Tuesday, December 13, 2016

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin; narrated by Rob Inglis (1968, 1992)


"Have you never thought how danger must surround power as shadow does light? This sorcery is not a game we play for pleasure or for praise. Think of this: that every word, every act of our Art is said and is done either for good, or for evil. Before you speak or do you must know the price that is to pay!”  So warns Ogion, a wise older mage, to the raw, young magician Ged, after the first time he screws up because of his hubris and braggadocity.  These words can also be used to sum up, in at least part, of what A Wizard of Earthsea  is all about, the nutshell theme.     There is more going on here than just that, of course; Le Guin is too good a writer for any of her books to be that simple. The short but steep steps between adolescence and adulthood is another major theme; making amends in and to the world is another.

But what stood out for me was the idea of power and its corruptibility.  In this time in which we are living, right now, there is a dark shadow creeping and skulking about our land and world.  Like Ged, it's a shadow we (as a people) have called up and nurtured on our own, through our laziness and greed and lust for power and arrogance, or whatever you want to call it, our practicing as a people of the seven deadly sins.  At the very least, Le Guin is reminding us of our own penchant for "dark magic," as individuals and as a people.

I first listened to Rob Inglis narrate this many years ago; I had not been able to find this version since then.  It's almost as good I remember (memories askew over time, and what was good can become great in the mind's eye over many years).  Le Guin's writing reminded me again and again of Tolkien, but that may because I associate Rob Inglis's narration with The Lord of the Rings, which he also lovingly and excellently narrated.  Le Guin is a master craftsman, and spins straw into gold again and again.


A Wizard of Earthsea (The Earthsea Cycle, #1)A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Le Guin is a master at the art of of writing, spinning the straw of words into pure gold again and again. "Have you never thought how danger must surround power as shadow does light? This sorcery is not a game we play for pleasure or for praise. Think of this: that every word, every act of our Art is said and is done either for good, or for evil. Before you speak or do you must know the price that is to pay!” So speaks Ogion, the older, wiser mage to the younger, raw Sparrowhawk at the beginning of the book. It's one of those golden truths that both sets one of the themes of the book (some of the others being those short, steep steps from adolescence to adulthood and making amends in and to the world) and also a proverb for a dark time. Like Ged, we have shadows we create and nurture, and in order to vanquish them, we have to cross perilous seas (and not usually physical seas). Those shadows can be personal; they can be societal and cultural too. Power, its lustful cousins greed and arrogance and pride, are dangerous dark magic indeed. Le Guin's mastery of storytelling and wordsmithing, punch these truths home again and again. But all in the context of a terrificly moving and beautiful and heartfelt story.


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