January 27, 2016
The Priority of Atmosphere in A Wizard of Earthsea
I just re-read Ursula K. Le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea (1968). Such a wonderful novel. What distinguishes it, I think, is the nuanced intensity with which Le Guin renders her secondary fantasy setting and fictional cultures. Earthsea is just as important a character as the protagonist, the transgressing magician, Ged. I propose that the world, the atmosphere of Earthsea, subordinates the characters and the narrative. This is a dangerous aesthetic experiment, I think, and risks frustrating the expectations of some enthusiasts of popular fantasy fiction who come to her work because of comparisons between it and J.R.R. Tolkien. Such readers, to generalize, are just as invested in good stories, engaging narrative events, conflicts, and resolutions as compelling secondary fantasy worlds and fictional cultures. There are times when Le Guin's narrative pace slows, but her atmospherics are always engaging. The strangeness and beauty of her fictional world is a satisfying payoff for me, and I find, as I read her work, that I am o.k. with lingering over specific scenes, such as Ged having tea in a hut with his former master, Ogion.