Bookblog #50: U(K)LG

Ursula Le Guin, A Wizard of Earthsea (1968, Puffin 1971)
Ursula K Le Guin, The Tombs of Atuan (1971, Bantam 1983)

(Published 7 January 2009, retrieved 30 July 2021.)

When I was an impressionable undergraduate at Sydney University in the 1960s, the student newspaper Honi Soit published an article by an academic philosopher – it may have been George Molnar — explaining that science fiction was worth reading because in it writers imagined alternative ways of organising society. I wasn’t by any means a hard core science fiction fan, but I had read some. Far from being grateful for a magisterial endorsement of my occasional pleasures, I remember feeling a sneaking contempt for the philosopher who (I thought) had missed the point completely: to argue for the usefulness of science fiction seemed to deny the sheer enjoyment of imagined worlds. I mention the article now because, if I remember correctly, it focused on The Left Hand of Darkness and other Ursula Le Guin books, and may have been responsible for my not having read anything by her until the 1990s when the magical Catwings series came my way professionally and I discovered that she was a lot of fun. (I had read one of the later books in the Earthsea cycle before that, but for a value of ‘read’ that amounts to ascertaining that it expected the reader to know what had happened previously, and further ascertaining that references to menstruation made it unsuitable for most 10 or 11 year olds.) So here I am at last, thanks to my discovery of BookMooch, engaging with her most famous children’s books.


I don’t have much to say about them, beyond that I found the story completely engrossing, and her manner of telling it magisterial. It’s fascinating to see elements of so many more recent books here. This story is a little like Hamlet – full of quotes. I have resolved never to see the recent TV version, which notoriously made all the characters white (the producers announced proudly that they were colo[u]r blind). It’s not that there’s any kind of profound statement about racism in the book, but the play with skin colour is nonetheless a lovely feature of the characterisation and world building. And one other thing: where did that middle-initial K come from between the first book and the second?

I was going to make this an entry about the whole trilogy, but Penny’s old copy of the third volume of the trilogy managed to go wandering after sitting prominently on the shelf in the spare room for decades, so this is just a note about the first two books, and a promise that I will read and write something about the third. The long wait for the final book of a trilogy, painful though it may be, is after all intrinsic to the experience of reading it. I think of the interminable gaps between The Subtle Knife and The Golden Compass, The Golem’s Eye and Ptolemy’s Gate, Inkheart and Inkdeath (now published but I haven’t seen it), Deep Water and Full Circle (for which the wait has barely begun – Pamela Freeman’s website informs us that the first draft is now with the editor). So I’ll wait until the mage-winds of BookMooch bring me to The Farthest Shore.

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