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Wizard's School

Sun, Sep 02, 2001 00:13AM -0600

Since I've gone off about how most fantasy is derivative of Tolkien, I thought I'd talk about another of my favorite fantasy/science-fiction writers who is very original--Ursula K Le Guin. It really didn't occur to me until now that I have read a good number of her multitudes of books (though there are many more that I haven't). I started in junior high with The Wizard of Earthsea and then worked my way through the trilogy (which became a tetralogy, then a quintology....) In fact, in a fit of crazed insomnia, I read The Other Wind, the latest book in the series, in a few hours the other day.

It wasn't until the summer between my sophomore and junior years in college that I started on her science fiction novels. The one that everyone seems to cite is The Left Hand of Darkness and with good cause. This book is awesome. I felt like it left an impression on my soul. And this is just one of the many books and short stories she has set in her interstellar future universe. After that, I immediately sped through Rocannon's World, Planet of Exile, and City of Illusions. I then read another collection of her stories that included The Word for World Is Forest and then went on to Four Ways to Forgiveness I finally read The Dispossesedlast summer. I still have to read The Lathe of Heaven as well as numerous other titles.

The latest book set in her future is The Telling, inspired by the Cultural Revolution in China and its attempt to destroy China's spiritual legacy as well as by the ever expanding McGlobalization of the world's economies. Le Guin is one of my heroes.

But what I wanted to write about is the similarities between The Wizard of Earthsea and the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling. It had occurred to me when I had finished the latest book last year, but then it came up on a thread on the Ekumen listserv. Someone cited the following snippet (an article from bookmagazine.com):

This year's phenomenon of publishing, J.K Rowling's Harry Potter books, both pleases and puzzles Ursula Le Guin. "I'm glad kids are reading," she says. "But when grownups sit around saying that there's never been anything like Harry Potter, well, gee, I had a wizard school in 1968 (in A Wizard of Earthsea). These people simply haven't been reading this stuff. They've been sneering at fantasy until the huge success of a fantasy made them read it. "And then they say there's nothing like this, and it breaks my heart. When I think of all the great fantasies around. And [J.K.] Rowling has certainly read me; it's obvious she's read me." To Le Guin, J.R.R. Tolkien, with The Lord of the Rings, remains the model to follow. "The top," she says unequivocally. "Anyone who wants to write fantasy has to have read him." --Ellen Emry Heltzel

So that's why I thought it was pertinent to my little screed yesterday.

But, yeah, if you liked the Harry Potter books, you should definitely read the Earthsea books. The first three and the last one are very, very short--I think my sister read the first one in about an hour. Oh yeah, and there's a collection of short stories entitled Tales from Earthsea. Those are definitely worth reading as well.

Oh, and another random thing: it really tripped me out when I found out she is the daughter of the Kroebers (who are famous because of Ishi.) So she grew up in Berkeley, and the anthropology building is named after her parents, and she has expressed somewhat obliquely in different bits of her writing as to why anthropologists are evil (even now).... This is why I don't think it's just an off-the-cuff opinion. But other than this, I know nothing about anthropology.

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