Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 424
In The Farthest Shore, the last novel in Le Guin's Earthsea Trilogy, the mythical world of Earthsea is threatened with annihilation. All the arts and crafts of human life are slipping into decay; people are losing the will to live and to create. Foremost among the eroding powers is the master power of magic. The archmage of the school of wizards, Ged, sets out with Arren, a young prince destined to rule Earthsea, to discover what is happening to their world and prevent its destruction. They eventually discover that the cause of the "unmaking" of their world is the wizard Cob, whose fear of death is so strong that he would destroy Earthsea to preserve his own life. On their search, they encounter pirates, prophets, and dragons.
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Le Guin has created a double adventure story centered on the problem of death. While the magician Ged and Prince Arren search for the source of the destruction, Ged helps Arren learn what he must know to become king. The climax of both adventures is the encounter with the fear of death.
Like the first two novels in the trilogy, The Farthest Shore shows a young person in the process of growing to adulthood. Each book deals with a major feature of maturing. A Wizard of Earthsea portrays the young magician Ged learning to handle his "shadow self," those aspects of his personality that are frightening and sometimes overpowering. The Tombs of Atuan looks at the special problems a young woman may have in a rigorously sexist society. In The Farthest Shore, Le Guin presents Arren with perhaps the most difficult challenge of life—how to live well despite the fact that one must die.
The Farthest Shore completes the trilogy by showing the fulfillment of Ged's career as a wizard. By guiding Arren to his kingship, Ged carries through the larger quest that began when he discovered half of the broken ring of order while fleeing his shadow in the first volume. In the second volume, he rescues Tenar in the process of finding the ring's other half and, thereby, restoring the lost rune of unity. As an extended fable, the first two volumes concern dealing with one's divided self, and the third book confronts the most serious problem of attaining maturity. Eighteen years after completing The Farthest Shore, Le Guin extended the story of Earthsea with Tehanu: The Last Book of Earthsea (1990). A central issue of this book is what the hero does when his destiny is fulfilled and his power is at an end.