As mentioned previously, the first time I read a book by Le Guin I thought it was absolutely fucking shit. Then I became more depressed and looser in my disavowal of genre work so felt comfortable enjoying them.
I first started reading the books of the Earthsea cycle – of which The Farthest Shore was the third and final one in its 1970s run (Le Guin returned to the imaginary world of islands, dragons, magic and water a couple of decades later) – last Winter, depressed to be leaving Spain and knowing that 2018, the best year of my life, was drawing to a close. I enjoyed A Wizard of Earthsea, as blunt, unpretentious, escapism.
I suppose I wanted to, needed to, live a little further away from my own reality as I wasn’t optimistic, and as I’ve settled into unsociable life in cold cold Canada I’ve found myself relying on imaginary stories far more than I ever had before.
I never used to read things set in fictional worlds, fictional places, and I still don’t think it’s healthy to do so.
As I wrote when I recently read the waaaaay too long Lilith’s Brood by Octavia E. Butler, the simple escapism of genre work descends into blank and bleak failure to engage with reality when it is extended.
It took me less than six hours to read The Farthest Shore, which is fine, picking through it over a weekend where I felt my body shifting towards a late Autumn cold and I tried to frustrate it by doing exercise, eating healthily and not drinking.
That preventative medicine didn’t work. I’m typing this on a Monday and I can feel my sinuses getting blocked up, I feel hungry and I feel physically exhausted. I had possibly the worst night’s sleep of my life last night, so maybe that’s part of it. I did something potentially ill-advised yesterday, speaking to a journalist about some particularly depressing episodes from my past that left me feeling anxious and unhappy for several hours. Then, before I went to bed, I watched the Joan Didion documentary that’s on Netflix, which becomes deeply moving by its end and so I slept with sad sad anxious thoughts in my mind. Also I had two cups of the local equivalent of Lemsip over the few hours before I went to bed so perhaps I was being kept awake by whatever uppers that faux-medication contains.
This evening I think I’ll eat a pizza and go buy some of the explicitly pro-drowsy local equivalent of Lemsip and maybe then I can have some dreamless sleep. Even if that doesn’t make me feel any more relaxed (physically), an indulgence is good for the soul, right?
I recently upped the dosage of my antidepressants because I’m very unexcited about the coming winter and – also – because I’ve been too worried to submit any writing for a couple of months. It’s still early days so the effects aren’t kicking in and so far it hasn’t been helpful. Lololololol. That is why – of course of course of course – I treated/indulged myself by reading a book I knew I’d enjoy with simple, childish pleasure.
The Farthest Shore, alas, turned out to be much less positive and uplifting than I’d hoped for. As the kinda end of a kinda trilogy, it left me feeling pretty sad at its conclusion because Ged – Sparrowhawk – ends up sacrificing himself for the long-term safety of Earthsea. He was my wizard, my guy, and now he’s powerless. Scenes.
The narrative involves the magic leader of the magic wizards going on a long adventure with a young boy who is destined to be king and they have lots of adventures and use magic and not-magic to save themselves from danger and then they meet many dragons and they go into the land of the dead in order to find a bad wizard who has opened up a portal between life and death and this portal is killing all the magic and all the dragons of the world so they have to close it.
In the end, of course, Sparrowhawk and his young princely buddy do manage to save the world, but along the way the big hero – now an old man – loses all his powers. Does he die? Does he peacefully retire? We do not know, but we do know that he steps away from all responsibility, committing to a life where he is no longer “doing”, he will instead “be”.
It’s an engaging, if simple, book, though it is of course set in a fake reality and thus speaks less to wider interpretation and empathy than something more real, more true, more honest.
Did I find it moving, though, and exciting? Yes, but I’m also pretty sad generally at the moment and any kind of distraction with any kind of emotional manoeuvrings in its tail end is going to have me weeping weeping weeping.
I’ll carry on reading these books when I need a distraction, a break, from reality, but I need to be engaging with more real texts again. A heavily genre [long] Summer must come to an end soon, as it will do when I finally get to the end of True Blood, which will happen at some point in the next few weeks.
Enjoyable, distracting, fun, fine. Also Philip Pullman completely copied his world of the dead from this.
Send free money to Scott Manley Hadley.