August 20th, 2014

Macbeth the Usurper

Earthsea Trilogy (Review) (Top Fantasy Novels of the 1970s)

Next on my list of top fantasy novels from the 1970s are the first three Earthsea novels by LeGuin, A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, and The Farthest Shore.

I must confess that when I first read the Tombs of Atuan in the middle school, I pronounced the word "A-too-awn", not "A-twan."

This trilogy came to me as a Christmas present somewhere around the 7th or 8th grade. I do not know why my parents chose this trilogy, other than some bookseller recommended it, but come my way it did. It was also packaged with "The Wind's Twelve Quarters" which I have no reread since those days. I've taken part of the summer to reread the trilogy and beyond, but today I will limit myself to the trilogy.

I found "A Wizard of Earthsea" as charming as the first time that I read it. This time, I saw and recognized all the symbolism for what it was, finding it all rather clever. LeGuin had a way of gliding above the details, making them irrelevant, and we chased down this story of Ged and his shadow. Her information delivery in this novel is flawless, and an entire world comes into being in 60k words. It's not a thick book at all. All in all, very mythic.

I found "The Tombs of Atuan" difficult in the same ways that I found it difficult in the 70s. All the charm of a Wizard was gone, replaced by a sucking cold and dark and as as unfeeling as the Old Powers in their tombs. The first time, I liked no one in this book except the wizard that I was expecting but not getting, or getting enough of. This books twisted about my mind as much as the Labyrinth twisted about our heroes. This time around, I still felt that sucking cold, and looking at The Nameless One, found her empty, but my mind followed the loops around. What character Arha had simply did not touch me. All in all, I found the story a little mythic but mostly impersonal.

Style changed again for the final book, "The Farthest Shore."  Almost all sense of the mythic is gone. Elements of the original charm are there, but they are only elements. At times, the story is as far out to sea as the characters, never quite knowing where it's going or why. I simply didn't fathom this story in the 70's, and today, still find it somewhat distant. The hero succeeds, but I find no elation. There is a king and nobody cares. As an adult, the book makes far more sense, yet I am not left thinking about the questions that the book raises. Somehow they don't interest me.