Saturday, October 10, 2015

Tales from Earthsea

I'm on the last stretch of these delicious Earthsea stories by Ursula K. Le Guin. The fifth book, Tales from Earthsea, collects several short stories set in everyone's favorite diverse, mostly-brown-skinned, women-valuing archipelago non-industrialized fantasy world (plus magic and dragons are real). These stories precede the novel stories, and fit in the interstices between those longer works: we get short glimpses into the deep history of the world, as well as smaller episodes in the lives of well-known characters.

The stories are short and sweet, full of the small details of characters enjoying moments --- sun on their faces, the last bite of a perfectly ripe pear, placidly drawing water and completing household chores --- whose calming affect I so enjoy in all the works set in Earthsea. Yes, there is some conflict, but usually the story is driven, instead, by characters trying to find out information, or seeking to build something new, and the conflict happens somewhere offstage and is only commented-upon by onstage characters. There are some confrontations, some climactic scenes, but more numerous are the scenes where people tend their farms, and go for long walks, and teach each other the words to long historical lays.

Earthsea is a lovely place to visit. Ursula K. Le Guin's notes, too, extend this envelope of comfort beyond simply the stories in the books. It is clear that what I enjoy, and find so heartening and interesting and comfortable and rewarding as a reader, is some innate property of the author, and the books are simply a medium carrying this psychological effect from her to me. Her authorial notes (appended to the end of my library copies of the books) make it clear that, although the words are sometimes simple, and the characters are often uneducated, the author has thought, deeply, about what the stories mean, how they should be presented, and what effect they have on the world.

Plus there are dragons!

A wizard's staff is always described as being "exactly his height", but since people gradually become bowed and stooped with age, does that mean that older wizards' staves (staffs?) also bend or shrink?

This post's theme word is enjoin, "to order or prescribe a course of action," or "to forbid or restrain. " The wise of Earthsea spend much time enjoining their own powers, rather than using puissance as an excuse for action.

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