The Self and Immortality in The Farthest Shore

Devorah West '07 English 65, Fantasy, Brown University, 2003

As Arren and Sparrowhawk travel throughout Earthsea in search of the source of evil that is infecting their world, they come across various lands and people. A society of people who live on floating rafts in the sea, Children of the Sea, rescue Sparrowhawk and Arren. During their stay with them, a Dragon, Orm Embar, comes to ask help from Sparrowhawk. As they continue their journey, Sparrowhawk tells Arren that because he desires nothing beyond his art, he has not lost his power when so many others have. He goes on to discuss with Arren how "One man may as easily destroy, as govern: be King or Anti-King" (177), and that our minds are the servants of the Anti-King.

"In our minds. The traitor, the self; the self that cries I want to live; let the world burn so long as I can live! The little traitor soul in us, in the dark, like the worm in the apple. He talks to all of us. But only some understand him. To be one's self is a rare thing and a great one. To be one's self forever: is that not better still?" [177, 178]

Arren then questions why one should not desire immortality and if one gains it, then what happens. Sparrowhawk replies:

"There are two, Arren, two that make one: the world and the shadow, the light and the dark. The two poles of the Balance. Life rises out of death, death rises out of life; in being opposite they yearn to each other, they give birth to each other and are forever reborn. And with them all is reborn. In life is death. In death is rebirth. What then is life without death? Life unchanging, everlasting, eternal? -- What is it but death -- death without rebirth?" [179]


1. Where in the other two books by Le Guin have we seen both this notion of the self and of the juxtaposition of opposites, such as the reliance of life on death and vice versa? Have we seen this in any of the other books that we have thus far read?

2. What do you think Le Guin means when she says "To be one's self is a rare thing and a great one"? How does the idea of being one's self play out in the rest of the novel?

3. According to this passage, immortality is evil since without death life can not be born. How is immortality treated in The Lord of the Rings, especially concerning the Elves?

4. In the second passage, through her use of words, how does Le Guin create the sensation that death and life are part of and dependent upon each other?


Le Guin, Ursula K. The Farthest Shore. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1972.

Victorian Web Overview Ursula K. Leguin Victorian courses

Last modified 14 March 2004