Wednesday, September 23, 2015

A Wizard of Earthsea

Ursula K. Le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea is a dollop of fantasy delight, a neat little story with tendrils sneaking out into a broader magical world, but all packaged up as a coming-of-age, coming-into-powers tale. I did not accurately remember its length --- in my mind it has the fleshed-out detail of a full novel, but it clocks in at only ~150 pages in my true-numbered ecopy. It took only two days of commuting-reading to finish, and my Magical Reading Tricorder of the Future informs me I spent less than 4 hours inhaling the book.

It's nice. It's calming. The narrator's voice sounds like a camp counselor over a fire, a voice that will comfort and lull you into sleep. The story is built around simple archetypes, foundational storytelling pillars laid firmly against bedrock. It feels dependable, and indeed, it can be relied-on to feature the nice elements of a Le Guin story. True friendships, good food, daily tasks described with love and care. A certain simple poetry in phrasings and structure. (In a moment of despair, one character muses that "at least his [own] death would put an end to the evil he had loosed by living." pg. 105) No sense of embellishment, or the science-like tricky details typical in the magical workings of, e.g., Brandon Sanderson.

A few details, roughly sketched, give a sense of the mystery and power of magic. I liked in particular that, akin to the logic of computer programming, scope must be specified and clear:
A mage can control only what is near him, what he can name exactly and wholly. (pg. 41)
I liked that, although great puissance and achievements are foretold for the protagonist Ged, he is not an overpowered, unreasonably-lucky, unkillable master. He makes mistakes, a lot of them, and he doesn't instantly recover or learn his lesson. He earns scars, not always wisely or bravely, and they are ugly, not magical or handsome. His growing power and wisdom are accompanied by a proportionate loss of ego and desire to use the power.

A lovely book. Recommended.

This post's theme word is gascon, "a braggart" or "boastful." Ged gradually matures from a gascon to a proper adult, humble at the prospect of everything he knows he does not know.

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