1: Arren

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Like the previous two Earthsea books, this is a coming-of-age story.

What did you think of Arren as a boy-on-the-cusp-of-manhood? As a destined king?

How do you think his journey prepares him to rule?

How does he compare to other fantasy kings?

Comments

  • 1

    I found Arren archetypical. He's clearly a boy who will grow into a king. He isn't even given a name in the first chapter, I don't think - just called 'a boy'. He's destined for something - to be a king at the very least, if he doesn't turn from that path. If he does turn, he'll become a mage, or a dragonmaster, or something... but the choice will be significant, I think. He embarks upon a grand journey with a mentor. He makes assumptions which are shown to be wrong, but learns from his mistakes. He grows over the course of the journey, and so it shown to be a wise king in the end.

    Did I over simplify that?

  • 0
    edited December 2019

    I think there are several complexities in the picture.

    One is that it is perennially unclear who is leading and who is following. Sparrowhawk insists on numerous occasions that Arren must lead, since otherwise he wil not know which way to go. This is true even in the dead land, which non-mages were not even supposed to hear about, let alone visit. However, at other times Sparrowhawk takes charge and forces the pace, for example in the race from beyond the South Reach to the Dragon's Run and Selidor.

    Again, Sparrowhawk is not training Arren to be his successor - Arren has no mage ability at all. So it's not a variation of Freud's Oedipal myth, in which the "son" has to overcome and supplant the "father". The mythology is, I think, more subtle and compelling than that.

    I suppose you could argue that it is, again, Sparrowhawk coming of age, rather than Arren, in that he has to go on the epic voyage, give up things which are precious to him, and yield centre stage to someone else.

  • 0

    @RichardAbbott said:

    I suppose you could argue that it is, again, Sparrowhawk coming of age, rather than Arren, in that he has to go on the epic voyage, give up things which are precious to him, and yield centre stage to someone else.

    Yes, I think the novel is more about Sparrowhawk's story than Arren's, but perhaps that's a discussion for another thread.

    Arren does gain wisdom and confidence in the book. He learns to make decisions and sit with the consequences. He gains an understanding of other people and other ways of life. I think the events in the book prepare him to be an adult; I'm not sure they prepare him to be a good king.

    Would he be a good leader? He comes across as thoughtful and humble, as well as confident. He was always prepared to endure hardship for the greater good (or perhaps just the good of his father).

  • 2
    Arren I find a very pleasant character. There 's echoes of archetypes there, and Ged and Arren echo Merlin tutoring King Arthur.

    The big difference is that Arren is not a warrior king. That's the subversion. He has struggles but they're different.
  • 2

    I like how Arren grows from that wide-eyed teenaged exuberance of fawning over The Archmage to a young man, who can see the world for what it is, and react accordingly.

    I also like how LeGuin takes so many classic fantasy tropes about kings and both fulfills them and makes it clear they are completely beside the point! Arren is descended of the ancient royal house. His ancestor’s throne has sat empty for centuries. There’s an unlikely prophesy about the next king’s accomplishments. He’s got a legendary sword. His wizardly mentor has already done work to prepare for his ascension to the throne. So far, so Aragorn (or Arthur, etc.).

    But I love that LeGuin makes that into background context. The real story is what Arren learns. How Arren changes. The choices he makes. She just has a wonderful talent for showing the humanity of her characters.

    (Sorry for the delay. mid-November through Christmas are the busy season at work. I should have traded months with someone.)

  • 1
    edited December 2019

    @BarnerCobblewood always said the Leguin loved people.

    I agree the story is more Ged's than Arren's. And I don't disagree that it's a coming of age story - only in this case it isn't a story of one reaching manhood - Ged is already a man - but perhaps the story of the end of manhood for Ged, but the beginning of it for Arren. For these reasons I think the book has more in common with the Arthur/Merlin legends than it does the Aragorn/Gandalf story.

  • 1

    That's a good point about the dynamic being more Arthur/Merlin (particularly the Once and Future King version) than Gandalf/Aragorn. I've still got Tolkien on the brain after the long read and the RPG I'm still dabbling with based on that reading.

    To introduce a tangent, @Apocryphal , since A Wizard of Earthsea is Ged's story, and you see The Farthest Shore as primarily his story, too, do you also see him as the main figure in The Tombs of Atuan? If not, does that say anything about the roles that people play in different parts of our lives (or am I getting too abstract again)?

  • 0

    @Michael_S_Miller said:
    To introduce a tangent, @Apocryphal , since A Wizard of Earthsea is Ged's story, and you see The Farthest Shore as primarily his story, too, do you also see him as the main figure in The Tombs of Atuan? If not, does that say anything about the roles that people play in different parts of our lives (or am I getting too abstract again)?

    Before reading Tehanu, I used to feel aggrieved that Tenar got kind of dumped unceremoniously after Tombs of Atuan, and that she deserved better! Which I suppose you could say signals that Ged was again the main character, despite not appearing for the first few chapters. It is his appearance which instigates change, even while apparently imprisoned and helpless in the labyrinth. Without his arrival, one feels that Tenar would never have done anything different than being a good priestess.

  • 1

    I see your point, but without Ogion, wouldn't Ged have just become a goatherd or a pirate, like any other Gontishman? That doesn't make A Wizard of Earthsea Ogion's story. Good mentors serve to expand our perspective on the actions we might take in the world, but they allow us to make our own decisions about which actions to take.

    (And I agree with you about Tenar. I also missed her in this book. She could have offered a refreshingly different perspective on the dying of magic.)

  • 1

    It occurs to me that these three books, at least, were all written for childen, and all feature a child viewpoint character who grows based on the experience. In TWOE, that's Ged. In TTOA, that's Tenar, and in TFS, that's Arren.

    In Tombs, I feel it's more Tenar's story, but Ged also has a story.
    In Shore, I feel it's more Ged's story, and maybe that's because Arren doesn't change as much as Ged does. But I do feel that Arren is the viewpoint, so maybe it's nor correct to say it's more Ged's story. But it may be that (as a man of my age) I find his story more compelling to me. I can't remember how I felt about this when I read it as a young person.

  • 1
    I had a thought about this while peeling apples just now... in TWOE it is clearly Ged who comes of age. While in both TTOA and TFS, Ged is the catalyst for someone else coming of age. So far is obvious.

    But the ways in which he is the catalyst are quite different, I think. In TTOA he is more impatient, more interventionist, and every so often there is a sense that he is pressing Tenar into the decisions that he wants - I am particularly thinking of the point where he persuades her to give him her half of the ring. In partial defence, he's also in very urgent and desperate need. But maybe if I was Tenar, I'd look back and wonder if I had simply been absorbed into his plans, and had simply swapped one all-embracing system of thought and behaviour for another? Perhaps it's no wonder that they then spend considerable time apart trying to sort all this out.

    By the time, many years later, that we meet Arren, Ged has become better at facilitating this change. There is, to my eyes, much more autonomy granted to Arren, and the possibility of him not going along with Ged's plans seems much more real. And (perhaps sadly, from an egalitarian or feminist point of view) it seems to matter more that Arren, as a young man who may well become king, keeps his autonomy, than that Tenar does, as a young woman stepping down from being a priestess. It's clear what sacrifices Tenar is making by choosing to abandon her old way of life and go with Ged... what exactly is Arren giving up?
  • 1

    @RichardAbbott said:
    But the ways in which he is the catalyst are quite different, I think. In TTOA he is more impatient, more interventionist, and every so often there is a sense that he is pressing Tenar into the decisions that he wants

    By the time, many years later, that we meet Arren, Ged has become better at facilitating this change. There is, to my eyes, much more autonomy granted to Arren, and the possibility of him not going along with Ged's plans seems much more real.

    I think in Atuan, Ged has a definite objective and is out to achieve it. When we meet him, his first plan has failed, but he's still intent on achieving the objective.

    In Shore, Ged knows that something is wrong and intends to fix it. But he doesn't know what's wrong, and knows that he needs other viewpoints in order to see the problem clearly. Arren is the source of that other viewpoint, and that's why Arren is free to make his own choices.

    @RichardAbbott said:
    It's clear what sacrifices Tenar is making by choosing to abandon her old way of life and go with Ged... what exactly is Arren giving up?

    That's a very good question. Does Arren give up anything, other than childish naivety?

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