Wednesday, 1 July 2020

A Wizard of Earthsea

I've always been a fan of the Ghibli Tales from Earthsea, but never actually read the original series. I thought I'd give it a whirl with A Wizard of Earthsea (1968). 

I felt like I was fairly familiar with the world because of the Ghibli adaptation, but enjoyed getting the details. Weirdly, though, it reminded me a bit of Treasure Island in that you start off on this swashbuckling adventure... then the main character gets stuck on a boat for a few chapters. Very atmospheric though, and nice imagery.

Still the wind grew stronger, tearing the edges of the great waves into flying tatters of foam.


Once, in that court, he had felt himself to be a word spoken by the sunlight. Now the darkness had also spoken. A word that could not be unsaid.


Out of the sea there rise storms and monsters, but no evil powers. Evil is of earth. And there is no sea, no running of river or spring, in the dark land where once Ged had gone. Death is the dry place.


So, of the Song of the Shadow, there remain only a few scraps of legend, carried like driftwood from isle to isle over the long years.

There's a strong emphasis on needing to know the true names of things in order to hold power over them. It made me think of the cultures that refuse to speak a person's name after death, and those that sing the names of places in order to navigate the landscape. A very primal belief. 

Something that bothers me a bit is the fan art. I do like a nice bit of fan art, but in the case of EarthSea, it really seems to have been whitewashed. That's not unusual for anime, as, for some reason, Japanese anime seems to favour white-skinned and often blue-eyed characters. There's an interesting discussion about this. But, in this case, it's still very questionable. It's especially questionable when you Google 'EarthSea fan art.' There's a definite distinction between those who have drawn from the concept, and those who have drawn true to the book. The main character, Ged, is described as having 'red-brown' skin, whereas Vetch has very dark 'black-brown' skin, if I recall. Yet there's a significant amount of artwork that features an all-white cast.

A quick Google search reveals I'm not the only one to have noticed this. There are some truly indefensible examples in that article, such as casting Chris Gauthier as the black-brown Vetch in a 2004 mini-series. I wonder what Ursula Le Guin must have thought of that. It must be a bit soul-destroying to have the colour of your characters' skin changed, I assume, for marketing reasons? Rather disturbing.

Anyway, let's drift back into 'dream peace', that nice few moments before waking fully from a pleasant dream. There are some lovely turns of phrase in this. I may continue with the series at some point.

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