A Wizard of Earthsea #1968Club

I was a huge fan of the Earthsea Trilogy and Ursula Le Guin more generally when I was a child, but I have never reread them since. I bought a copy for my children, but they haven’t taken to them as much as I expected. So when the opportunity came to reread the first book in the trilogy, which was published in 1968, I jumped at it. And discovered perhaps why my children are less enamoured than I was.

In fact, I’m quite surprised that I enjoyed it so much back then (I must have been 10-11), as the language is old-fashioned. There is often far more third person omniscient narration than dialogue, the pace is slower than what the younger generation might enjoy. It is now obvious to me that it is a half-way house between the long passages of lore/ going off-tangent/ harking back to Nordic heroic sagas of Tolkien and the convoluted storyline but relatively simple, direct language of Harry Potter. At the time, I hadn’t read The Lord of the Rings so the similarity was less obvious. I had read the Narnia books, and this felt like something different, far more grown – up.

Yet there is something familiar and soothing about the cadences of this prose – so reminiscent of Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe – something which built up my ulterior love for poetry and theatre.

Stout and wizardly was the staff Ogion had shaped. It did not break, and buoyant as a dry log it rode the water. Still grasping it, Ged was pulled back as the breakers streamed back from the shoal… Salt-blinded and choked, he tried to keep his head up and to fight the enormous pull of the sea…He had lost sight of rocks and beach alike, and did not know what way he faced. There was only a tumult of water around him, under him, over him, blinding him, strangling him, drowning him.

While the sharper, clearer prose of Harry Potter, more succinct descriptions (which does not necessarily result in shorter books, however) and the strong first person narratives of much of current YA literature is more suited perhaps to the present-day world of blogging, essay writing, opinion pieces and social media.

First edition cover.

I was surprised to find it far more frightening this time round, believe it or not. Although an imaginative child, I was not an easily scared one – except of dogs. As an adult, I realise of course that this is more than a simple battle between good and evil. Ged’s struggle against the unnamed shadow seems much more earnest, bitter and deadly than when I was imagining it as an actual physical devil. It now sounds familiar as a struggle with depression, with the demons inside yourself – you never quite know where it is, but it stalks you and waits, ready to pounce and extinguish you and your true nature. The final battle, when it does come, is perhaps not quite as much of a climax as the creeping menace which leads up to it made you think. Or perhaps we have come to expect too many CGI explosions.

I was also far less accepting of Ged as a hero this time round. As a child, I unquestioningly saw him as the hero of the story, even though he is arrogant and tempted by power to begin with. He learns things the hard way and not all in one go (in fact, it takes the whole trilogy, much as Frodo and Sam develop slowly over the course of hundreds of pages). He becomes heroic – it’s a continuous process and none of the wizards are all-knowing or flawless. Very realistic and complex and not typical of children’s literature of the time. My favourite characters, back then and now again, is Ged’s friend Vetch and the little sister Yarrow.

 

Summary of Reading October 2017 and Plans for November

Well, would you believe it how October galloped away with me! I only read 7 books, in spite of commuting and its inherent delaying tactics. That is perhaps the lowest number since I started recording my reading on the blog and on Goodreads – and probably reflective of starting two new jobs at the same time and also having children on holiday for part of the month.

Out of the 7 I managed to finish, I have to admit that the vast majority were crime novels (5), while the remaining two had criminal elements and themes. Humph – this doesn’t bode well for any railway professionals who might have the temerity to ask for my opinion about their services, especially given the high cost of commuting. 4 books by women, 3 by men, 2 in translation.

Julie T. Wallace as the She-Devil in the BBC adaptation of the book. Ignore the American film, which is terrible.

October Reads

Eva Dolan: This Is How It Ends -standalone from one of my favourite new writers

Lloyd Otis: Deadlands – debut novel about a serial killer in 1970s London, no review forthcoming but an interview with the author will be up on Crime Fiction Lover shortly

Adrian Magson: Rocco and the Nightingale – delighted to finally have a new book in this series set in 1960s rural Picardie, review to come on CFL

Jenny Quintana: The Missing Girl – less thriller, more a carefully nuanced coming of age story, with beautifully observed sibling rivalry and collusion

Peter Høeg: The Susan Effect – an entertaining enough premise – having the ability to make people open up to you and tell you their life stories (I seem to have that to a certain extent, but of course this is exaggerated in the book), but the conspiracy theory and the ending gets a bit silly

Ariana Harwicz: Die, My Love – upsetting insight into a disturbed mind, full of pain and depression, very emotional and riveting

Fay Weldon: The Life and Loves of a She-Devil – a quick reread to cheer on this subversive fantasy revenge story

November Plans

The #1968Club is taking place this week and I intend to (re)read The Wizard of Earthsea, which was published in that year and which meant the world to me when I was a child.

I need to write and update the #EU27Project – must finish it before Brexit is finalised… and I seem to be as slow and muddled about it as our beloved negotiators! But at least I have better and less selfish intentions than them, or so I believe.

I am also ploughing on through two mammoth reads: Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Unconsoled and Miklos Banffy’s They Were Counted. They might take me all month or even last until the end of 2017.

Fingers crossed, I might be able to attend a masterclass with the wonderful Scottish writer and poet Kathleen Jamie in Geneva this coming month (I have applied but have to wait to see if I’ve been accepted). So I am planning to indulge in some of her work, especially poetry

Last, but not least, I have two Nordic literary events coming up (which will probably mean more books added to my groaning shelves). The first of these is the launch of the book Love/War by Swedish writer Ebba Witt-Brattström by Nordisk Books. Described as a feminist story which allows women ‘to see through male dominant behaviour’, and based on the author’s own bitter divorce, how could I resist it? The second launch is the by-now-legendary Orenda Books and Ragnar Jonasson’s latest novel in the Dark Iceland series Whiteout.