Hearing Magic

Audible is having a 3 books for 2 credits sale, and I noticed that all 3 books of Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea trilogy were in it. Sold. I didn’t even care whether the narrator, Robert Inglis, was any good (he is).

I have read these books many, many times over the past *cough* 35 *cough* years or so. I have taught A Wizard of Earthsea in my Children’s Literature class. So I know them well, and I admire them deeply. I think Le Guin is a great writer and story-teller. But I never understood what a great prose stylist she is until I heard her words in Inglis’ deep, somewhat sonorous voice.

Many of the sentences have the rhythm of epic or saga, The Odyssey or Beowulf. And what style could be more fitting for a story about a boy who goes on a journey to defeat a monster that turns out to be part of himself? The sentences aren’t pretentious or difficult–I first fell for this book when I was about 10, and though I understand it differently now, I wouldn’t say I understand it better. But they are poetry. I am enraptured.

Here are some examples, lineated as if they were poetry, sort of:

Ged boards a ship for the Isle of Roke:

The oarsmen cam leaping aboard,
sturdy men with great arms,
while longshoremen rolled water barrels thundering
out the dock

Rowing through a storm at sea:

so they laboured among the waves
that ran like smoking mountains under the wind,
while the rain beat hard and cold on their backs,
and the drum thumped through the noise of the storm
like a heart thumping

The Archmage Nemmerle, Warder of Roke:

His voice quavered like a bird’s voice when he spoke,
welcoming Ged kindly.
His hair and beard and robe were white,
and he seemed as if all darkness and heaviness
had been leached out of him
by the slow usage of the years,
leaving him white and worn as driftwood

I can’t make you hear what I’m hearing, of course. What joy to find new pleasures in an old favorite.

P.S. This is not a new recording. At one point, I was informed I had reached the end of cassette one, and should fast forward to the end before I started cassette two. Is that the digital audio equivalent of a badly OCR-scanned ebook?

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12 Responses to Hearing Magic

  1. willaful says:

    It’s interesting you saying that, because I remember LeGuin writing about Tolkein’s strong rhythm in _The Language of the Night_.

    I was just thinking I should reread these… I have only ever reread The Tombs of Atuan, which I adore. (The recent Dr. Who ripoff made me quite stabby. Poor hub tried to watch while I was sitting there going, “They stole that! Those bastards!” every five seconds.)

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      Have you read the later books? I couldn’t love them as much as something I discovered in childhood, but I liked the older Tenar a lot. And I read something interesting by LeGuin where she talked about questioning the male quest fantasy approach of the earlier books and wanting to write fantasy from a more female point of view (that is a super rough paraphrase). Tombs of Atuan really creates a fascinating world, and I love Tenar–I think the first book is still my absolute favorite.

      • willaful says:

        I haven’t, which is one of the reasons I want to reread. Tehanu came up in a recent Charlotte Stein book and reminded me I hadn’t read it!

        Overdrive only has it narrated by Harlan Ellison… I’m dubious…

  2. sonomalass says:

    I love these books so much. I performed a selection from the first book in prose competitions one year in college, because the rhythm of the language was so wonderful, and the imagery so evocative. I had to carry the book around to prove to people that it wasn’t verse (a separate competition). I wonder if there’s a Kindle edition. *wanders off to look*

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      Oh, I can see how they would work well for that. I certainly admired the prose before, but I never really *heard* those rhythms. I am enjoying listening so much.

  3. willaful says:

    Hmm… regular library has it by Inglis on Playaway. Kind of hate those, but perhaps I’ll give them another whack.

  4. kaetrin says:

    Liz – given that you first read these books when you were 10, would you recommend them for my 11 year old son? He likes fantasy – his favourites are the Garth Nix Keys to the Kingdom series, Eragon, the Belgariad. Thx 🙂

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      He could certainly try! They are less action-oriented than those, I’d say, but they are written for that age group (unlike the two later Earthsea books).

  5. victoriajanssen says:

    LeGuin is the awesomest. That is all.

  6. Janine Ballard says:

    Le Guin (her surname is spelled with a space) also has a terrific book of writing exercises, Steering the Craft. The first chapter is called “The Sound of Your Writing.”

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      That is a great title.

      I think I did it both with and without the space. I was experimenting with writing a post in the iPad app, and that made it harder to proofread.

      • Janine Ballard says:

        There is also a subtitle, so the full title is Steering the Craft: Exercises and Discussions on Story Writing for the Lone Navigator or the Mutinous Crew.

        You’re not the only one to do that. I misspell her name a lot of the time. I can never remember if it’s done with a space or without unless I look it up.

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