By Hannah Shagan, TIWP Student
There are books that define the fantasy genre and I have only read a few. Mysteries with Poe. Dystopian with Shelley. They feel old but you can almost imagine a person putting pen to paper. However, fantasy feels older, like it draws something from the depths of the primordial earth. There are books that define the fantasy genre. Some have names that everyone knows. Thousands of fan stories on Fanfiction.net. A billion sequels in the box office. And then there’s that one that no one but me seems to remember, a tale that draws from the sea and the word—and when you read it you taste the salt and hear the song. It’s called Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin.
How is that piece of art forgotten? Why do the powers that be insist on having a black elf with like no hair fight some orcs and think that’s representation when there’s a rich world just begging to be done justice? I have seen two adaptions.
The first was a TV show that sucked. One deep character was made into a sidekick who likes to eat, and another went from a pained pubescent girl dealing with isolation and dark powers to a happy-20 something nun ripe to fall in love with an insulting mockery of Sparrow Hawk who clearly never realized that the character he was playing grew up. It ranks of power fantasy and a bunch of men in a board meeting.
The second was a movie that almost made Studio Ghibli’s legendary Miyazaki disown his son. I could point out white washing, an incoherent mess of timelines, forced romance, or the fact that I know Ghibli could have done better, damn it! They’re known for their soft and subtle touches in adapting complex youthful love—give me that! They can capture nature and magic and violence and kindness and it’s an insult and a tragedy they didn’t here. The only thing about that movie that is art is a song. And the only thing remotely Earthsea about it besides the names (without the power) is an alternate translation of that song.
That translation moved me to tears as I imagined Arron singing it and everything from the story up to that point and his whole life poured out into song. Because no one reads the books, the Youtube comments insult it for being nothing like the movie. It is an adaption whose soul was eaten by the nameless ones. If you want a good adaptation of Le Guin’s books, watch Moana and any other Ghibli movie. (I recommend Princess Monokoke.) It’s a tragedy that no one remembers. I mean it was the first book to have a magic school and invented the concept of secret names and words of power, crafted with such love.
I have only read the first four because I’m not sure my heart can take the it.
The first book fills my dreams with stars. The second makes my skin blister with desert heat. In the third, I hear the gentle sea and the darkness on the edge of sight. And in the fourth, I smell the mountain pastures. The first is every fantasy epic. And at least Patrick Rothfuss loves it as much as I do. The second feels like a wild shift, from the high seas of the archipelago to the oldest regions of the world. A sense of tension and entrapment you’ll find in the Promised Neverland or Cask of Amontillado. But neither make you feel as if your experiencing puberty while your prisoner dies of thirst day by day. The third is my favorite and still the one hardest to read. It is the darkest book and filled with so much love and growth. And if you’ve read the first two you might ask how it’s possible to top the darkness, puberty, love, growth, self acceptance and discovery, magic battles, seafaring adventure and song Le Guin has already woven in her first two epics
Welcome to The Farthest Shore which takes you past the reaches of the inhabited world and through the sunless lands. Magic is leached out of the world in moments that stick with you forever. There is slavery and drugs and anyone who tells stories that have to do with slavery and drugs should be forced to read that book. (I’m looking at you anime!) It explores what art is, and intellectualism, and what the hell those crazy things called love and friendship mean.
It still amazes me that it can be so much and still is about art at the same time. The fourth is just as hard to understand and made for a different sort of audience. Here Le Guin is in her element as her characters find themselves again and gender and magic are exported over hearthside and you feel the threat of evil breathing down your neck. Every detail is explored under a microscope and the inhuman heals and becomes human once again. That is magic…though it is hard to understand.
It makes me sad that no one seems to read Earthsea anymore. She shares Tolkien’s passion for the world and the power of language. And paints her oceans with the sweetness and depth of Lewis’ Narnia but makes it all her own. It deserves to be read and remembered. So ride with me on the backs of dragons and roam the archipelago of Earthsea—available at a library near you!