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Book review: The Earthsea Quartet

February 1, 2018

Only in silence the word, only in dark the light, only in dying life: bright the hawk's flight on the empty sky.

- A Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula Le Guin

 

I wish I had read the Earthsea cycle earlier, yet I believe the books we read at any time are meant to be read at that time. And this time, I was meant to read about Ged, about Tenar of the Ring, about Arren, about Tehanu. 

 

Ursula Le Guin passed away not too long ago, leaving behind a trove of wisdom wrapped in stories. The power of Le Guin's prose has been discussed by more eminent writers than I, and so I will focus not on her words but on the thoughts she left me.

 

In the world of fantasy and science fiction, the protagonist gets ever stronger, winning more titles and power. Le Guin brought her main protagonist Ged on such a journey, but along the way she also demonstrated what it means to be a righteous person in power. When there are no more options but to do what must be done, when there is the hard right way and the easy wrong way, she guided her characters and the reader along the path.

 

The heart of Earthsea is founded on the concept of Balance. When words are met with silence, there is balance. When darkness is met with light, there is balance. When death is met with life, there is balance.

 

This is also key to the tao, the Way, as Laozi laid out for all back in the Warring States. In a time of worldly strife came the teachings of inner peace! I don't know if Le Guin had read Laozi prior to writing the Earthsea cycle, but I have read the Tao Te Ching many years ago and revisit the teachings often. As I followed Ged, I kept thinking about how he was slowly learning to be, to not do, and to just exist, as a leaf or a stone just exists. He would have learned that a lot earlier had he stayed with Ogion, the mage who named him, but some people come by enlightenment a different way and is no less fulfilled for the delay.

 

At the end(spoiler alert?), Ged lost all he has gained, and gained more after that, being completely himself. He had a good guide and teacher in that: Tenar of the Ring, who was lost and found, and when shown a way to power, chose the way of a commoner. I liked Tenar for her simple and wise approach to life: Do what needs doing.

 

Ogion is a character whom I wish had appeared more often, though it is unlikely that he would have been useful as a character in a story. He let be what needed letting be. He was one who understood the value of silence, and sought the great deep silences of the hills and forests; he did what needed to be done, and lived simply, something I am striving to do.

 

This series came to me just when I needed some direction. I had tried to borrow Le Guin's books from my local library, of course, but there never is a copy available. Quite by chance I found one nearby in a school library, and because I am friends with the librarian (side note: always befriend librarians), they lent it to me even though I am not a member of the school.

 

I think the world has been richer for having had Ursula Le Guin for a brief time. Now it is up to those of us who have read her words to take the words to heart, for as we all know, words are power.

 

Go on and do your work. Do it well. It is all you can do.

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