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Book thoughts: Earthsea Cycle (books 1-4)

Somehow, I never got around to reading the Earthsea series by Ursula LeGuin. Late last year, I was in my favorite used bookstore with a 20% off discount card, and I decided this was one of the things to remedy. So I bought the first four books, and finally finished reading them today.

It was good, but I didn't fall in love with them the way so many people have. Of the four, I liked The Tombs of Atuan the best, followed by Tehanu; the other two I was more lukewarm on. I enjoyed them well enough, I'm glad I read them, but something is missing for me, and I think it comes down to two things: the pacing, and Ged.

I don't dislike Ged, at all, and in Tombs of Atuan, especially, I liked him quite well. But I felt like I had too much distance from him, especially in A Wizard of Earthsea, which was supposed to be telling his story. I wanted a better view into his head, a better grip on what he was thinking and feeling. It made it hard for me to invest in him, and given that he's the central character in the series, it followed that I had a harder time investing in the books. It led to a lot of "telling not showing" in terms of how other characters were reacting to him, especially young Arren. Why is he inspiring such awe and devotion?

This is related to my other issue with the books, which was the pacing. Long sections of exposition, not a great balance for books that are this short, and the only one of the four that didn't feel rushed in the resolution was Tombs of Atuan. This might be personal preference, and it might be my modern reading tastes, but I had a hard time sinking in to any of the others, losing myself in the characters and their world.

I do want to mention one other thing about Tehanu; when I was talking to Jed about my progress in reading the series (I was working on Farthest Shore at the time, and finding it slow going), he mentioned that he avoided reading Tehanu for many years because people described it to him as a "feminist polemic". This is a theme I see in GoodReads reviews, too, and I find it troublesome. Unless the very fact of pointing out that women are oppressed in a society that doesn't allow them to own land or practice magic or hold positions of authority make a book a "polemic", it doesn't even come close. Yes, the book certainly deals with themes regarding the treatment of women in the world of the book (in ways that reflect on our own world), but I found the touch fairly deft, even as LeGuin was making her points. If this is what a feminist polemic looks like, then I say the world needs a whole lot more of them.

This entry is also posted at http://owlmoose.dreamwidth.org/581968.html. There are currently comment count unavailable comments on DW.

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