EarthSea Bite-Size Buddy Read #1
Hello there! I'm Dan McCormack, writer and worldbuilder for the Tales of Teltra, and if you have found this blog I am certain of two things:
You have great taste in books,
We would get on like a house on fire!
This is the start of my new blog series: Bite-Size Buddy Reads!
The plan is to take you through some of my favourite books of all time, chapter by chapter and offering short, simple reflections and (hopefully) fun conversation in the comments!
So, pick up your own copy of A Wizard of Earthsea by the masterful Ursula K. Le Guin, and join me as we set sail with Ged; Dragonlord, Archmage, but before all that - "a tall, quick boy, loud and proud and full of temper."
P.S. be sure to read the chapter first - spoilers ahead!
1. A Tale of Becoming
'...a tale of the time before his fame, before the songs were made.'
We all know many stories of great wizards and powerful mages, but how many have you read about their awkward early years? Can you imagine Merlin as a spotty 14 year old?
The Earthsea books invite us into the vulnerable parts of a great man's life - his formational years, where he will wrestle not only with dragons but also with his own insecurities and failings. A Wizard of Earthsea is not a power-fantasy; it is a tale of becoming. There is an emotional depth in these pages which, these days, is all too rare.
2. The Strangeness of Goats and Cruelty of Men
'All at once he felt afraid of their thick, ridged horns and their strange eyes and their strange silence. He tried to get free of them and run away. The goats ran with him keeping in a knot around him... Villagers ran from their houses to swear at the goats and laugh at the boy.'
Le Guin is masterful in the way she evokes the matter-of-fact sadness and every-day harshness of Ged's world, and his childish inability to fully comprehend it.
Even in his attempt at play and seeking to assert himself over the goats, he finds the world to be larger and stranger than he could handle by himself - and no help or guidance is given by the adults around him. The villagers mock him, and his aunt tries to bewitch him. Even as a child Ged is only ever laughed at, ignored or used.
3. Goat Thieves, Sea-Pirates and Wizards
With all that said you might expect to see a very one-note depiction of the village people Ged grew up with; a simple source of pain and trauma to escape.
Even within all their harshness the villagers still display care, albeit in their own stunted way; Ged's aunt shields him from the darker parts of her craft, after the battle to villagers try to care for him.
The people of Gont are goat thieves and sea-pirates to be sure, but they are also wizards. No person is wholly good or evil; there is something noble and tragic in all of us, and it is that uneasy tension that Le Guin gives us.
4. Warriors in The Mist
Until the attack of the Kargish warriors, Le Guin's voice reminds me of my grandmother's (if there is a greater compliment I can give, I don't know it).
She (my grandmother) was a well-spoken and practical woman in that very British sort of way, while also being immensely kind and endowed with a love for a beautiful turn of phrase.
There is something in the way that Le Guin draws us in and tells us about Ged's life that makes me hear it in my grandmother's voice - a story told kindly and considerate of her hearer, marked with flashes of beauty.
This voice shifts as Le Guin starts to describe the attack on the village and young Ged's heroics; it becomes more immediate, immersed in the moment.
Throughout Earthsea there is an ebb and flow between this story-telling voice and this moment-immersion voice that I find really fascinating.
5. Receiving a True Name
'The witch took from the boy his name Duny, the name his mother had given him as a baby. Nameless and naked he walked into the cold springs of the Ar where is rises among rocks under the high cliffs... As he came to the bank Ogion, waiting, reached out his hand and clasping the boy's arm whispered to him his true name: Ged.'
Shedding the name of childhood, passing through waters to be reborn, being named by a powerful wizard - all dramatic to be sure. But what strikes me most, reading it this time, is that Ged is given his true name before he even becomes the wizard of legends - before he knows what it means to 'be Ged'. He did not earn his name; it was a gift.
What do you think? What were your favourite parts of the chapter? Let me know in the comments!
New blog posts every Monday - until next time!