We were at SpoCon, our local SF convention. I was on panels and my daughter was helping out our friend who is a dealer. Here she is, showing off one of the puppets.
If this thread seems to stop and start, it’s because I’m re-reading the books as I go. Some I have. Some I thought I had and can’t find. Some have been added since the series was written and I’m coming to them late. Some I buy for my Nook and some I borrow from the library. It’s been a journey worth taking, though. Le Guin is a master, and Earthsea is her masterpiece.
So I come to the third book, The Farthest Shore. This presents Ged, who started A Wizard of Earthsea as a youth and progressed to maturity in Tombs of Atuan, as an older man. He’s the Archmage now and a wise, patient teacher. But another gifted youth, Prince Arren of Enlad, comes to Ged with a terrible puzzle: all over Earthsea, magic is losing its strength. After some discussion with the other master wizards, Ged and Arren set out to discover why.
Arren is the viewpoint character, giving us fresh eyes on Earthsea and the horrific consequences of magic slowly lost. We see former magi mistaking a drugged haze for magic. Villagers turning against their sorcerers, claiming magic was mere fakery all along. Yet it isn’t only magic that’s dying. Artists and crafters of all sorts forget their arts. Robbery and slavery are rampant as social order breaks down.
Earthsea’s dragons are equally affected by the erosion of magic. After all, these creatures are pure magic. Their language is the original language of the world’s creation. In the latter half of the book, Arren and Ged come to the western reaches, where they find the dragons going mad, no longer recognizing their own names. Some fight each other blindly. Others fly and scream fire, knowing something has happened to them but no longer able to understand what.
In these passages we meet two major dragon characters. Orm Embar is known as the mightiest of all, and Kalessin is the eldest of all. Each retains enough sanity to help Ged by battling along with him (Orm Embar) and by greeting him at the end (Kalessin). Here is Le Guin’s description of Kalessin, when Arren tries to protect Ged from his approach. “The old dragon Kalessin looked at him from one long, awful, golden eye. There were ages beyond ages in the depths of that eye; the morning of the world was deep in it. Though Arren did not look into it, he knew that it looked upon him with profound and mild hilarity.”
Just as Le Guin had questioned some of the earlier fantasy tropes that were popular in the day, we see her examining her own treatment of dragons. In A Wizard of Earthsea, the great dragon of Pendor was a typical savage creature with an appetite for destruction. Beginning with this book, we see her creating a new narrative about who dragons are. In this LeGuin joined fellow author Anne McCaffrey, whose Pern series began its run in the same year the Earthsea books did.
The saga continues next Tuesday.