Who’ll ask the dark its name?

I’ve been reading Earthsea for a while now, and I must say I was a bit surprised by the maleness of it. Male strength, male power, male everything. I don’t mind, don’t get me wrong, but Ursula has always had a strong penchant for questioning that power.

He’s a bit from Tehanu.

“A man’s in his skin, see, like a nut in its shell. It’s hard and strong, that shell, and it’s all full of him. Full of grand man-meat, men-self. And that’s all. That’s all there is. It’s all him and nothing else inside. “

“And a woman then?”

“Oh, well, dearie, a woman’s a different thing entirely. Who knows where a woman begins and ends? Listen, mistress, I have roots, I have roots deeper than this island. Deeper that the sea, older than the raising of the lands, I go back into the dark.”

“I go back into the dark! Before the moon I was. No one knows, no one knows, no one can say what I am, what a woman is, a woman of power, a woman’s power, deeper that the roots of trees, deeper than the roots of island, older than the Making, older than the moon. Who dares ask question of the dark? Who’ll ask the dark its name?”


She Danced Across the Centuries, Barefoot

Title: The Tombs of Atuan  Author: Ursula Le Guin Published: 1970 Summary: The second part of the Earthsea Cycle focuses on Arha, the Priestes of the The Dark Ones. She feeds them with the souls and bodies of Godking’s prisoners and is the only one allowed to enter the Labyrinth in which the Nameless Ones rule. With nothing in her heart or mind but rules and regulations of worship, fed to her from an early age by other priestesses, she lives a sheltered and barren life until a man, a heathen, a wizard invades the Labyrinth in search for the ring of Erreth-Akbe.

When she breathed in the drug-fumes to dance at the dark of the moon, her head grew light and her body was no longer hers; then she danced across the centuries, barefoot in black robes, and knew that the dance had never ceased.

Print In The Tombs of Atuan  Ursula’s (yeah, we’re on a first name basis now) anthropological background comes to the fore in the creation of the belief system of the Kargad Lands. Once again, the reader is treated to her amazing ability to create an entire culture, without  going into over-explaining mode which leads to absurdity. This time we follow the story of Arha, or Tenar, ever-changing, but constant, just like Ged in A Wizard of Earthsea. I disliked Arha, then I liked her, but I could always find reason behind her behaviour. If there was ever any doubt about the affection I felt for Ged, The Tombs of Atuan dispersed it. He i s powerful, yet  strikingly human and vulnerable; his power is mentioned only once or twice and for a reason – never to show off.

If I can hold off an earhtquake, do you fear to meet one human soul with me?

I cannot resist to quote a passage which, for me, embodies Geds character :

His face in sleep was stern, almost frowning; but his left hand lay relaxed on the dirt, beside a small thistle that still bore its ragged clock of grey fluff and its tiny defence spikes and spines. The man and the small desert thistle; the thistle and the sleeping man…

After struggling with A Wizard of Earthsea, I was a bit surprised when I found myself effortlessly gliding from page to page of The Tombs of Atuan. I guess it took the first part of the Cycle for me to get accustomed to Earthsea. I really, really, really loved The Tombs of Atuan (in case you didn’t notice). I enjoyed the stark beauty of it, the way the black and the white are used to paint all the nuances of life and civilization, as is often the case in Ursula’s writing. The long narratives such as the story of the Ring of Erreth-Akbe, are written in a way that makes you want to know more; you want an entire book about it, not just several pages. Nothing is superfluous in this book; every word and sentence, each story told fit in. Only a few sentences are enough to fill you with a sense of calm or cold dread. The dark depths of the Labyrinth and the desolate desert are infused with such warmth and understanding, the source of which is possible to find only in the beauty of the language and the complexity of society and culture. Continue reading “She Danced Across the Centuries, Barefoot”

A Wizard of Earthsea

If anyone other than Ursula Le Guin wrote this book I wouldn’t have finished it. It’s slow-paced, thick with imagery and impressions. Perseverance paid off, because it’s precisely all that which made me think about moving on to something else turned out to be the most beautiful thing about A Wizard of Earthsea.

It’s unlike anything else I have read. There really isn’t any real plot to talk about, there’s scarcely any catharsis at the end. It’s just somehow there and it’s beautiful. It’s all about feelings and impressions, about fear and loneliness, about not belonging. There is only one comparison that springs to mind when I think about this book. Reading it felt like trying to run through water. It was difficult, but strangely rewarding.

What I love about Le Guin is the way she does not create new worlds. She just tells you a story which takes place in a world you didn’t know existed. She’s unassuming in her writing, careful with words; almost shy in her respect of the story she’s telling.

By far, one of the most interesting reading experiences I’ve had, and I’m looking forward to reading The Tombs of Atuan.

Interestingly, whenever I mention Le Guin to someone, if they’ve heard of her, they’ve heard of her as the author of “that fantasy novel…what its name?”. I’ve started with The Left Hand of Darkness, moved on to The Dispossessed and onwards to the Lathe of Heaven. I’ve decided to give this fantasy thing a go, and I was not disappointed. The future seems more bright knowing that there’s a lot more of her work out there, waiting to be read.

In the end, bear in mind, I’m not much of a fantasy reader, so this might not be the most representative review.

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Proof of Reality

The Unbearable Lightness of Writing

Love doesn’t just sit there, like a stone, it has to be made, like bread; remade all the time, made new.

Ursula Le Guin, The Lathe of Heaven

Ursula Le Guin seems not to suffer from the confines of language. The most peculiar scenes and sensations are transformed into words with such lightness that I come to doubt the Whorf-Sapir hypothesis in which I firmly and adamantly believe. Her style, infused with love of humanity, serves as a deterrent of her message. It takes a while to see past her writing and notice the warning which her words tenaciously weave. Perfect fluency, the logic behind chaos serve to catch you unaware. Some pages into the book you are suddenly struck, amid the beauty of her writing, with a sense of dread, of slow, yet inevitable, civilizational decay.

The contradiction which is present in her books is not awkward – it makes perfect sense. It makes me believe that she has answers which a lot of us are looking for because her books manage to reconcile the beauty and grandeur of the human race with our delectable penchant for wanton self-destruction. At the same time I am proud to be human and appalled by the historical failure of the race. She captures the dichotomy of our fates as individuals and as parts of the whole, which seems to lack cohesion and collective intelligence.

The combination of subtle alliteration bordering on verse, small quips and lapses of humour only enhance the sense of pending doom. Constructed worlds, distant but probable, serve as an eerie setting to showcase the failure of an entire race. A beautiful, complex failure. An amalgamation of magnificent and singular minds destined for self-destruction.

Three books later, Le Guin still makes me feel both happy and sad about being a human. And I am at peace with that fact. Even after I saw the dark future that awaits the human race, I do not feel bad because I also saw the beauty of the individual.

It is our suffering that brings us together. It is not love. Love does not obey the mind, and turns to hate when forced. The bond that binds us is beyond choice. We are brothers. We are brothers in what we share. In pain, which each of us must suffer alone, in hunger, in poverty, in hope, we know our brotherhood. We know it, because we have had to learn it. We know that there is no help for us but from one another, that no hand will save us if we do not reach out our hand. And the hand that you reach out is empty, as mine is. You have nothing. You possess nothing. You own nothing. You are free. All you have is what you are, and what you give.

Ursula Le Guin, The Dispossessed

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I have read three books by Ursula Le Guin. All three will forever be a part of who I am, of what I feel it means to be human. I feel honoured to have had the privilege of reading these books and allowing them to influence me, both intellectually and emotionally. I’ve read The Left Hand of Darkness, The Dispossessed, and The Lathe of Heaven. You can read my review of the Dispossessed and my take on the characterization in The Lathe of Heaven on Goodreads.

The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula Le Guin is a part of the mighty MiniBookClub: