It was with much trepidation that I finally decided to read The Other Wind, the fifth Earthsea book by Ursula LeGuin. I had really disliked Tehanu(1) and have a pretty low opinion of writers returning to series they haven't written about in years.
Unfortunately it was even worse than I expected.
The Other Wind seems to be an attempt by LeGuin to 'fix' the first three books. The only problem being the things she is fixing either aren't real issues, or her fix is worse than the inciting incident.
The first 'fix' is for a real issue the original books had. Not a major issue(2) but it's there. It's implicit and explicit misogyny of Earthsea's magical hierarchy.
The explicit is a single line. "There is a saying on Gont, Weak as woman's magic, and there is another saying, Wicked as woman's magic." And the implicit is that there are no female students on Roke.
LeGuin creates The Rule of Roke to explain the school being a sausage-fest, and then to explain why mages invoke TRoR explained that they believe that sexy-times with a woman is liable to sap their magical mojo. At this point I face palmed so hard that grey stuff started squirting out my ears.
Let's get real for a moment; the most likely reason that The Wizard of Earthsea has a male only school of wizardry is because SF/F was seen as a predominantly male market at the time and the school is roughly based on medieval monastic schools.
I think the main reason I was so bowled over by the whole misogyny/Girl Cooty thing is because it didn't fit in with the stories as I read them. The picture painted of Ged's time in Low Torning was so idyllic that I felt sure that if it hadn't been for the encroaching Shadow he would never have left. I can easily see him settling down there, casting spells on peoples homes and boats, meeting a girl at a dance and ... well you know the rest. The next homey scene we see is in Iffish where Ged's friend Vetch lived. And I always thought that Vetch was carrying on the family business. He is certainly in the old family home.
The third scene that puts paid to the Girl Cooty business is in The Farthest Shore. When Ged and Arren visit Lorbanery they meet what is left of the family of the Dyers of Lorabanery. See that word I used there - Family? Ged doesn't seem at all surprised by this. He fails to ask Akaren if she got her powers by stealing them from her husband(who it seems was the weather worker in the family). He instead tells her "like knows like." when she seems to recognise him. Later after he has been forced to rename her he tells Arren
"She was a woman of power. No mere witch or potion-maker, but a woman of art and skill."
His tone is full of respect and so completely misses his opportunity to wonder how a whole family could all be wizards since it is well known on Roke(so much so that they even made a rule about it!) that celibacy is necessary for real magic to be practiced.
To 'fix' this I am going to suggest something I would normally not suggest in any other circumstance. Alter the original book.(3)
If you felt you had to you could cut the "Woman's magic" line(although it is said that this is a purely Gontish saying) and then change the FOUR whole references to a male student body to something more PC. Hell I would even be okay with making Vetch a female student and perhaps even a couple of the Masters(Chanter and Windkey would be good picks)
I'm not going to go into any depth about the other two things from the original books that needed 'fixing'(I have ranted enough) but the first was the land of the dead(all those empty husks walking around aimlessly were soooo untidy!), and the second was rehabilitating the Earth Spirits(the entities that were worshipped at Atuan and held in the Stone of Terrenon).
Now apart from these not being things that needed fixing, by going ahead and doing it anyway tells the readers of the early books; "You know that Ged guy you followed around and had adventures with, and who was a guide for Tenar and Arren. This man, whose great skill was to discover the True Names of things, which to quote Ogion who said "you may learn its true name, knowing its being; which is much more than its use", Well everything he said is crap and you are a fool for believing him."
Believe it or not, tearing down the hero of the first three books, making him blind to misogyny, and clueless about some of the other major magic influences in the world of EarthSea doesn't in fact lead to a satisfying end to the series. It is like Ms LeGuin went to see Star Wars I-III and agreed with George Lucas that a million kids fondest memories should cry out in terror and be silenced.
Apart from all the above, the book is narratively unfocused. There is no clear idea of whose story it is. Tehanu is confirmed to be the important Woman of Gont, but the book ends with her having to make a choice at a later date.
Is it Tenar who's role is observer and facilitator but can't make any of the important decisions?
Arren has to either fight or negotiate with the Dragons who have suddenly decided to lay to waste everything people have built in Earthsea but really is more worried about a prospective arranged marriage with Seserakh the Kargish princess.
Then there is the second dragon girl(similar to Tehanu), Orm Irian who we are only introduced to in the last third of the book.
It should be the story of Alder the mage-mender who precipitates events when his magic using wife dies(4). He is so distraught that his soul travels to the wall of death when he sleeps so he can still see her. But his problems get shunted to one side for much of the book and then solved in a disconcertingly easy manner with far too few repercussions for his story to be satisfying.
But at least the shippers will be happy since now Ged is not a mage anymore he has finally married Tenar(Fuck! More grey stuff just spurted out my ears).
If you read this far down will you answer a question for me? Assuming you have read A Wizard of Earthsea, were you concerned or feel unwanted when you read about Roke? As a boy it was my societal privilege not to notice or be concerned about another boys club, but did you find it jarring or wrong?
(1)Aside from having a different narrative structure and giving Sparrowhawk PTSD, introducing rape, prostitution and abuse followed by the attempted murder of a child into what had been child friendly reads was a mistake to say the least.
(2)Well not a problem for me, anyway.
(3)If the new edition is fixing typos that's fine. If it is adding 2-300 pages because you don't feel you fulfilled your vision or some other garbage, cry me a fucking river and leave the damn thing alone!
(4)Hey! Another wizard who didn't lose his abilities along with his virginity.
dweomeroflight sent me a "Name Ten Books that influenced You" dare. In theory I should name ten people too but I'm not. If you want to play though...
Madeline(Ludwig Bemelmans) - I don't really remember this book being significant really, but Mum's stories about how I wanted to get all the books from the library and never return them shows early onset Setitis. So far an incurable condition.
The Weirdstone of Brisingamen(Alan Garner) - I read this in grade three. It started my interest in reading. Alan later gave me my first WTF! ending with The Owl Service.
The Dark is Rising(Susan Cooper) - The first book I remember being so hooked on I had to finish it in one sitting (under the covers with purloined salada biscuits from the kitchen to fortify me until 4am).
Plague Ship(Andre Norton) - A great SF yarn I got through Ashton Scholastic. AS had a bad habit of buying only one book of a series meaning I had to go out and find the other books as best I could. It took me decades to find the other Solar Queen novels.
Knight's Fee(Rosemary Sutcliff) - This medieval tale not only led me to read Rosemary's other books which in turn fired my interest in ancient cultures and folklore, it was the first story with a bitter-sweet ending. Gone was my expectation of happily-ever-after!
Lord of the Rings(JRR Tolkien) - My fist BIG book. The school library had the omnibus edition with FotR, TT, and RotK in one(but no appendices!) That was quite a read and utterly enthralling(but not recommended since it means the story ends with Sam being left behind :-(( ).
The Song of Mavin Manyshaped(Serri S Tepper) - Sherri S Tepper stands alone in the way she presents her version of morality and feminism. Only in a fantasy setting could the brutality of what characters do to each other here still be shown in what is marketed as a YA/Juvenile story.
Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy(Douglas Adams) - Science Fiction has never been this clever and funny. Over all Terry Pratchett(who did this for fantasy) might be better, but he wasn't first.
Lord Foul's Bane(Stephen Donaldson) - Welcome to the world of Adult Fantasy.
The Mysterious Mr Quin(Agatha Christie) - Not a conventional Christie book, but one of my favs. While the mysteries still are based in a hard and fast, well thouhght out reality, the romance and fantasy element lend these stories that little bit extra.
While Lieutenant General David Morrison is talking directly about sexism, as you can see from the parts I quoted below, it talks equally about any form of denigration and injustice meted out on members of a group.
Some key quotes edited slightly to make them universal (in italics):
"Those who think that it is okay to behave in a way that demeans or exploits their colleagues have no place here"
"If that does not suit you then get out! You may find another employer where your attitude and behaviour is acceptable, but I doubt it. The same goes for those that think that toughness is built on humiliating others."
"No one has ever explained to me how the exploitation or degradation of others enhances our community's viability."
"The Standard you walk past is the Standard you accept"
"If you aren't up to it, find something else to do with your life. There is no place for you amongst this band of brothers and sisters."
I had to admit that I hadn't really read Rue as being black. I had just assumed that people from her district were heavily tanned from working out doors all day in the fishing boats(yeah I got the district wrong. It has been a long time since I read the books). Of course to me it didn't really matter, I don't have a fixation with "colour" in that way.
So after I had got Rue's District wrong, my friend corrected me. Rue was from District 11 - the Farming District. Then, since we were both thinking about racism, the connection between racism and work broached itself.
"So how rascist is it to make all the black people farmers? Jeez, I hope they weren't responsible for the cotton crop."
Fighting the won war.
On related matters, an update on my post of July 8th "Things were better when...". I have continued my reading of public domain short stories from the 40s and 50s and have found no additional stories with a female lead in the last two months. I will let you know if things change(alhough I am not holding my breath).
I just can't beging to describe how stupid this is.
Look at the headline of this piece. Doesn't look good does it? How can anyone expect to be able to spin the fact that author groups are so afraid of losing money from Life+70 years of copyright that they need to sue what most see as the bastions of knowledge, the organisations that preserve our history, creativity, science and culture.
When most people look at the headlines they won't see the complexities of the issues(asuming there are any). They will just see that the people who write books in the US and Aus want to sue libraries. They won't see that it is only a few industry groups or how limited the scope of what they really want is, they will only see that authors want to sue libraries.
This is a seriously idiotic move that can do nothing but alienate people against writers and creative people. Everyone who is even remotely connected with the industry will be affected by peoples perceptions that AUTHORS WANT TO SUE LIBRARIES!
Authors Guild sues universities over book digitization projects
Authors Guild, Australian Society of Authors, Quebec Writers Union Sue Five U.S. Universities
So I typed "The Dark is Rising first line" into the search bar and chose the TV Tropes link.(3)
The first thing I realised when I, somewhat glazed of eye, finally managed to draw myself from the page was never go to TV Tropes if you value your time; secondly, that anyone who tells you they are writing totally original fiction is talking out of their arses(the authors of The Dark is Rising page identified 168 major tropes plus any number of sub-tropes); and lastly that perhaps being unoriginal isn't so bad. As I said I was going to the page because the book and series are one of my all time favourite reads, and nothing that I read has changed my opinion. It is all about, I suppose, stopping that trope you are about to use from becoming a cliche, or at least using it cleverly so it isn't too obvious that you are using a Capitalised Contrivance.
Some of the tropes listed I don't really agree with. For instance the writer suggest the Ho Yay(or Homoeritcism, yay) meme. Now the Ho Yay meme does allow that scenes which could at first glance be seen as Homoerotic may be less so in context, but really, the main characters are at most 12 or 13! Why are people even wanting to colour what they do with sexual sterotypes? They are still children for God's sake!
Some of the tropes I did like though(4) includes:
Chekhov's Boomerang - A plot device that gets reused. It must be pretty obvious that it would be easy to do this badly, but makes the pay-off even bigger when done right.
The Constant - A person or thing within time travel stories that lives through history while key characters or the readers jump around between points.
Death by Newbury Medal -"The dog always dies. Go to the library and pick out a book with an award sticker and a dog on the cover. Trust me, that dog is going down." —Wallace Wallace, No More Dead Dogs
Did Mum Just Have Tea With Cuthlu - A great name for the idea that someone comes home to find an enemy sitting chatting with the folks.
Nietzsche Wannabe - A nihilistic philosopher who always lectures about how morality, hope, or the general goodness and value of life are meaningless.This one dovetails nicely with the Despair Event Horizon
Nothing is Scarier - Where fear is not induced by some traumatic visual element or by a physical threat, but by the sole lack of event
San Dimas Time - despite time hopping, everything that happens has to fit in withing the timeframe of modern events.
I was going to include the Real Men Wear Pink trope but to tell the truth I think that while the example could be viewed that way(John Rowland plays the lap harp), I wonder if this is a cultural one. A US only(or mostly) insecurity issue. It is obvious from the story that John is highly respected within his community and really it isn't about him doing something unmanly. He is a modern day bard and keeper of tradition. Only people who don't understand how important that would make him in Wales would consider his harp playing as something lesser.
So TV Tropes. Leave it alone unless you have the whole day to kill, or if you must go there don't for the love of Mary, ever go the Tropes page for Lord of the Rings.
(1) For a very loose definition of "just"
(2) Goody, goody!
(3) That was a "real" smart move
(4) I'm not going to provide links for all the tropes I mention
"Too many!" James shouted, and slammed the door behind him. - The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper.
At dawn one still October day in the long ago of the world, across the hill of Alderley, a farmer from Moberley was riding to the Maccelsfield fair. - The Weirdstone of Brisengamen by Alan Garner
Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small, unregarded yellow sun.- The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.
One thing I have learned while reserching this is never go to TV Tropes if you value your time. It won't have been wasted there, but will be gone none the less.