Tuesday, 22 December 2015

I've been reading lately...

The Earthsea Cycle by Ursula K. Le Guin

If you had asked me at the start of the year whether the best thing I would read in the coming year would be a series of fantasy books from the Young Adult section of the library, I would have said it's unlikely. But guess what, that's just what has happened.

Thanks to a tip-off from a good friend, this year I fell into the world of Earthsea. It's a series of six shortish books, revolving around wizardy and dragons and all that stuff. Apart from Tolkein's epics, this is not a genre that has much appeal for me - but my gosh, can Ursula K. Le Guin write.

The writing is sparse, with just enough well-chosen words to leave room for the reader's imagination and spirit to wander and breathe. But more than just outstanding use of language, this story has incredible depth. I felt as though I was in the hands of a master storyteller, who crafts words in the fashion of an allegory or a biblical parable, so that the tale was always telling me more than the words were saying. There was something just beyond the page which I couldn't quite grasp intellectually, but which nourished my spirit instead. 

"From that time forth he believed that the wise man is one who never sets himself apart from other living things, whether they have speech or not, and in later years he strove long to learn what can be learned, in silence, from the eyes of animals, the flight of birds, the great slow gestures of trees."

I have since discovered that Le Guin has done her own translation of Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching, a book of ancient Chinese wisdom. She is obviously a deep thinker, a reflective and contemplative searcher for understanding. The fruits of all this searching she pours into her characters and Earthsea stories, distilled and available to readers young and old. It's like taking an ordinary, tepid fantasy story and infusing it with the knowledge and understanding of a woman who has spent her years coming to terms with the important things in life. 

"It is no secret. All power is one in source and end, I think. Years and distances, stars and candles, water and wind and wizardry, the craft in a man's hand and the wisdom in a tree's root: they all arise together. My name and yours and the true name of the sun, a spring of water or an unborn child, all are syllables of the great word that is very slowly spoken by the shining of the stars. There is no other power. No other name."

The characters are flawed and introspective, and there is an understanding permeating the pages that the darkness within ourselves is as much the enemy as the darkness in others.

There is a lovely pace to the story; it doesn't race from one adventure to another but tends rather to linger over the momentous moments. Le Guin certainly didn't hurry the process of writing the series; the books were written between 1968 and 2001.

She's written a whole range of other books for children, teens and adults and I'm eager delve into their pages to see what lies within.

 Ursula K. Le Guin has written a wonderful praise of libraries here: https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/11/06/ursula-k-le-guin-libraries/

In a word or two: Rich

Image 1: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/9/99/Earthsea_Trilogy.jpg
Image 2: https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/11/06/ursula-k-le-guin-libraries/

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