No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

#23: Gifts -- Ursula Le Guin

A fantasy novel about what one has and how one uses it: about story-telling and truth, and how one creates and shapes one's world.

Orrec possesses his family's Gift: undoing, the power to unmake, to destroy, simply by looking at a thing. His father can break a bowl by looking at it; blacken a willow wand; kill a rat. And Orrec's Gift is a powerful one, too powerful for safety. He blindfolds himself and lives in darkness rather than unwittingly destroy something he loves, as his ancestor Caddard Strong-Eye killed his wife.

His friend Gry also rejects her heritage, her Gift: she will not call animals to the hunt.

To see that your life's a story while you're in the middle of living it may be a help to living it well. It's unwise, though, to think you know how it's going to go, or how it's going to end. That's to be known only when it's over.

Orrec's mother Melle is a Lowlander, without a Gift: only the Uplanders have Gifts, one per family. Yet she does have a talent, and that's story-telling. After visiting the Drum holding so that Orrec can be introduced to a marriageable girl, Melle falls sick. Her story-telling 'carried [them] out of the dark and the cold and the dreary boredom of being useless': and Melle begins to write down the stories she tells her son, teaching him to tell them too.

In the end it's Gry who, picking through the stories, begins to understand the nature of the Gifts: that they can be used 'forward as well as backward', for good as well as harm. Orrec is feared for his blindfold, for his destructive potential: he's on his way to becoming a living weapon. Gry , and Orrec's dog Coaly, and the arrival of Emmon (a thief and vagabond from the Lowlands) help him to learn the other aspects of his Gift -- and to discover the truth behind what his father has told him about the Caspro gift.

Le Guin's prose is lucid and simple and spare. There's seldom poetry, and no need for it because of the clarity of description.

I believed the story as I told it to myself, but not when it was over... I told it to myself so often that I wore it out, and then I had no story to tell at all.

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