Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Review - Ursula Le Guin - A Wizard of Earthsea

For my first book review, I pick Ursula K Le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea.  I had seen the miniseries on SyFy a few years ago when it used to be the SciFi Channel.  I enjoyed the miniseries, so I thought I'd like the book.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that the book was drastically better than the miniseries.

I usually read sci-fi, but I've enjoyed the following epic fantasy books: The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Wheel of Time (up to book 8).  Le Guin's book is definitely up there with the rest of them.

Le Guin's writing style is distinctive.  In most of the other books I read, dialogue is the main driver of the action.  Usually, the formula is: set the stage, provide a lengthy exposition of something that occurs within a brief amount of time, then provide a transition to get to the next lengthy exposition.

For example, consider the six Star Wars movies.  They each fit into a chronology where a lot of time passes in between each movie, but each one movie concentrates on events that transpire over a few days.

Le Guin does the exact opposite.  There is amazingly little dialogue in the book, and we rarely get a full conversation.  Rather, we get to see important snippets of what's said.  Le Guin instead concentrates on the overall story arc of Ged/Sparrowhawk's life.  She tells the story as one relating a legend while sitting around a campfire.  The words are flowery with plenty of metaphors.  With the lack of dialogue and other fillers, the writing is dense, and the pace can be very quick at times.  At the blink of an eye, a year or two can pass.  Even with only twenty or so pages left to read in the book, I wondered how she could finish the book with so little paper left, but I should not have feared - she ended it well.

Le Guin has the talent of describing concepts that otherwise wouldn't make much sense - but somehow she makes sense of it.  For example, here's an excerpt of her explaining the strange coldness of the Court of the Terrenon.

From these windows Ged looked out, as he kept by himself in his high tower-room, day after day, dull and heartsick and cold.  It was always cold in the tower, for all the carpets and the tapestried hangings and the rich furred clothing and the broad marble fireplaces they had.  It was a cold that got into the bone, into the marrow, and would not be dislodged.  And in Ged's heart a cold shame settled also and would not be dislodged, as he thought always how he had faced his enemy and been defeated and had run. ... And he would watch the snow falling, thin and ceaseless, on the empty lands below the window, and feel the dull cold grow within him, till it seemed no feeling was left to him except a kind of weariness.

Doesn't that just give you the shivers?  Oh, and did you notice how much time had elapsed in that short passage?  It's impossible to know exactly how much time passed, but it certainly feels like a long time.  (Okay, now I'm feeling a little depressed.)

I recommend this book for anyone seeking a fantastic epic with vignettes that will stick with you for years.


Liz said...

hi have not finished reading yet , but wanted to ask do you like the Wrinkle In Time books?? as they are so awesome. and i think I watched the miniseries , but cant remember.
so will enjoy reading about it.

Liz said...

yep want to read this one ..

Melvyn Windham said...

Wrinkle in Time books? I didn't know they were a series! I read the first book when I was young, and I thought it was cool. I'll have to look them up.

When I think of that book, it reminds me of the Tripod series, which I read about the same time. That was another good series.