When I first tried to read The Tombs of Atuan I bounced off it hard. I was something of a completionist reader at the time and it took a lot for me to stop reading a book. But I stopped reading this one. I only picked it up again a couple of years later and I don’t really remember liking it much. It was too slow and quiet. Not enough wizards and dragons. Very little magic.
Re-reading it as an adult, I was taken by its rich emotional subtlety. Subtlety that, I think, was completely lost on me as a child. There’s a tenderness and a kindness that Ged shows towards Arha that is probably more magical than anything he does in the previous book. There’s something really powerful in the way that Le Guin depicts this growing relationship between a man and a woman, each trapped in their own particular way.
As a child, I read A Wizard of Earthsea, and I could relate to the raw emotional displays of jealousy and anger and pride. Even though those things cost Ged quite a bit, they also led him to the kind of adventure that I craved, full of magic and wonder and mystery. The kind of adventures that wizards have.
It’s only now that I realize the wizardry of wisdom and kindness and how powerfully Le Guin shows them here. She snuck some powerful stuff into this “children’s book”. I’m probably a better person for having read it as a child, even though I think I missed most of what was going on.
I’m happy I read it again as an adult.