2.16.2011

Currently Reading: A Wizard of Earthsea

A Wizard of Earthsea (The Earthsea Cycle, #1)"Maybe," said Vetch, "I am no seer, but I see before you, not rooms and books, but far seas, and the fire of dragons, and the towers of cities, and all such things a hawk sees when he flies far and high."

"And behind mewhat do you see behind me?" Ged asked, and stood up as he spoke, so that the werelight that burned overhead between them sent his shadow back against the wall and floor.

Author: Ursula Leguin

Synopsis: A country boy proves to have a mage's powers, and is named and apprenticed by a passing wizard. When the young man, Ged, accidentally attempts to summon a spirit, his master gives him the option of going to wizard school. Hoping for as much power as he can achieve, Ged accepts. Shortly into his studies, he makes a rival, and in competition casts the spell that will change the entire course of Ged's life and leave him with a great evil to undo.

Notes: So many people have told me to read this book and its three sequels that I knew I'd have to get to it, and quickly. The first one never seemed to be in at the library, but my friend Lazarus gave Lou and I a copy for Christmas. Win.

The book proved difficult to get into, mainly because for the first sixty pages or so, I hated the protagonist. Every time I turned a page, I had time to stop, shake my head, and mutter "You're shaping up to be a little Voldemort, you punk." This is a big deal for me, because to love a story, I really need to connect with the protagonist. Which meant this book had two things working against it: not just an unlikable person to follow around, but the fact that the reader is kept at an emotional distance even from him.

The tale reads almost like a history book, or like narrative sections of the Old Testament. If you've read the Old Testament, you know how it works. You get a lot of time with David and Abraham and Joseph, but you never really see their world from their eyes. The writing is objective, rather than subjective—an act of wisdom for the Bible, I suspect, and an interesting choice for a novelist.

But all my friends say it's one of the classics of our time, I told myself. I made it through Les Mis, right? Not to mention the Bible, more than once. I ought to be able to handle 167 pages of the history of a jerkoff wizard.

I'm glad I did. Ged, once he got good and humbled, showed a repentant side that Voldemort never achieved. He turned out to be quite a decent guy, once he knew he had a shadow. It was especially worth reading the book for his friends Vetch and Yarrow, whom I thought wonderful. I would have loved to get closer to them than the text allowed, but their characters were the brightest and clearest lights in the tale.

As for the text itself, it was admittedly impressive to find a novel that read so much like Biblical stories—stories done in a good lyrical translation, of course, one that took care for the beauty as well as the meaning of the words.

Symbolically, the story contained some interesting uses of the concept of naming, and a slightly different take on the shadow than that of George MacDonald's Phantastes. I haven't figured out what to make of all of it yet. Maybe I should read the sequels.

Recommendation: Oddly enough, I'm tempted to say "Read it out loud to yourself, preferably pacing up and down a shoreline." It seems that sort of thing, rather like poetry. Make of that what you will.

4 comments:

  1. My favorite of the Earthsea series. Quite right on the character of Ged. I really should reread the whole series sometime. I never thought of the story as reading like Biblical stories though.

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  2. You're dead right about the poetry--it's something of a prose poem.

    A wise old Carthusian whose family bought him the first two on my recommendation found them profound... and very Jungian.

    The second book will give you a character you'll like even more than Yarrow...

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  3. I read them ages ago when I was first introduced to fantasy (after Narnia, LotR, and Prydain), so my memories have dimmed. I really liked the second book, though, and found it personally meaningful.
    Arabella

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  4. The Biblical stories thing might've been just me, George. It was primarily the feeling that I was looking at a character across a vast distance of time and history, instead of being up close and personal with their thoughts.

    Lazarus and Arabella, sounds like I should look forward to the second book!

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