Beyond the Dragons’ Run


All that night long, the boy slept and the man waked, gazing forward steadily into the dark. There were no stars. – Ursula Le Guin, The Farthest Shore.

I have been meaning to write about Ursula Le Guin's The Farthest Shore ever since finishing it about two weeks ago. I loved the Earthsea stories and read them in relatively quick succession, in the space of two months. During this time – spent in a mad rush on three continents – I have grown to love the principal characters: Sparrowhawk, Ogion, Tenar, the dragon Orm Embar, and Arren. Even Ged's boat, the Lookfar is a fond recollection, much like Gandalf's Shadowfax. Most of all though, I grew to appreciate Le Guin's idea of magic in Earthsea – that one can manipulate something if one knows its true nature, its true name; the name that was given when the world was made. Unlike the case in the Harry Potter books, magic is always at a premium in Earthsea, not to be used for inconsequential things, to be as harmonious with Nature as possible, to coax Nature to do one's bidding but not to violate Her in any way.

[Warning: This post contains spoilers. If you are planning to read the Earthsea books, please don't read ahead from here on.]

The Farthest Shore marks Ged's and Arren's long journey to the known frontiers of Earthsea and beyond, in search of an Evil that drains power and magic from the world. Like his predecessors (Ged in A Wizard of Earthsea, and Tenar in The Tombs of Atuan), Arren of Enlad faces his shortcomings and attempts to come to terms with them, even as he tries to understand where Ged is taking him. Arren wonders whether he will ever have a meaningful role to play at the end of the world, where even Ged's wizardly power provides no guarantee of survival. Le Guin's wonderful prose brings the dragons to life again, as they glide in a mist of smoke and ash or land with a noisy jangle of their scaly hide of mail.

In terms of the battle between good and evil, I think that the books have followed a steady progression in terms of separating Good from Evil. In the first book, Ged seeks out and battles the Shadow that he has let loose in a fit of impetuousity. As I took it, the Shadow is a metaphor for everything that is bad in Ged. In the end, Ged does not so much win the battle as much as come to terms with his other side. He realizes the yin-yang that is within him, and in this sense, Good and Evil are not physically separate, but they are facets of Ged. In the second book, Ged helps Tenar escape the Tombs of Atuan. As a thief from a different land, he challenges her long held perception about the nature of The Nameless Ones, masters of the ancient tombs. In a sense though, the evil is not within Tenar but outside her. Either the Nameless Ones or the other caretakers of the tombs try to thwart their escape. In the last book, the evil is completely external, in the form of a wizard who destroys the balance of nature when he succeeds in crossing the line between Life and Death. Therefore, I think that that last story is a more conventional story of the battle between Good and Evil compared to the first two, where the demarkation is not as clear.

4 thoughts on “Beyond the Dragons’ Run”

  1. Have you read the remainder of the cycle?

    Tales from Earthsea
    The Other Wind.

    If you haven’t, then I warn you, the flavour is very different. It’s Earthsea, but different in much the same way as the world we live in as adults is different from the one we lived in as children (and not because the world has changed be because we have. In the case of Earthsea it’s because Le Guin matured in her writing and thinking.)

  2. Daran, No I haven’t read the remainder of the cycle yet. I will do so, eventually because I liked the first three too much to let the rest pass unread. On Amazon too, some readers remarked about the noticeably different tone of the later novels. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. “In the last book, the evil is completely external, in the form of a wizard who destroys the balance of nature when he succeeds in crossing the line between Life and Death.”

    But it’s not completely external – you can see it as a long-term consequence of the events of the first book. The shadow of Ged’s early actions stretches beyond the immediate and forseeable… That this is only slowly revealed (not least to Ged himself) in the third volume makes it even more powerful.

  4. Aleth, do you refer to the early events of Ged’s life in which he had once defeated the wizard Cob, thereby pushing Cob to the dark side? In that case, you are right; the story is indeed a consequence of Ged’s early actions. Thanks for clarifying this aspect of the story!

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