My husband was absolutely convinced after we saw the atrocious Earthsea miniseries on the SciFi Channel that I needed to read all of Ursula LeGuin's Earthsea Cycle books for myself. I was skeptical after the sheer awfulness of the miniseries, but after completing the first two novels in the Cycle (A Wizard of Earthsea and The Tombs of Atuan), I was beyond eager to get to the original conclusion of the Earthsea Cycle (which has since been added to): The Farthest Shore.
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::: Ged and Arren Hit the Road, er, Sea :::
The Farthest Shore begins back with the figure who seems most central to LeGuin's Earthsea: the wizard Ged, who we find is now Archmage, the chief wizard and head of the school for wizards on the Isle of Roke. A visitor has arrived: Arren, the Prince of Enlad, who was sent by his father with a report that magic is gone from many of the lands surrounding Roke, with no explanation. Ged and the other Masters of Roke meet to determine what the best course of action might be, but Ged has already made up his mind; he will take Arren and go out to seek what is causing the lack of magic.
Arren has offered his services to Ged in whatever way they can be used, and seems to hope that there might be some talent he has, as he is a descendant of one of the most famous mages in history. Ged, however, seems to have other plans, and he and Arren take his boat, the Lookfar (which played a prominent role in A Wizard of Earthsea) sailing ever farther away from Roke. Each stop finds sorcerers who have lost their magic, people who have turned to drugs, and despair everywhere they go.
Eventually, Arren and Ged meet up with a raft people, who live their entire lives on rafts in the middle of the ocean. It is there that the dragon Orm Ebbar enlists Ged's help with the evil he is searching for, and Ged and Arren set off to see if they can somehow restore magic to Earthsea.
::: It's Got a Quest, an Old Hero, a Young "Apprentice"... :::
One of the things that makes LeGuin so good at what she does is that she can take a common story idea and still find a way to make it fresh and interesting. While sci-fi and fantasy fans will recognize similar plotlines in her novels to other stories, the world of Earthsea and LeGuin's treatment of it are unique.
LeGuin uses the wise wizard/untried prince relationship to its advantage, leaving the reader wondering what possible reason Ged could have for bringing Arren along with him on this quest. From their first meeting on Roke, Arren develops a sort of hero worship of Ged. When they are attacked after being sold out by a former sorcerer, Arren's first thought it to grab their money and run, drawing the intruders after him to divert them from Ged. Even Ged's introspective silences when the two are on the Lookfar (which brings to mind the long stints at sea in A Wizard of Earthsea) do nothing to dissuade Arren's adoration.
If I found one fault with The Farthest Shore, it's that LeGuin wasn't quite as crafty with some of her plot developments as I think she was trying to be. It was apparent fairly early on what Arren's eventual role was going to be, even if the final resolution of the loss of magic was less obvious.
The Farthest Shore had everything that fans of the Earthsea Cycle could have wanted in an ending, resolving most of the situations from the first two novels, while still leaving enough room for the series to continue, which LeGuin did with Tehanu and The Other Wind.
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