Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Wizard of Earthsea And Tomb of Atuan: First Impressions.

Way back in the Stone Age, I wrote a blog post giving a very brief history of Fantasy Literature. Well, OK, it was more about "Epic Fantasy Literature" than the genre as a whole, but....actually now that I think about it, I really should go back and change the title of that post. But anyway, In that post I mentioned several books series that helped shape the genre as we understand it to day, one of which was Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea series, which at the time I hadn't read (I'm so sorry ^_^;). But since then, I have acquired the first five books (the fifth being the short story collection 'Tales of Earthsea') and I'm working my way through them. I've only completed the first two books so far, so I'm not prepared to do a review of the entire series yet, but I will give my thoughts on what I have read so far. 
Also, this post is going to be a bit of a text wall becuase there's some construction going on in my room/Office and I am typing this on the Blogger app on my IPad, which kinda sucks for adding pictures and such. So, yeah, sorry about that.

Anyway, for those who don't know, the first book in this series is entitled, "A Wizard of Earthsea," which was originally published in 1968. To simplify, the story is about a young man named Ged, later known to the world as Sparrowhawk, who at an early age is shown to be strongly gifted in magic and is trained as a Mage, first by his Aunt. Then by Mage living on the same Island named, Ogion, who teaches him about the balance (basically the idea that magic can go against the course of nature) and then finally he is sent to the Wizard School on the Island of Roke. There he thrives, excelling in all of his studies, and is admired by his fellow students and teachers alike. He becomes powerful, proud, arrogent. And it's arrogance, as it so offten does, that gets him into trouble. One night, in response to a rivals challenge, he casts a spell that accidentally rips apart the fabric of reality and unleashes a shadow monster from the realm of the dead, that attacks him and scars his face. Although he survives, and the rip he created is closed by the Mages that run the school. The creature escapes into the world and starts hunting Ged. The rest of the book deals with Ged trying to get away from this thing.

The closest modern, and most obvious, parallel I can think of are the Harry Potter Books, but even that's is a poor comparison. Becuase while both books deal with magic and sorcerer, that's where the simalarites end. Ged isn't some special chosen hero like Harry, he's just a normal boy who happens to be really gifted with magic and has something of a superiority complex. And while one could make the argument that Ged is something of a Mary Sue becuase of this (I mean he turns back an invading army before he ever meets Ogion for goodness sake) I actually think that this is one instance in where this makes him work as a character. The overarching theme of this book (and probably the entire series) is "Finding yourself"(AKA a coming of age story), And the pompous arrogance and seeming perfection that Ged shows in the early chapters makes his humbling and subsequent journey all the more poinant. It's a powerful message to send, particularly for the Young Adult audience that the books were targeting. It also explains why Ged is largely absent from the second book.

Yeah, in the second book, 'The Tomb of Atuan', Ged dosen't even show up until half-way through the book. The first book was an open and shut self-contained story, at least in my opinion, and Ged's character development is more or less complete by the end of it. Realizing this, Le Guin introduced a new main character, a girl named Tenar, who is basically kidnapped by one of the major religious institutions of this universe and dedicated as its new high priestess. There, she is forcibly isolated and  brainwashed into this faiths evil ways, and even orders prisoners to be executed via starvation and thrown into the massive Underground Labyrinth inhabitaed by the dark beings known as the "Nameless Ones." You can probably see where this is going, and you would be correct in assuming that she manages to break free of all of that with Ged's help. 

Thematically, Tomb of Atuan kinda dose retread the same ground as A Wizard of Earthsea, namely, it's another coming of age story, with Ged in the role of Mentor rather than hero. Although he doesn't teach Tenar any magic, he shows her something more valuable, how to be herself. With that said, I do have to say that it is the weaker of the two books, mostly becuase I didn't really get much of a sense that Tenar was basically a hostage. Supposedly, she gradually comes to accept her exsistance in this religion. But to me, it seemed like there was no gradual about it, she just kinda goes along with it and dosen't really do much of anything against it until she meets Ged. I am willing to admit that this was probably by design, though. As Tenar was taken into this faith at a very young age, and would therefore grow up without ever realizing that what she was being taught was evil. So in that sense, it not only shows her "coming of age", it also shows the dangers of blindly following something and not thinking for yourself. I also think that A Wizard of Earthsea just has a better fleshed out story than Tomb of Atuan. 

With that said, however, I also think that Tenar is a better character, mostly becuase I think she's more identifyable than Ged. Ged was/is a magic prodigy with the power of the universe at his finger tips who gets humbled by his own hubris, Where as Tenar is more of an "Every man/woman" whose story is realalistic enough that everyone can identify with it more easily. At least in my opinion. 

There are plenty more to these books that I'm not touching on here. I know that I have't talked about the magic system in this universe, nor the power of names concept, or even Le Guin's prose style (which I still haven't made up my mind about). But that's ok, I only wanted to give my first impression about the series so far. And overall, I like it. And can't wait to see how it will play out. If you have the chance, yeah, check this one out.       
And with that, I'm out. See you all later. 

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