Friday, January 12, 2007

The Earthsea Books

So. The Books of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin. Although there are six, I will venture to guess that these were originally intended to be or evolved into a trilogy. The first three, A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, and The Farthest Shore, were published in 1968, 1970, and 1972, respectively. Then the fourth book, Tehanu, came out in 1990. In 2001, Tales from Earthsea and The Other Wind both were published.

I see a lot of criticism about Le Guin online, I guess mostly on a few different blogs. My opinion is that most average literary fiction readers do not find her appealing, either in writing style or subject matter. I do think you have to have a little bit of the fantasy nerd within to truly enjoy these books, as I am starting to think I do. I did really enjoy The Lord of the Rings in middle school or whenever I read them and I'm sure there were a few other fantasy and science fiction novels in this vein that I read and liked back then. But for the most part I've stayed away from all "genre" fiction. I'm glad I decided to reread these books.

I know I read the The Wizard of Earthsea sometime in the late eighties at a pretty young age, maybe 11-13. I remember becoming absolutely taken with Ged/Sparrowhawk, the main character. I think it was my first literary crush on a fictional character. Have I had others? Probably Mr. Darcy like everyone else at one time or another. (In high school, I would later develop a literary crush on F. Scott Fitzgerald, but he was real, of course.) But the strange thing is, upon rereading this novel, it wasn't as I'd remembered it. I did remember some things but it seemed like a totally different novel about the same characters and setting. I know it's not really strange to have remembered it differently from that long ago, but I had such concrete memories of things that never happened in the real book! Like I remembered this chant or poem that Ged had to keep repeating throughout his adventure. Nope, didn't happen. And I remembered more to do with true names and the learning of the true names of things in the natural world. Names are a huge part of the book, but not quite as I remembered.

Still, I did really like Wizard, enough to read The Tombs of Atuan next. I'm not sure how far into the trilogy I got as a kid, but I did not remember this book at all. I didn't like it as much as the first one. Probably because Ged wasn't the main character and I disliked the girl who was the main character, Tenar. But now she's back in Book 4 and I like her much better.

I did like the third book, The Farthest Shore but started to think I was getting too steeped in Earthsea and what I now know to be "high fantasy." I'm amused to find that I really like reading about dragons. So I was going to take a break from Earthsea and read something else before the fourth book. I read the first few pages of Z for Zachariah, the YA dystopian novel I've been foaming at the mouth for, and then I read the first few pages of Tehanu. Last night I read the whole first chapter standing in the kitchen at 10:45 pm (standing because I had only intended to thumb through it after the first few pages). Well, I couldn't stop so I'm still in Earthsea.

I do think sometimes Le Guin's writing style is overly descriptive or explanatory, yet descriptive without enough detail. But then again, her descriptions of setting and scenery are very detailed. So what I mean relates to the characters, I guess. I want to get inside Ged's head more, but I feel that I'm held at a distance. She does give us more into the psyches of lesser characters, though, like Tenar, and Arren from the The Farthest Shore. But then again, these inner glimpses always seemed to annoy me because the characters second-guessed or doubted Ged's powers, abilities, knowledge, etc. Wow, I guess I still do have my crush on Ged. Come to think of it, he hasn't shown up yet in the fourth book after the first few chapters and I'm waiting like a fourteen-year-old for him to show up at his locker. (Did you ever memorize the schedule of someone you had a crush on so you'd be able to figure out when he or she would be at their locker so you could just happen to be there yourself?)

So call me a fantasy nerd, but I'm hooked and taking suggestions for other good high fantasy adventures.

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Blogger Martin LaBar said...

See if you can get Patricia A. McKillip's The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, and read it. I don't think you'll be sorry. It has a dragon too, as a peripheral character.

4:34 AM  
Anonymous Sara said...

I've just read The Wizard for the first time a few months ago, but I'm still not quite sure how I feel about it. She purposefully writes it like an ancient myth, and while I like knowing about ancient myths, I don't particularly like reading about them. I think I'll have to try others in the series to figure out how I feel about it all...

11:46 AM  
Anonymous Julie said...

Yes, it started out as a trilogy. In fact, I had no idea until I read your post that now there are six. I've read the, um, trilogy many times. I love the slower pace and the mood of the books. And the names, especially the place names. I like this series way better than Lord of the Rings, by the way. It's more manageable, and the characters are much more interesting.

High fantasy recommendations? How about the Paksennarion books by Elizabeth Moon? What sets them apart IMO is their nitty-gritty realism, if high fantasy can be said to have "realism" at all. Though come to think of it, I don't know if you'd like this series if you've never played Dungeons & Dragons <blush>.

I also love the Chronicles of Amber by Roger Zelazny. Talk about your literary crushes: I've had a crush on Corwin for years. I much prefer fantasy stories that are somehow related to our world, or that at least have some quasi-rational explanation for the existence of magic. The Amber books are a prime example of this.

8:56 PM  
Blogger nessie said...

I am a fantasy buff myself. Robert Jordan being my all time fav - am naming all of my children after his characters! I just got into Guin.

11:39 PM  
Blogger nomadshan said...

I'm reading George R R Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series. It's good, and it has dragons. Most of the fantasy elements are low-key, but in the third book, he introduced a character who can reanimate dead people (not much of a spoiler).

*dangles dragons*

The only other fantasy novel I've really enjoyed was Mists of Avalon (Marion Zimmer Bradley).

3:04 PM  
Anonymous Siew Cooper said...

I haven't read the books, but I saw the recent anime made of one of the books (I forget which). h

3:13 AM  

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