The Other Wind (The Earthsea Cycle, Book 6)
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This is very much the ancient view: the Hebrew Sheol, the underworld of the Greeks and Romans. Having a vague idea of this, I assented to Le Guin's version; and that Sparrowhawk, in closing the gap in the stone wall between the worlds, terminally exhausted his magical power, made a good deal of sense. We had, to use the now-fashionable word, closure. So I was surprised to learn that, 12 years ago, Le Guin extended the trilogy to a tetralogy: slightly overlapping with events in The Farthest Shore, Tehanu concentrated on the ex-high priestess of Atuan, now living among the goats of Sparrowhawk's native island, Gont.
It maintained the consistency of the series but otherwise turned the premises of fantasy literature upside-down. The ex-priestess, Tenar, brings up a girl, found hideously scarred, raped, and abandoned in a camp-fire by a gang of Gontish robbers - when was the last time you found a raped child in a children's story? This is a direct address to the powers of evil; not some night-black bogeyman conjured up by magic, but quotidian, common evil. And a specifically male evil at that. Le Guin has brought feminism into her world, and because she's such a good writer, it's not drum-banging, didactic feminism; it's an examination of root inequality, from why women aren't wizards they can do piddling little pot-mending spells, capricious love-charms, and that's about it , to why some men won't do the washing-up.
And then there's this.
Earthsea: The Other Wind Vol. 5 by Ursula K. Le Guin (, Hardcover) for sale online | eBay
In conversation with a half-bonkers village witch, the ex-priestess listens politely to the following speech. They are discussing the loss of Sparrowhawk's powers.
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But over the next few paragraphs you get it: she's talking about the enforced celibacy of wizards. Tenar and Sparrowhawk have never slept together - fine, that simply does not happen in children's stories. But Le Guin has grown up - or rather, her readers have, and if she's going to go to all that effort to imagine a universe, she's going to do it properly.
Which means that in comes sex. The final book - it must be - of the Earthsea pentalogy wraps it all up. One of the problems which nagged at the child's mind when encountering Earthsea was this: is it our world, or another one entirely? Earthsea is like pre-industrial Earth in every crucial respect except for the matter of magic.
It even has slavery. So why isn't it Earth? Children push this successfully to the back of their minds, adults less so. That's why they move on to Henry James.
But Le Guin has worked out why women can't do proper spells, why her version of death is so nightmarish, and, indeed, why there is magic at all - and what it does to the world, for all the fancy talk of balance that the authorities draw on. In The Other Wind the premise is very similar to The Farthest Shore - but this time the dead are appearing in dreams, reaching over the stone wall, even dismantling it, and trying to draw us in. Gradually, in a masterpiece of chilling narration, the whole living world becomes unable to sleep. And to fix that, the world has to become like our own, to become like our un-magical selves: to grow up.
But there is more to The Other Wind than that: Le Guin's consistency now becomes revealed as a kind of destiny, a drive towards democracy if you like, an implicit impatience with the highfalutin genealogies such bogus mythologies are compelled to recite. Marvellously, the book contains humour, which is otherwise a kind of universal acid to children's fable: if it is funny, it corrodes everything it touches.
Earthsea: The Other Wind Vol. 5 by Ursula K. Le Guin (2001, Hardcover)
Here it actually works. And the real magic now is the magic of writing. Early on, someone tries a spell on some goats to see if he has any magic power: "Noth hierth malk man," and so on. It doesn't work: "The goats looked at him with alert disdain and moved away a little. Has anyone ever come up with two better words to describe the way goats look at you? That - well, that's just uncanny.
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Topics Books. Return to Earthsea with Ged, the brash young wizard who survived the enchanted labyrinth of The Tombs of Atuan.
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In the third episode of this brilliant fantasy saga, a much older Ged sets off on a harrowing quest for the source of a terrible darkness that is taking the magic out of Earthsea. Years before, they had escaped together from the sinister Tombs of Atuan - she an isolated young priestess, he a powerful wizard. Now she is a farmer's widow, having chosen for herself the simple pleasures of an ordinary life. And he is a broken old man, mourning the powers lost to him not by choice. A lifetime ago they helped each other at a time of darkness and danger.
Now they must join forces again to help another - the physically and emotionally scarred child whose own destiny remains to be revealed. The tales of this book explore and extend the world established by the Earthsea novels - yet each stands on its own. Concluding with with an account of Earthsea's history, people, languages, literature, and magic. The sorcerer Alder fears sleep. The dead are pulling him to them at night. Through him they may free themselves and invade Earthsea.
Ursula K. Le Guin
Alder seeks advice from Ged, once Archmage. Ged tells him to go to Tenar, Tehanu, and the young king at Havnor. They are joined by amber-eyed Irian, a fierce dragon able to assume the shape of a woman. The threat can be confronted only in the Immanent Grove on Roke, the holiest place in the world, and there the king, hero, sage, wizard, and dragon make a last stand. Earthsea 6 books in series. A Wizard of Earthsea Publisher's Summary. Book 1.