Rereading: THE FARTHEST SHORE by Ursula K. Le Guin

Illustrations by Charles Vess from the new Earthsea collected edition hardcover.

In the third Earthsea novel, first published in 1972, Le Guin skips ahead over twenty years. Ged is now the Archmage of Roke, and resides there as a teacher and guardian, but reports are coming to him of failing magic and mass forgetting of all kinds of knowledge from the distant border islands of Earthsea. When Arren, the young crown prince of the island Enlad comes to him with a similar story, and a pledge of service to Ged himself, Ged decides that he and Arren must set sail alone to the southernmost islands to try to find out what’s happening.

In those islands, they discover an evil presence that appears to people in their dreams, especially wizards and those with skills and knowledge, tempting them with the promise of eternal life if they will only follow him into the dark lands of the dead. Eventually Ged discovers it’s a wizard he once defeated, Cob, who is behind it. He has opened a hole between life and death through which all the good things of life in Earthsea are draining away. Ged and Arren continue their journey to find Cob, but Ged is badly wounded in the process. It will take a dragon to lead them to Cob, and even the dragons are losing their powers and their language.

This book is closer in subject and approach to “A Wizard of Earthsea” than to the previous one, “The Tombs of Atuan,” but Ged’s battle with evil goes to much darker and more damaging places, and leaves him forever changed. It’s a harrowing but gripping journey. Highly recommended.

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