The Farthest Shore
First edition cover
|Author||Ursula K. Le Guin|
|Cover artist||Gail Garraty|
|Genre||Fantasy novel, Bildungsroman|
|Media type||Print (hardcover & paperback)|
|Pages||223 pp (first edition)|
|Preceded by||The Tombs of Atuan|
The Farthest Shore is a fantasy novel by the American author Ursula K. Le Guin, first published by Atheneum in 1972. It was her third novel set in the fictional archipelago Earthsea and it completed the so-called Earthsea Trilogy (1968 to 1972).[a] Its events take place about two decades after The Tombs of Atuan.
A strange, inexplicable malaise is spreading throughout Earthsea. Magic is losing its power; songs are being forgotten; people and animals are sickening or going mad. Accompanied by Arren, the young Prince of Enlad, the Archmage Ged leaves Roke Island to find the cause on his boat Lookfar. They head south to Hort, chief port of the island of Wathort where they encounter a drug addled wizard called Hare, who almost tricks them into following him into the Dry Land to their deaths. They realise that Hare and many others are under the malign influence of a powerful wizard, who is literally sucking the life out of the world. They head further south again to the island of Lorbanery, which was once famous for its dyed silk. All knowledge of dyeing has been lost however, and the local people are apathetic and hostile to the visitors.
Fleeing the sense of sickness and evil they encounter there, Ged and Arren again head west and south, out to the furthest parts of the Reaches. Increasingly they are coming under the influence of the dark wizard themselves. Ged is injured by a spear thrown from an island where they attempt to land, and Arren does little to help him. He can feel his life and energy ebbing from him and they both drift away on Lookfar out into the open ocean. Their lives are saved by the Raft People, who live on great wooden rafts in the open ocean, only coming to land once a year to repair them. The Raft People are so far unaffected by the spreading evil and Ged and Arren recover their wits and strength there. However, the sickness does reach the Raft People on the shortest night of the year, when the traditional singers are struck dumb, unable to remember the songs.
Before Ged can decide what to do about this, the dragon Orm Embar flies over the rafts and tells Ged to sail to Selidor, the most western isle of all Earthsea, and the traditional home of the dragons. Orm Embar tells Ged that the dark wizard is there and the dragons are powerless to defeat him without Ged's help. Ged and Arren set out on the long journey to Selidor in Lookfar.
After traveling over the open ocean Ged and Arren come to the Dragons' Run, a series of many small islands south of Selidor. There they encounter dragons flying about them in a state of madness. The dragons have lost the power of speech and are attacking each other. They manage to survive the Dragons' Run, and land at last in Selidor. Orm Embar is waiting for them, but he too has lost the power of speech. After a search they find the wizard in a house he has made of dragon bones at the extreme western end of Selidor - the end of the world.
Ged recognises the wizard as Cob, a dark mage whom he defeated many years before. After his defeat Cob went and became an expert in the dark arts of how to cheat death and live forever. In doing so he has opened a breach between the worlds which is sucking all the life out of the world of the living. Cob and Ged confront each other and Cob starts to gain the upper hand. With the last of his wits Orm Embar launches himself at Cob and destroys his physical body, but is killed in the process. The grotesque remnant of Cob's body, which cannot be killed, crawls into the Dry Land of the dead, and Ged and Arren are forced to follow. In the Dry Land Ged manages to defeat Cob, robbing him of life and closing the breach in the world. However, Ged pays a high price for this as it means that he sacrifices all his magic power in the process.
When they emerge back into the world of the living, after a dreadful journey over the Mountains of Pain, the dragon Kalessin carries them back to Roke island, many miles away. Kalessin leaves Arren on Roke and flies on with Ged to Gont, Ged's home island. Arren realizes that he has become the fulfilment of the prediction of the last King of Earthsea many centuries before: "He shall inherit my throne who has crossed the dark land living and come to the far shores of the day." In the intervening time, the realm had broken up into smaller principalities and domains, with little peace between them. Now that Arren will be crowned as King Lebannen (his true name) they can be reunited.
Le Guin originally offered two endings to the story. In one, after Arren's coronation, Ged sails alone out into the ocean and is never heard from again. In the other, Ged returns to the forest of his home island of Gont. In 1990, seventeen years after the publication of The Farthest Shore, Le Guin opted for the second ending when she continued the story in Tehanu.
- A sorcerer whom Ged has met before.
- Archmage of Roke. Called Sparrowhawk.
- The eldest dragon.
- Young prince of Enlad. The name means "rowan tree" in the Old Speech. Called Arren.
- Orm Embar
- A powerful dragon of the West Reach descended from Orm.
Like both previous books in the trilogy, this is a bildungsroman. The story is told mostly from the point of view of Arren, who develops from the boy who stands overawed in front of the masters of Roke, to the man who addresses dragons with confidence on Selidor, and who would eventually become the first King in centuries and unify the world of Earthsea.
Ged has also matured. He is no longer the impetuous boy who had himself opened a crack between the worlds in A Wizard of Earthsea, or the foolhardy young man who sailed the Dragon's Run and went alone into The Tombs of Atuan. Though the task before him is every bit as difficult and dangerous as any he had attempted before, necessity alone guides his actions now.
In a sense, Cob is Ged's alter ego - a Ged who did not turn back from the dangerous road of summoning the dead, in which Ged dabbled in his youth, but continued along it to the ultimate conclusion. Thus, Ged's final confrontation with Cob and the closing of the hole between the worlds of the living and the dead is in fact a kind of repetition of his confrontation with the Shadow in the first book, who was Ged's alter ego in a more explicit way.
With a greater understanding of the Balance and Equilibrium that encompasses Earthsea (fundamental parts of Taoism, a philosophy Le Guin encourages in her works), and how life comes from death as much as death comes from life, Ged is portrayed as a more wise and sagely archmage.
Ged's closing of that evil hole, at the cost of completely losing his magic power (and very nearly his life), can also be considered as finally fulfilling his wish "to undo the evil" which as a youth he had expressed to then-Archmage Gensher (and which, as the Archmage told him, he was at the time not capable of achieving).
Reviewing the novel for a genre audience, Lester del Rey reported that it was "fantasy with a logic of execution that is usually found only in science fiction. . . . rich in ideas, color and inventions."
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- Cadden, Mike (2005). Ursula K. Le Guin Beyond Genre: Fiction for Children and Adults (1st ed.). New York, NY: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-99527-2.
- Drout, Michael (2006). Of Sorcerers and Men: Tolkien and the Roots of Modern Fantasy Literature (1st ed.). China: Barnes & Noble. ISBN 978-0-7607-8523-2.
- Martin, Philip (2009). A Guide to Fantasy Literature: Thoughts on Stories of Wonder & Enchantment (1st ed.). Milwaukee, WI: Crickhollow Books. ISBN 978-1-933987-04-0.
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