4. The Tombs

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The Tombs are right there in the title. What did you think of them?

Even without (much) visual description, did you get a sense of place?

Did you find their structure and rules believable?

Comments

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    I love the tombs. There's actually quite a lot of good world-building in this novel which I had forgotten about. LeGuin is quite adept at creating a rich world in a small novel. Tanith Lee could do the same. Clark Ashton Smith, too, I suppose.

    As for the tombs themselves, this big and ancient, inexplicable blocks - I love that. The giant chair that Arha sit in at the beginning, clearly not made to human proportions - I love that. Not getting an explanation as to who these ancients are? I love that too.The world-building creates a sense of place - we get some landscape (it's arid, never changing), some architecture (the square tombs, the labyrinths, the spyholes, and more). LeGuin is also adept at naming things - names have meaning, they flow, they sound like they represent a culture. This is master-class stuff.

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    I liked the tombs, and liked the way in which 'rules' (e.g. no light) are for the childish Arha, and her servants. The community of the Nameless Ones is small and 'left-behind', compared to the God-king, but finally the unseen destroys the God-king's priestess, who wants to rule in both the daylight and dark worlds.

    @Apocryphal My take-away was that a world really springs into being by being perceived rather than being something that is there without the characters. The characters and the space they move through are not two different things.

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    Yes, the tombs were very vivid, and show LeGuin's ability to mix elements from many different cultures. The larger-than-life temple paraphernalia echoes many ancient near eastern temples, the stones remind one of neolithic work, the labyrinth is more classical - yet she ends up with a final result which is credible and coherent rather than just a bunch of stuff glued together. I don't believe that the particular combination of elements exists anywhere in our world (eg no stone circle that I can think of has caves underneath it) but reading this, one easily believes not only that it could exist, but also that it makes good religious sense.

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    I think the lack of visual description helped with the sense of place. Instead of knowing what the tombs were like, we got an insight into what they meant to the characters. And they meant something forbidding and unknowable, where human desires didn't come in to decisions about what was appropriate. It's not clear from the text how much of the rules come from the "needs" of the Nameless Ones, how much is a chinese-whispers style unwitting modification of them, and how much is about the priestly hierarchy maintaining control over the people there and the wider population.

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    @NeilNjae said:
    I think the lack of visual description helped with the sense of place. Instead of knowing what the tombs were like, we got an insight into what they meant to the characters.

    Yes, this exactly! Showing the world through the meaning to the characters is so important. Even the initial chapters where we get the history of the Tombs don't feel like an "info-dump" because of this.

    @Apocryphal Le Guin's skill with names is so, so good. She has a way that I can't understand, of making made-up words sound as if they always existed and you just had never heard them before. Of course the True Name of rabbits is "kebbo." (To jump genres and book series), of course a device to talk across the stars is called an "ansible." What else could it possibly be called? Just scrolling over the map of Earthsea leaves me both slack-jawed in admiration and green with envy (I'm terrible at making up names).

    @RichardAbbott That's a good point about how well the various pieces of the Tombs fit together. The deep treasure rooms feel like natural caves that were appropriated by the very first devotees of the Nameless Ones, with later parts added later.

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    @Michael_S_Miller said:
    @Apocryphal Le Guin's skill with names is so, so good. She has a way that I can't understand, of making made-up words sound as if they always existed and you just had never heard them before. Of course the True Name of rabbits is "kebbo." (To jump genres and book series), of course a device to talk across the stars is called an "ansible." What else could it possibly be called? Just scrolling over the map of Earthsea leaves me both slack-jawed in admiration and green with envy (I'm terrible at making up names).

    Along these same lines, one of the features of the advanced wizard is that they learn the value of ordinary things - rabbit here, and stone ("tolk") in Wizard of Earthsea. The novice wants to do flashy things and impress, while the master wants ordinary things and to remain in the background. I suspect again that this is Ursula LeGuin's Taoist ideas emerging in concrete form.

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    @RichardAbbott Excellent point about the Taoist nature of Earthsea magic.

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    They're exceptionally vivid. And conceptually frightening, building on primal fears such as the dark and enclosed spaces. Tenar's mastery of them is something to behold.

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