1. Coming of Age

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Like A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan is a coming-of-age story.

What role does growing-up play in Tenar’s story?

Her beliefs change significantly across the events of the novel—how and why?

Comments

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    I will answer these more fully tomorrow, but to start off with this one, my great sense on this reading of the book (which I think is my fourth) is that this is less a coming of age story and more of a romance. Is LeGuin really describing a wooing? I guess these need not be mutually exclusive themes.

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    I am inclined to agree with @Apocryphal but with the proviso that in her later Earthsea books, Ursula LeGuin set up a complex set of constraints to do with celibacy and gender division. I don't think she had firmed all that upn in her mind when she wrote Tombs of Atuan, and it only really starts to take hold (mild spoiler) in Tehanu and most explicitly in The Other Wind. Be that as it may, trying to take this book in isolation I am still left with the sense that any romance between Ged and Tenar is at this point intended to be unrequited.
    Back with the original question, I think it's interesting that all three of the original trilogy books deal in one way or another with coming of age, though only in the first one is it for Ged himself.

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    Oh, it's very much a coming of age story. Tenar starts as a child, accepting what she's been told and doing what she's told, such as never bringing a light into the labyrinth. She starts to explore what her position means even before Ged arrives, but his disrupting presence is the catalyst that really changes her.

    The main thing about her beliefs is that, for the first time, she's told a contrary opinion on her gods and her role. A lot of her growth is about her making her own conclusions about what's true and what to believe, even if Ged is nudging her to certain conclusions.

    I disagree with @Apocryphal that this is a romance. Tenar might latch on to Ged as an exotic outsider, but I didn't pick up on any attraction by her beyond being enamoured with a cousin who visits occasionally and has a much more exciting life (or even being impressed by an older kid in school who deigns to talk to you). There's certainly no romantic intention from Ged.

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    I don't mean that it's a literal romance, of course. What I mean is that the way their relationship grows resembles a courtship. The way Tenar changes in response to Ged are similar to how a woman might grow to love a man. And the things Ged says, and how he changes tack with her, resembles how a man might woo a woman. I can't point to specific examples because I did this as an audio read, which makes it hard to keep notes. But Ged took several approaches with Tenar before she would accept him, And Ged would draw her close to him, then pause as if to gauge her feelings, and when she did not pull away, he would draw her in again a little closer. Other aspects of the book reminded me of folklorist Diana Wolkstein's take on the myth of Inanna.

    ''although fragmented, the story of Inanna as I began to perceive it followed the same pattern as the archetypal Moon Goddess: the young woman who is courted; the ripe woman who enjoys her feminine powers and generously offers her bounty; and the mature woman who meets death in the netherworld."

    Am I imagining that Tenar goes through these phases in her transformation and release? She is courted by Ged, exercises her powers to save his life. and ultimately meets death (or her faith does) in the underworld, and she's reborn on the surface.

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    OK, I see what you mean. The relationship between Ged and Tenar isn't something that grows naturally, it's something that's deliberately developed by Ged, in the same way that a man wooing a woman will set out to deliberately create a relationship. Yes, I see that. Good point!

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    I find it a bit depressing that Tenar's growing up is complete when she puts aside the 'childish' religions of the God-king and Nameless Ones, and becomes a secularised member of the wizard (technological) society, which she seems likely to never be able to fit into. She can no longer be devout. I think that even children are no longer able to be devout, so I find the story a bit dated now. I'm not sure what a contemporary 11-year old would think of this, but the idea of being devoted to something as a human mode of being is, I think, mostly forgotten.

    In another but related sense I found it this time a story of the dislocation 1) of immigrant experience, or 2) of the kind of people a society produces as it moves people from their natal home to an institutional group. In this story growing up seems to be a process of coming to be nowhere while encircled by the world. the tombs are a nowhere repeated by the encircling sea in the boat, and the end of the story is simply when the mulligan is home, not the people.

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    @BarnerCobblewood said:
    I find it a bit depressing that Tenar's growing up is complete when she puts aside the 'childish' religions of the God-king and Nameless Ones, and becomes a secularised member of the wizard (technological) society, which she seems likely to never be able to fit into. She can no longer be devout. I think that even children are no longer able to be devout, so I find the story a bit dated now. I'm not sure what a contemporary 11-year old would think of this, but the idea of being devoted to something as a human mode of being is, I think, mostly forgotten.

    You would probably make a contemporary version in which the child was brought up in a very repressive and constraining sub-culture - a religious cult, for example, or a family situation where parental authority was absolute. There are plenty of tales like that being created at the moment, and no doubt plenty of people for whom that is there life's experience.

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    @BarnerCobblewood Other than the fact that Tenar is faithful in her youth and chooses to leave religion as she becomes an adult, I don't see any indication that religion is regarded as "childish." While Tombs of Atuan is certainly not a pro-religious novel, I wouldn't say that it trivializes religion.

    @Apocryphal I can see the point that you're making about their relationship being similar to a courtship, although it definitely isn't one. However, I think it's too simplistic to say that Ged actively "woos" Tenar, who is passively "courted" by him. Tenar is the one who surprises him and locks him in the Labyrinth. She could easily let him die. She chooses to let him live, for many reasons. Perhaps some of it may be personal attraction, but also much of it is because of the novelty he represents as an outsider in this place where outsiders never come, and for the thorny theological problem his presence poses to her faith. Ged may be older and more experienced, but they both cultivate a relationship with each other.

    I think it's interesting that Ged only gives Tenar back her name after she has already dragged him down to the deepest treasure room. Why only then? Is it because she is actively defying the will of the Nameless Ones by hiding him away from Kossil down there (while before she could rationalize that she was only stringing him along until she could kill him with proper cruelty)? Is it because that room is where the Nameless Ones keep their greatest treasures and their priestess's name was one of the most valuable things they had eaten?

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    Keep in mind there's a cultural rift here as well as an age rift and a gender rift. The "courtship" as it were is the two of them struggling to bondy. Tenar desperately needs Ged and vice versa, but it's hard for them to understand each other. It's an interesting premise.

    (And yes. I just found this section of the forum. How am I so bad at navigating this site? Is it just me?)

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    > @Ray_Otus said:
    >
    > (And yes. I just found this section of the forum. How am I so bad at navigating this site? Is it just me?)

    So far as I can tell you have to update your notifications every time someone adds a new discussion area and make sure you get to hear about topics. I haven't yet found a way to be told about new areas, only new threads in areas I already know about.
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    @Ray_Otus Yes, the cultural rift is huge. It's part of what makes Ged so fascinating to Tenar, I think.

    @RichardAbbott @Apocryphal Maybe we should have a policy where anyone who creates a new section ought to post to a "new section announcement" thread? Or maybe just to "welcome and intros" since most everyone is on there already? Something like: "Hi. If like to introduce, not myself, but this new topic I made. It's about X. Here's a link."
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