Archive for the A Wizard of Earthsea Category

Ursula K. Le Guin: The Grand Dame of American Fantasy & Science Fiction

Posted in A Wizard of Earthsea, Bildungsroman, Earthsea Cycle, Fantasy, Uncategorized, Ursula K. Le Guin with tags , , , , on January 26, 2018 by Manuel Paul Arenas

A few days ago I heard the sad news about the passing of author Ursula K. Le Guin, the outspoken grand dame of American Fantasy & Science Fiction whose career spanned over 50 years. I won’t pretend to be that knowledgeable about her vast body of influential work, but what I did read, I liked a lot.

Author Ursula K. LeGuin, 1973.

I believe I first heard of Le Guin through my colleague, Derek Fetler. Back in the days when Derek and I haunted the Cambridge open mike circuit as the Gloom Twins, there was a song we used to play that Derek had penned called Sparrowhawk, based on Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea (1968). I was not familiar with Le Guin’s work prior to that, but I was a fan of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis from my childhood, so I was intrigued when Derek turned me on to the original Earthsea trilogy. I recall burning through A Wizard of Earthsea (1968), The Tombs of Atuan (1970), and The Farthest Shore (1972), which told the coming-of-age tale of Ged, a wizard from the isle of Gont, and getting totally absorbed in Le Guin’s very distinctive fantasy world.

The Bantam paperback editions of the original Earthsea Trilogy. I always loved the artwork on these by Pauline Ellison.

While still under her spell, I picked up a chapbook called From Elfland to Poughkeepsie (1973) which is an essay by Le Guin on writing fantasy that had some valuable insight on dialog writing that I have tried to follow to this day when writing my own dark fantasy tales.

Chapbook of Le Guin’s essay From Elfland to Poughkeepsie (1973, Pendragon Press).

Over the years I tried to find more Le Guin books to read, but since a good portion of her output is pure Science Fiction, a genre I don’t have much interest in, I stopped seeking out her books. I did however read the novella The Beginning Place (1980), as well as the story The Rule of Names (1964), the latter of which I really got a kick out of, but I haven’t read much else since.

The Wind’s Twelve Quarters (1979, Bantam) featuring another lovely cover by Pauline Ellison, where I first read The Rule of Names.

When Le Guin published a 4th novel in the Earthsea Cycle, Tehanu (1990), I was initially excited, but I was so deep into my exploration into H.P. Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Mythos by then that I didn’t get around to picking it up until relatively recently and still haven’t read it yet. Apparently, there is also a 5th novel called The Other Wind (2001), as well as a short story collection called Tales from Earthsea (2001) which I have yet to read as well, but might take a look at now that I have begun re-reading the original trilogy.

Paperback copy of Tehanu (1991, Spectra) which I used to see everywhere when it first came out.

At the tail-end of 2004 I saw a SiFi Channel mini-series adaptation of the original trilogy called Legend of Earthsea (2004) which was a watered down affair with none of the wonder and wisdom from Le Guin’s novels. I understand Le Guin herself was dissatisfied with it and accused the producers of “whitewashing”, by casting a fair-skinned actor in the lead when Le Guin explicitly describes the inhabitants of Gont as being of reddish-brown cast.

1st edition of A Wizard of Earthsea (1968, Parnassus Press) featuring cover art by Ruth Robbins depicting Ged’s coppery countenance.

Apparently there is an anime as well, which is a very loose adaptation of the original trilogy that also had Le Guin in a tizzy:

“Ursula K Le Guin, the author of the Earthsea series, gave a mixed response to the film in her review on her website. Le Guin commended the visual animation in the film but stated that the plot departed so greatly from her story that she was “watching an entirely different story, confusingly enacted by people with the same names as in my story”. She also praised certain depictions of nature in the film, but felt that the production values of the film were not as high as previous works directed by Hayao Miyazaki, and that the film’s excitement was focused too much around scenes of violence. Her initial response to Gorō Miyazaki was “[I]t is not my book. It is your movie. It is a good movie”. However, she stated that the comment disclosed on the movie’s public blog did not portray her true feelings about the film’s vast departure from original stories; “taking bits and pieces out of context, and replacing the storylines with an entirely different plot…”” [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tales_from_Earthsea_(film)#Reception, retrieved 01/25/2018]

Perhaps someday someone will come along and do it right. Till then, do yourself a favor and pick up Le Guin’s exquisite books.

PS: As I re-read A Wizard of Earthsea I am reminded constantly of Derek’s song, Sparrowhawk, the melody of which goes round on a loop in my head. I wish we had recorded it together. Perhaps someday we will.

 

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