A Dark Fantasy

Brook Wolfe '07 English 65, Fantasy, Brown University, 2003

Ursula K. LeGuin creates a very dark world of fantasy in which the characters and settings can be compared to fantasies more directed to young people, the Chronicles of Narnia, and the prime example of all modern fantasy, The Lord of the Rings. Very young adults can read LeGuin's novels and enjoy them for their fantastic elements, but it takes a bit more of an educated mind fully to comprehend her desire to portray an anthropological setting. She presents the idea of Eastern religion like the peaceful and contemplative Taoism, a religion of meditation and philosophy on life, while also incorporating Christian beliefs similar to C.S. Lewis. One may note her anthropological background in her portrayal of Earthsea society and its beliefs in comparison with the qualities of human society as we know it.

People without power are only half-alive. They don't count. They don't know what they dream; they're afraid of the dark. But others, the lord of men, aren't afraid to go into the dark. We have strength.

"So long as we know the names of things."

"But names don't matter there -- that's the point, that's the point! It isn't what you do, what you know, that you need. Spells are no good. You have to forget all that, to let it go. That's where eating hazia helps; you forget the names, you let the forms of things go, you go straight to the reality. I'm going to be going pretty soon now; if you want to find out where, you ought to do as I say. I say as he does. You must be a lord of men to be a lord of life. You have to find the secret. I could tell you its name but what's a name? A name isn't real, the real, the real forever."

Questions

1. No power means you're only half-alive and when names are gone, "the words and the fear gone" (69). Is LeGuin trying to say something about (or perhaps criticizing) the importance of power and titles in our society?

2. Eating hazia makes you "forget the names, you let the forms of things go, you go straight to the reality" (70). Does this match up with any aspect of Taoism or any other Eastern religions we see LeGuin portray?

3. Is the quotation, "you must be lord of men to be lord of life" (70) parallel to some Christian beliefs? Aslan was lord over Narnia and its inhabitants but does that make him lord of life? On page 72, what does it mean to be lord of the shadow?

4. "Hard as a rock, that profile" (70), "snub nose, bland look" (69) are all physical descriptions of the character Hare in Earthsea. In what ways does Hare parallel Aragorn from Lord of the Rings?

5. On page 77 the tongue is described as a black root. James of the New Testament states "no man can tame the tongue, it is restless evil, full of deadly poison" (James 3:8, NIV).

6. Does the third book in the Earthsea trilogy parallel one specific book in the Narnia series?

References

Le Guin, Ursula K. The Farthest Shore. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1972.


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Last modified 14 March 2004