When I was in 7th grade I read Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Of course, I wasn’t the sharpest literary tack back then, and so great sections of The Two Towers and The Return of the King went over my head and, therefore, bored me. But, with the help of the Hildenbrant calendars, enough came through to thrill. I wept at the events in the mines of Moria with Gandalf, geeked out over the elves, orcs, and Nazgul, was fascinated with the Ents and wizards, and generally wanted to stay in that world forever.
When I finished the trilogy, I mourned–the dream was over. I read Smith of Wootton Major and Farmer Giles of Ham. Both were delightful, but neither was the same as LOTR. Then I saw The Silmarillion. It had a cool cover, a map.
Oh, joy! I bought it and took it home.
Alas, that book was about as much fun as reading a ten-pounder on the history of baroque cornices. I tried mightily to push through, but I don’t think I was able to finish more than 15 pages total from all the sections. So I mourned again, and then, still feeling the loss, went looking for something else that might whisk me away.
One of those whisking stories was Ursula LeGuin’s A Wizard of Earthsea. Of course, the fact that there was a wizard in it was important, but as equally delightful to my then puny literary prowess, was that the story was a slim thing. As were its two companions The Tombs of Atuan and The Farthest Shore.
Here’s the cover the drew me in so long ago.
I relished all three and moved on to other stories.
Time passed and I forgot about LeGuin. Almost 10 years later I was newly married. My wonderful new wife started reading to me as we’d drive. And on one of the three-hour drives to her parents, she pulled out this little book and began to read.
It was A Wizard of Earthsea! And it was just as marvelous the second time with a bigger brain as it was the first time with a smaller one. In fact, Nellie’s reading to me was so enjoyable I slowed down to 40 mph so I could extend the 3-hour drive. Of course, she quickly caught on to my scheme, shut the book, and told me she wouldn’t read another word unless I drove 65 mph, at the very least.
What can a guy do? I kept it at 65 (well, 60) and joyed in the wonderfulness of a new wife who would read aloud to me (you mean this model reads, too?!), the night and the stars spread above those lonely Utah and Wyoming roads, and the amazing story unfolding before me.
And this is the cover of the one my wife read to me.
We read all three to each other and moved onto other stories.
More than 15 years passed and I’d mostly forgotten LeGuin (I really never could get into her Hainish stuff). I was in the library looking for some good audio. And there on the shelf stood Tales from Earthsea by Ursual LeGuin.
Just a little slim container of cassettes. Why not? I thought.
Holy heroes, Batman—it was gold. LeGuin’s a master of building that feel: the wonder of fantasy, the mystery of things long forgotten or rumored to exist, the pull of learning arcane powers. I loved every minute of it (well, except for the slogging first four pages of backstory, but get through that, which isn’t too bad with Karr’s reading, and you’re into the kingdom). The first story, “The Finder,” read by Amanda Karr was incredible. It takes us back to how Roke became was it was in the first trilogy. But the delights do not end there. Four more stories follow.
I liked them all so much, I just checked the audiobook out again so I could listen a second time. And, it appears, LeGuin was busy in my absence because she has more Earthsea than this.
• A Wizard of Earthsea, 1968
• The Tombs of Atuan, 1971
• The Farthest Shore, 1972 (Winner of the National Book Award)
• Tehanu: The Last Book of Earthsea, 1990 (Winner of the Nebula Award)
• Tales From Eathersea, 2001 (a collection of short stories)
• The Other Wind, 2001
I just got the last two from Amazon. I can’t wait to enter into LeGuin’s magic spell yet again.