Book: The farthest shore - Livre d'Or — LiveJournal

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Book: The farthest shore
Wednesday, 28 February 2007 at 10:43 pm

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Author: Ursula Le Guin

Details: (c) Inter-Vivos trust for the Le Guin children 1973; Pub Penguin 1993 (compendium edition); ISBN 0-14-015427-2

Verdict: The farthest shore is almost the perfect YA fantasy novel.

Reasons for reading it: I chanced on a nice convenient single volume edition of the Earthsea trilogy plus Tehanu and I've been working through it at a leisurely pace

How it came into my hands: The lovely Galloway & Porter discount bookshop in Cambridge, a couple of years ago now.

The Farthest Shore just works. It has all the strengths of the earlier two, and almost none of the weaknesses. The language is heart-breakingly beautiful as only Le Guin can manage. The characterization is really superlative, and the problem of Ged being over-powered is resolved in a highly satisfactory way. And it's a great story, with an amazing range of emotional tone, exciting and tragic and heartening and unexpected yet archetypal. Wonderful.

Arren is up there with the great heroes of children's literature. He's amazingly human and teenaged, but in a way that doesn't jar against also being the messianic figure foretold by an ancient prophecy. I think what impressed me most is that he is like an actual teenager rather than the popular idea of what a teenager is like, and he's certainly more than ordinary but not without flaws.

There are ways that the plot is directly parallel to The return of the King, (even down to a convenient mythological winged creature showing up so the heroes can hitch a ride out of a hopeless situation), but amazingly neither book is diminished thereby. It's very much its own book and it's allusive rather than derivative.

The only aspect that I'm less than wildly enthusiastic about is the moral message. It's a subtle one about suffering being part of life, and people not being wholly good or evil, but I did feel that the book veers into being slightly preachy at times. Plus, there's the sense that the world is set up to make the preferred moral system work, which is perhaps a little bit cheating. (The "don't take drugs, kids" part of the moral message is just irritating, mind you.) I suspect I might have loved this stuff as a young teenager, when the kinds of ideas discussed were new to me. There was definitely a time in my life when I needed a story about loss of innocence and rejecting a child's expectation of fairness, but without falling into cynicism and nihilism, and I think tFS would have filled that slot extremely well.

The other flaw, if you can call it that, is that there is just too little of it. The world-building, and the adventure, and the language, and the tackling difficult moral issues, how can all that be covered in just 150 pages?! I want more, not a sequel but more expansion of the themes. But it's a deeply emotionally nourishing book all the same.

Whereaboooots: Earthsea
Moooood: touchedmoved
Tuuuuune: Mercury Rev: Sweet Oddysee of a cancer cell...
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usuakari: default
Date:March 3rd, 2007 03:31 pm (UTC)
2 days after journal entry, March 4th, 2007 01:31 am (usuakari's time)
I'm a little startled to discover that you hadn't read it already, and I assume have yet to read Tehanu. I first econuntered A Wizard of Earthsea when I was 9 or 10 from memory, and the others not long after, with diversions into The Hobbitand The Lord of the Rings, Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising series, and beginning Anne McCaffery's dragonriders series along the way. It took me until I was 19 or so to read Tehanu though... partly because I wasn't aware it existed before that.

I think The Farthest Shore remains my favourite of the lot, although the last one (The Other Wind) is almost impossible to compete against. For the use of language, characterisation (although I like Ged better than Arren, and Ged just continues to get more interesting as he ages), some of the concepts you mention, and my own sentimental reasons. And I find its brevity a remarkable feature. A short but dense book.

Interesting point about the the deus ex machina employed in both The Farthest Shore and Return of the King. I may agree with you a little, but what a device the dragon is! It/he/she craps all over the eagles for impact and presence (although I do love what PJ and his crew did with the eagles in the movie version of ROTK), and, like Ged, the dragons only improve with age and expansion. Le Guin and Tolkien write the best dragons around: clever, capricious, alien, passingly understandable, and, well... just dragonish. It's because of them that I have dragons listed as an interest on my User Info page. All the others are just wishy-washy in comparison to creatures like Kalessin and Glaurung.
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cartesiandaemon: default
Date:March 4th, 2007 04:47 am (UTC)
3 days after journal entry
BTW, I think "Earthsea quartet" is unambiguous when referring to the four books :)

Oh, cool. Earthsea was one of the books mum and I both really loved. It's interesting which one you preferred -- I'm sure when I first read Wizard of Earthsea I loved it, thought it was so interesting and cool, and then couldn't get into Tombs of Atuan at all. But a few years later I loved *that* and could see how Wizard of Earthsea wasn't 100% perfect after all. But didn't really get into Farthest Shore. *Now* I really liked Farthest Shore, but am still learning to like Tehanu... I assume I will :)

I loved the metaphysics. I thought it was all very cool. I like Ged and Arren. I thought the way what happened in the black land and with the sorcerer on the island was all very ominous.

I had a couple of quibbles. A few things nearly felt right, but nagged at me. It was never really explained what the passage in the mountains, or the dry spring, really were all about.

The dry wall imagery for death is really nice. But the land is appropriately creepy -- but so depressing to think that *that* is what we have after...

Come to think of it, I really am impressed that both Tombs and this are stories of Ged that obviously become vast legends, yet don't seem silly.

there's the sense that the world is set up to make the preferred moral system work, which is perhaps a little bit cheating.

I didn't notice that particularly here, though maybe I should reread it again. That *is* very annoying though. It can be a very effective technique -- for instance, in Narna. But it feel like a cop out, -- in Philip Pulman, I didn't feel the suggested connection between *that* God and any God in this world, so didn't really care if that God was important or not...

She did go on to do that in a way though. Tehanu, and some of her short stories annoyed me for the way they seemed to try to retrofit the world to pretend it had always been set up to act in accordance with a new theme that while very laudable seem to undermine the strengths it used to have.
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