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

Monday, July 02, 2012

2012/28: The Other Wind -- Ursula Le Guin

"I think ... that when I die, I can breathe back the breath that made me live. I can give back to the world all that I didn't do. All that I might have been and couldn't be. All the choices I didn't make. All the things I lost and spent and wasted. I can give them back to the world. To the lives that haven't been lived yet. That will be my gift back to the world that gave me the life I did live, the love I loved, the breath I breathed." (p. 231)

Alder is a sorcerer, recently widowed, whose dreams are haunted by the unquiet dead. When he applies to the School on Roke, they direct him to a small house on Gont. There he meets the former Archmage, Ged, tending his farm and missing his own wife Tenar, who is in Havnor -- the city at the centre of the world -- with their adopted daughter Tehanu. Tenar counsels both the king, Lebannen, and his bride-to be, Seserakh, on their forthcoming marriage: but her conversations with Seserakh are not limited to etiquette or the importance of learning the Hardic tongue. Tenar, after all, was once Arha: and in talking over the rituals and folklore of her lost homeland, she and Seserakh uncover traces of an ancient myth about dragons and men. Tehanu leads the king and his courtiers to a parlay with the dragons themselves, hoping to resolve whatever has caused dragons to attack farms and homesteads (though not humans) out in the Western Reach.

And on Gont, Alder dreams of leaning across the wall in the dry land to kiss his dead wife.

Everything comes together, draconian anger and the whispers of the dead; Alder's nightmares, Ged's past, the duty that chokes Lebannen.
The Other Wind brings together themes from Tehanu (dragons and humans, dragons as humans) and The Farthest Shore (the wall in the dry land that separates the living from the dead). It feels, though, like a modulation, a variation on the Earthsea of the first trilogy.

Tehanu, in some editions subtitled The Last Earthsea Novel, was a powerful and troubling book that I'm glad was only published in 1990: I'd have found some of the events and concepts very difficult to deal with as a child. The Other Wind is less turbulent, less painful, but I can't yet decide whether it makes a lie out of some aspects of the first three novels.

A beautiful, philosophical read, full of moments like raindrops: but behind the quiet glow and simple language, there's a lurking paradigm shift.
"Death is the bond-breaker."
"Then why do the dead not die?" (p. 188)

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