All three books of the original Earthsea trilogy have always been right up there with my most favorite books of all time, but both when I was a child, and now, I thought that The Farthest Shore was the least strong of the three. However, I think I had different reasons for feeling that way now, than I did then.
I think that now, the main focus of the book worked better for me – the whole idea of dealing with the consequences of your own actions, as well as LeGuin’s conceptual idea of evil, and the ineffable spark (made of joy, creativity and a sense of purpose [which is also magic]) that makes life worth living.
I know that LeGuin was working with telling her story within an intentionally traditional framework, but this time around I found it curious that, for an author well-known for her exploration of very non-traditional government and social structures, with a strong emphasis on personal responsibility, here she seemingly uncritically presents a young prince, Arren, who is destined, by ‘divine’ right, to rule for no more reason than his bloodline. Hmm. However, I very much liked the fact that in this book, the previous book’s assumptions about the magical symbol that will bring peace to all the lands is shown to have been kind of wrong – it hasn’t worked quite all that well…
It illustrates, like many elements of this book, that nothing is permanently stable, and that a state of balance (like the balance between life and death itself) is something that must be constantly maintained. The book is about the need for both outer balance and inner balance – about accepting fear, and not letting that fear control you:
“This is. And thou art. There is no safety, and there is no end. The word must be heard in silence; there must be darkness to see the stars. The dance is always danced above the hollow place, above the terrible abyss.”