Mary Oliver:

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth
tending as all music does, toward silence

Freya Stark:

The difference between a tourist and a traveller is that, the tourist carries his own atmosphere around him, while the traveller tries to lose himself in his surroundings.

What’s so good about a series is that  you follow it. And if it’s a series like Ursula le Guin’s Earthsea, you follow it to some unfamiliar surroundings – and not just in the fantasy world of Earthsea. Perhaps not unfamiliar – perhaps rather unvisited. You become a traveller, not a tourist, there for whatever is waiting for you, not for what you want from a book. And what is waiting for you, if the book is good, is not just a book, but a windown into our world, our minds, our lives. The words are silent and the world speaks.

We loved the first book, The Wizard of Earthsea. There Sparrowhawk learns to be a wizard. As hero he then faces all the sorts of challenges a hero should. But the next story was so different (we listened to that one on a CD in the car – sometimes in the car when we weren’t moving). It was about a young woman, Tenar, in a far away island and her awakening in a dark underground world to the dark forces that bind her, and her meeting with another culture, with the alien, in the form of Sparrowhawk.

The fourth book, Tehanu, which we’re reading now, is even more different. It was written much later. Now the point of view is not the male hero growing, learning, mastering – it is Tenar later in life, after fame, after family. It is Sparrowhawk after he has lost all of his powers. It has a

Map of Earthsea, Ursula le Guin

much slower pace – the feel of convalescence, of recovery. But still we follow the story on…

None of the books use the whole arsenal of “hooks”, of motivators. Sure, there is curiosity, there is identification with the hero, there is pleasure in his victory. But there are long slow journeys, meditations, internal struggles. Le Guin is aiming at something much more subtle and many-faceted than the formula blockbuster fantasy novel. And despite that, perhaps beacause of that, she has created “classics”, books that should be given to children, or better read to them or with them.

The magic in these books is achieved through names, through finding the true name of a thing. There is a lot about naming and about words in the tales. But there is also a great sense of silence, of stillness, beyond the buzz of words. Events unfold at their sometimes slow pace, thoughts take their time to push their way up, to take shape.

Le Guin did write further books in the series. Where will she lead us next…?



  1. drakonig said

    I love le Guin’s dragons too (though my true love is McCaffrey), and my only “negative” coment is that they are more violent than those of Paolini. I’m happy discovering her series.

  2. Jen said

    I always thought that there was a real sense of age about Earthsea, as if this had in fact happened aeons ago. I suppose that ties in with the slowness that you mentioned.

    And I always loved that she included descriptions of the journeys, when so many authors exclude them or pass over them quickly.

  3. […] I said before, Tehanu, written in 1990, was a very different book to the first trilogy, written from 1968-1972. […]

  4. — Blog about Dragons —

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