Tag Archives: Children’s Fantasy & Magic Books

The Tombs of Atuan

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Tombs of Atuan [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Ursula K. Le Guin, book 2 of The Earthsea Cycle series.

Le Guin the Tombs of Atuan

Like the first book of the Earthsea series, I had childhood memories of key figures and scenes from The Tombs of Atuan, but much of the story seemed new to me in this re-read half a century later. In particular, my recollection had falsely collapsed this second book into a simple sequel with Ged as its protagonist, when in fact it is Tenar who is the main character. Ged doesn’t appear at all until the fifth of twelve chapters, and even then isn’t positively identified until late in the sixth. Tombs is a girl’s magical bildungsroman as Wizard was a boy’s.

In her 2012 afterword, Le Guin admits that the story and its heroine fall short of ideals latterly promoted for feminist fantasy. Girlbossery is nothing admirable here, and women and men do rely on each other for fulfillment and freedom. This lesson is bluntly symbolized by the reassembly of the two pieces of the Ring of Erreth-Akbe (even pictured on the cover of the recent edition I read). Tenar faces far more adversity than Ged did. While he was allowed to win his own power, she was “given” an authority that bound her into a catena of oppression. His catalyzing of her liberation could be read as a “rescue.”

I have much more cultural context now than I did as a young reader to appreciate the Kargish religion that Le Guin presents. In particular, the tulku One Priestess Arha was a concept that was worked out in a convincing and intriguing way. The supernatural elements of the story are handled with a gentler touch than in the first book.

Where Wizard had Ged ranging from one end of Earthsea to another, this one takes place almost entirely in a single insular community, cut off from the larger culture and commerce of the world. Even so, some nested exposition allows Le Guin to considerably fill in the lore of her larger setting. Ged’s experiences have given him stories worth sharing. He observes, “Dragons think we are amusing” (135). It’s a natural outcome of the fact that the book was written in some measure to explore the throwaway allusion at the end of the first book to one of Ged’s later accomplishments in bringing “back the Ring of Erreth-Akbe from the Tombs of Atuan to Havnor.”

Still, it was the library of his dreams. Wesley imagined an ancient time, centuries ago, long before the building became Astoria’s library, when armies from around the world took turns storming the gate, each determined to obtain the treasures hidden within. It was that kind of place. It stirred something inside of him.

Eric Hobbs, The Librarian, Book One: Little Boy Lost [Amazon, Local Library]

Hermetic quote Hobbs The Librarian Little Lost Boy library dreams treasures hidden within stirred something inside him

Rose

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Bone: Rose [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Jeff Smith, a prequel to the Bone series.

Smith Bone Rose

This “prequel” to the Bone comics series is focused on a particular stratum of the layered story that Jeff Smith had composed in the original comic. It is entirely trained on the intrigue between the royal princesses Rose and Briar. There are no Bones from Boneville in this story, and the closest thing to comic relief is provided by Rose’s two dogs, with whom she has frequent conversations. But, especially at the end, these aren’t comic at all. 

Although far more intricate and poised than Smith’s drawings in the original series, Charles Vess’ art is wonderful and well suited to the subject matter. Smith’s characters are very recognizable, even in their decades-younger forms and in a far different style. The dragons are all appropriately awesome.

The lettering actually put me off a little. It is a sort of unical script with little highlights in each letter, which seemed too busy and distracting for my taste. The word balloons for the dogs (and for Rose addressing them in their ‘speech’) were blue instead of white, which was a very efficient convention for indicating linguistic difference.

On further reflection, it occurs to me that Rose follows a sort of rough Star Wars episode 3 plot trajectory with respect to the Bone series as episodes 4-6: think of Gran’ma Ben as Ben Kenobi and the Hooded One as Darth Vader. (But it’s something of a stretch to think of Fone Bone as Luke Skywalker!) The Lord of the Rings comparisons that seemed so obvious early in the original run of Bone have no place here.

Crown of Horns

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Bone: Crown of Horns [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Jeff Smith, book 9 of the Bone series.

Smith Bone Crown of Thorns

The final volume of the Bone series doesn’t have many surprises. All of the plots that were set up in the earlier numbers play out in a way that seems pretty inevitable, if not outright predictable. There are a few jokes, and lots of chasing and fighting. Comeuppances and rewards (including a hero’s burial) are distributed according to the characters’ merits established before.

I had been holding out for some exciting backstory on Ted the bug, but I was disappointed there. Maybe it’s in one of the prequel supplements: Rose or Stupid Stupid Rat Tails.