Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Tales of Earthsea (2002)

Just when you thought it was safe to mock Ursula LeGuin, laughing at her for being a has-been or an over-touted never-was, she walks gently in with this book, throws you down to the mat with a gently push, and tells you to shut up. The grandmaster has entered the room and all will attend. That's how I feel about Tales From Earthsea (2002).

This books fully retconns her Earthsea universe into one that is more equatable and fair in a way that her earlier books failed at. This books makes it clear that the opinion of wizards, and their view of the world, in no way encompasses the whole world. In many way, the earlier Earthsea books become a sort of propaganda, technically true, yet playing up one group of people and pushing down or marginalizing others. Sorcers and witches, old powers and strange lore, had always been part of Earthsea. In many ways, they were far more powerful as they made a material difference in the everyday lives of people. In contrast, wizards are few and far between, with many people never meeting a wizard at all. They may do grand things, but their lore often lends them to doing nothing at all.

The book opens with a long story about Otter that goes on and on, past where you think that it will end, winding itself around several other places, and landing nicely at its end, telling us a tale of a time before there was a school on Roke, when being a wizard was far more like being a cheap paperback wizard. Roke did not ascend through violence in its defeat of that unjust non-system, but through patience and cooperation, for in these stories, violence is not the axis on which these stories turn.

A handful more stories follow, all elsewhere and elsewhen in Earthsea, giving us a wider view of this place where heroes are not so important, and great things don't necessarily happen. A wizard winds up in the wrong place. A girl want to know her name. A boy falls in love with a girl. All simple stories, in their right, and all warm in their telling.

This book pleased me.