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A Wizard of Earthsea (Earthsea Cycle, #1)
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2014 Reads > WoE: Among Others and Earthsea (Spoilers for both!)

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Rob Secundus (quintessential_defenestration) | 1035 comments So I thought I'd just put up a thread with some of Mori's thoughts on Le Guin and Earthsea, for those who read Among Others without Le Guin experience (like me) so you can get a better sense of those pssages, and to just bring in a couple of perspectives on Le Guin that might be useful in general. I'll include the kindle page numbers, I think they're the same as the paperback. (And then at the end I'd like to add some of my own thoughts on how the two books might be related)


First of all the book begins wit a quote from Le Guin's The Lathe of Heaven: "Er'perrehnne." That's it. I have no idea what that means. Maybe some Ursologist in the club can explain.

When Morri leaves home she can only take three books with her. The first is the Lord of the Rings (which she just considers the fundamental book, John Boyd's The Last Starship from Earth, which she only brings because she was in the middle of reading it, and Le Guin's The Wind's Twelve Quarters, Volume 2 of which she says "I will defend against all comers as the best single author short story collection of all time, ever" (24). (Of course, that "single author" part means that the SNL Anthology still has a chance). She later softens this position though: "Actually, James Tiptree, Jr.'s Warm Worlds and Otherwise gives The Wind's Twelve Quarters, Vol II a run for its money. I'd say the Le Guin is still ahead, but it's not as clear-cut as I thought it was" (48). She later wonders if Tiptree and Le Guin were friends, since she wrote an introduction for one of his collections. So if you liked Earthsea but are looking for short stories, there you go.

Le Guin is amazing, but can't compare to Tolkien: "I did not buy a book called Lord Foul's Bane by Stephen Donaldson, which has the temerity to compare itself, on the front cover, to 'Tolkien at his best.' ...How dare the publishers? It isn't a comparison anyone could make, except to say, 'Compared to Tolkien at his best, this is dross.' I mean you could say that even about really brilliant books like A Wizard of Earthsea" (103).


The big Le Guin scene is of course the book club meeting. Three excerpts:
"One of them, Kieth I think, said it [The Lathe of Heaven] was like Philip K. Dick, which is nonsense, and the gorgeous boy said that while there were certain superficial similarities you can't compare Le Guin to Dick becauser her characters are like people in ways his just aren't, which is exactly what I'd have said." (136)

"He also said that maybe she writes about the scientific process so well in The Dispossessed, despite not being a scientist, because she understands that creativity isn't all that different across fields" (136)

"The most interesting thing anyone said though was said by one of the boys in purple blazers. I had said that Le Guin's worlds were real because her people were so real, and he said yes, but the people were so real because they were the people the worlds would have produced. If you put Ged to grow up on Annares or Shevek in Earthsea, they wouldn't be the same people, the backgrounds made the people, which of course you see all the time in mainstream fiction, but it's rare in SF. That's absolutely true, and it's very interesting, and I couldn't help jumping in again to say that it fit back with The Lathe of Heaven and what happens to people in the different worlds, and whether a grey person in a world of grey people was inherently a different person from a brown one in a mixed race world." (137)

And that's pretty much it. Before I talk about Earthsea vs Among Others as narratives though, a quick aside. Delaney comes up a few times too, though not nearly as much. Sadly The Einstein Intersection barely gets a mention. But she does buy it and read it alongside Eliot's Four Quartets, which I find interesting. Really the passages were Mori goes on and on about how beautiful and mythic Eliot's language is could easily be transferred to Delaney. One thing she does do is consistently group Delaney and Le Guin together, which is kind of weird since (in our experience of them recently) they're pretty opposite: we read a crazy psychological first person practically stream of consciousness scifi narrative with a ton of mythic allusions and a very distant third person narrative from a fantasy world totally distinct from ours. At one point she says: "I sat on the bench by the willows and ate my honey bun and read Triton [by Delaney]. There are some awful things in the world, it's true, but there are also some great books. When I grow up I would like to write something that someone could read sitting on a bench on a day that isn't all that warm and they could sit reading it and totally forget where they were or what time it was so that they were more inside the book than inside their own head. I'd like to write like Delaney or Heinlein or Le Guin" (53-54). And then at one point shock is expressed at Mori liking Heinlein: "I just wouldn't have thought you'd be the type to like him, with liking Delany and Zelazny and Le Guin" (248). So yeah. I don't know what would link the two from our reading other than "really amazing writers" and "deeply concerned with the mythic hero," but the people in Among Others assume they're grouped together.


OK SO. How the two books relate. About two thirds of the way through the book, Mori drops this about magic (talking about Glorfindel): "I tried calling for him, but I knew that was pointless. They don't use names the way we do. I might wish it worked the way it does in Earthsea where names have summoning power, but it doesn't, names don't count, only things do." (192-193). I think this indicates that in a lot of ways, Among Others is an response to Earthsea, in that it is kind of a rejection/ opposite of it? You could say they are both the coming of age tales of wizards/witches, but already we have an interesting opposition: in Earthsea only the men practice powerful magic, and in Among Others magic seems to be a purely feminine thing. Names in Earthsea are, as noted above, the core of magic, whereas magic in AO has nothing to do with them. Names though are more important than that; a name really is united with identity in Earthsea. In AO Mori adopts her sister's name, but this is a weakness; instead of giving her power over her, instead she is consumed with guilt and sadness over her sister. Where in Earthsea she would have power over a person, here the name seems to have power over her. The two books are both concerned with "twins" of a kind, and I think the books' treatments of twins and their protagonists' journeys reveals the heart of the opposition. Ged's quest is one of power, dominance and unity. Ged needs to hunt his dark twin and overpower him, and then in some way unite with him. Now, this might seem an inversion of the normal hero narrative, when the hero needs to kill his enemy, but I'm not sure. Sigurd drinks the dragon's blood. Beowulf is invaded by the dragon's poison. Etc. In Among Others, however, we really do see an inversion of the typical journey. Morri doesn't need to gain power, and she certainly shouldn't unite with her twin-- that way is only death. Instead her journey is one of learning to let go, to resist the urge to join her sister. In Eartsea Ged is heroic in his becoming whole again; in Among Others Morris is heroic by accepting the fact that she will always be in some way empty and incomplete.

Sorry for the length and kind of fractured nature of all of the above. Any thoughts?


message 2: by Louise (last edited Feb 13, 2014 04:33PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Louise (louiseh87) | 352 comments Rob wrote: ""Er'perrehnne." That's it. I have no idea what that means. "

Isn't it (view spoiler). It's complicated. I have the book here (it's one of my favourites of le Guin's work), but without re-reading the whole thing that's all I can really say. That book is about dreams and reality, and taking control, so I can see the connection to Among Others.


Rob Secundus (quintessential_defenestration) | 1035 comments Ok. Then once again power is knowledge of a word/name. That makes sense.


Olivia (oliviayoungers) | 115 comments I loved the parts of both books about "True Names" -- it's one of my favorite motifs when used well in fantasy.


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