a number of changes to the books of which Ursula K Le Guin did not approve. Most of the characters are made to be light skinned, so that Ged is pale skinned, but Tenar was portrayed by a person of color. The timeline was also changed, so that Ged is approximately the same age as Tenar, and they fall in love. Tenar is not called Arha.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. The Tombs of Atuan, "Chapter 3: The Prisoners"
  2. The Tombs of Atuan, "Chapter 5: Light Under the Hill"
  3. The Tombs of Atuan, "Chapter 2: The Wall Around the Place"
  4. The Tombs of Atuan, "Chapter 3: The Prisoners"
  5. The Tombs of Atuan, "Chapter 4: Dreams and Tales"
  6. The Tombs of Atuan, "Chapter 4: Dreams and Tales"
  7. The Tombs of Atuan, "Chapter 4: Dreams and Tales"
  8. The Tombs of Atuan, "Chapter 4: Dreams and Tales"
  9. The Tombs of Atuan, "Chapter 4: Dreams and Tales"
Earthsea books
A Wizard of Earthsea
1968
The Tombs of Atuan
1971
The Farthest Shore
1972
Tehanu
1990
Tales from Earthsea
2001
The Other Wind
2001
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