Something witchy this way comes

Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea series is like Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, one of those secondary worlds that I’ve found I’ve needed to revisit every so often. I’m not the only one, I know, that — however familiar the outline plots — discovers something new each time I step into those universes, whether it’s an insight, a revelation or an emotion.

With the imminent arrival of Witch Week 2018, its theme this year of Fantasy+Feminism and focus on Ursula Le Guin (further details here and here, and also here), I’ve been re-immersing myself in Earthsea as I originally promised myself in a mini-review back in 2015.

Lizzie Ross and I will be co-hosting Witch Week (30 October to 06 November), with a week of posts celebrating the fantasy genre and Diana Wynne Jones.
We’ve lined up some exciting posts from guest bloggers, including a Top-Ten list of fantasy heroines, and a discussion of a Polish fantasy series.
AND don’t forget our readalong: Le Guin’s The Other Wind, the final book of her Earthsea series.

In “Return of the Shadow” I looked at the first volume, with Sparrowhawk as the eponymous A Wizard of Earthsea. This was followed by “Operating in the dark” which explored The Tombs of Atuan in which we were introduced to the courageous priestess Tenar. The Farthest Shore, in which we meet the young prince Lebannen, was originally conceived at the final volume in a trilogy, but as I note in “Righting the balance” Le Guin hadn’t finished with Earthsea, though she didn’t realise it at the time.

When, a score of years later, she herself went back to Earthsea, she found that not all balances had been restored, as my review of Tehanu, “Magic, menace and the mundane”, hints at. The remaining Earthsea novel, The Other Wind, resolves many of the issues raised in Tehanu, but as it’s the readalong novel for Witch Week I shall hold back on reviewing it, though Lizzie Ross, Lory Hess and I will be discussing aspects of it with reference to the week’s overall theme.

In the meantime I shall be individually reviewing the shorter pieces contained in Tales from Earthsea, between now and Halloween, which is when Witch Week starts. By the way, if you’ve already read the whole series (whether once, twice or even more) but were confused as to the chronology of the novels and the tales, there’s a helpful (and closely justified) timeline here.


Posts here may well be unevenly spaced over the next few days. I am involved in the annual Crickhowell Literary Festival, run by my local bookshop Book·ish, at which I’ve been lucky enough to steward for the previous three years. With my musician’s hat on I am also involved in rehearsals and concerts to mark the restoration and refurbishment of an historic 15th-century Welsh building, Llwyn Celyn (pronounced something like hloin kellin and meaning Holly Bush). The project by The Landmark Trust has saved the listed building from slow decay, and the re-opening will be marked by period music and the presentation of a specially commissioned choral work in the local Welsh dialect of Gwent.

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10 thoughts on “Something witchy this way comes

  1. Reblogged this on Lizzie Ross and commented:
    Need a cribsheet for the Earthsea series? Calmgrove has reviewed each of the novels leading up to our Witch Week read-along of Le Guin’s The Other Wind. Take a look!

    1. That’s an interesting point, Laurie. The previous volumes have largely focused on a very small cast of two or three main protagonists with an equally small line-up of supporting characters. The Other Wind brings many of these individuals back into the picture, which would normally be an argument against starting here because of the possible risk of confusion and overload.

      However, UKLG (accomplished writer as she was) handles such numbers adroitly, reintroducing them gradually so that we sense their individual personalities and never once, as far as I can see, subjecting the reader to an obvious info dump.

      So, to answer your question, you would indeed get a lot out of reading TOW — it’s well written, it’s moving and deals with important human issues within a carefully plotted narrative, wearing its fantasy clothing very lightly. Do read it, and then I’m certain you’ll want to start at the beginning! (You may find my reviews give you a fair spoiler-free smattering of Le Guin’s themes. 😊)

      1. Back from the library with The Other Wind. And I like the idea of going into your blog for your thoughts on the other books in the series.

        As an aside, when I walked into the library I saw a flyer on the wall for the scifi reading group announcing The Left Hand of Darkness as their next book. So I signed up. I know this book isn’t part of the series for Witch Week, but the experience was too good to pass up!

        And I wish you well on your literary and musical events. They both sound wonderful. It’s always nice when a group sees the value in an old building and bands together to save it.

        1. Oh, The Left Hand of Darkness is such a brilliant book, each time I’ve read it — three times now, over the years — it’s been both familiar and yet foreign, and I’ve learnt some new truths. I’ll be interested to see what you think of it.
          I haven’t read The Jane Austen Book Club but in the film one of the men keeps recommending Le Guin to a character who completely disses SF. Needless to say…

          Thanks for your kind wishes; I might give a précis of how the week goes in some future post!

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