4. Scope

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Unlike the previous Earthsea books, Terhanu takes place on and around a single island, within a few dozen miles. The conflicts and challenges focus on everyday people (raising a wounded child, managing a farm, death and inheritance), not the affairs of kings and wizards. What did you think of this smaller scope? How does it compare with other works of fantasy?

Comments

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    You're right, it's a very personal book. It's about how people are changed by the great deeds they've done in the past. It's something that's rarely done in adventure fiction: what comes after the "happily ever after".

    One thing I liked about the wider scope was how the presence of the king, and the rune of peace, affected people even on Gont. Just knowing that there was a king, who would uphold justice, gave people the confidence to come together and seek justice. The mentions of the defeat of the pirate lord was one example, but there were others throughout the book. Was this an element of magic at work, or plain morale? Is there a difference in Earthsea?

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    One of the reasons I love this book is it’s sheer domesticity, which is so very different from the grand deeds and high adventure of most fantasy. This is a nice change! We do get a little of this in the early chapters of The Lord of the Rings (which have always been my favourite chapters) but apart from that I’m hard pressed to think of examples.

    This comes through most vividly to me in the dialogue between the women in the story, who talk about their neighbours and local goings on. I think LeGuin does a great job of capturing not just the kinds of things locals talk about, but speech patters, too.

    And in spite of this local scope, the book is not shy of tension, drama, or danger, so we can see that there’s plenty of room in the domestic sphere for the kinds of things we like to see in role playing (but that are so often missing from it).

    Despite the local scope, the book has broader implications for the fate of the world as well (in raising questions about the future of arch-magery and the kingship) but doesn’t try to solve them or even really address them, leaving them as more open questions.
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    Open questions, definitely! It is very hard to imagine this as the end of the EarthSea series - and I write this, fully aware that the cover that @Apocryphal posted recently called this "The Last Book of EarthSea", and that my own copy is of the first four books only, as though that quartet is the full thing. (My copy of The Other Wind was separately bought in hardback).

    But in actual fact, so many new ideas are introduced here, and so many changes and challenges to our perception of the universe of EarthSea, that it is almost impossible to imagine this as UlG's last word on the matter.

    So yes, it is domestic, and delightfully, shrewdly so, but it is also transitional from the mage-centred action of the first three books, and the more cosmic and liberating focus of the fifth book.

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    Also on Scope (extending this to include Setting) I found the descriptions of Gont delightful, except that I kept stumbling over peach trees growing there! I couldn't square up peach trees with the rest of what I felt was quite a northerly climate. But I can happily live with that.

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    We grow peaches in Canada, if that helps. :-)
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    > @Apocryphal said:
    > We grow peaches in Canada, if that helps. :-)

    Fair enough! Happy to be corrected here... I couldn't imagine them growing in Northern Europe without greenhouses and the like.
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    @Apocryphal said:
    We grow peaches in Canada, if that helps. :-)

    And in the UK. They need to be sheltered against south-facing walls, but they grow and fruit here.

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    We once grew figs very successfully in the Southampton area, but they struggle to fruit up here in Cumbria. Plenty of leaves though... Maybe I should find a south-facing spot and embark on peaches here :)

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    @NeilNjae said:
    You're right, it's a very personal book. It's about how people are changed by the great deeds they've done in the past. It's something that's rarely done in adventure fiction: what comes after the "happily ever after".

    Completely agree. The world keeps spinning after the storybooks close.

    @NeilNjae said:
    Was this an element of magic at work, or plain morale? Is there a difference in Earthsea?

    That is a great insight, and the sort of thing that makes magic in Earthsea so, well, magical. The workings of magic are so tied into the basic substance of the world that it is sometimes difficult to know where the world stops and magic begins.

    Does it even make sense to imply that there is a line between them? Aren't we just imposing binary thinking on a world of infinite complexity? If there are old women—and scarred little girls—who can be both people and dragons, how much can we separate everything.

    The smaller scale also served to throw certain things into a different perspective. Tenar and Therru fleeing down the mountain, away from Aspen's curse, was just as thrilling as Frodo and Sam trying to find their way through Shelob's lair. The attempt by Handy and crew to break into the farmhouse was like a horror movie, purely terror. As @Apocryphal said, the domestic perspective didn't limit the scope of danger, it just gave greater thematic weight to every single threat.

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    The comments remind me of two things. The "world is magic" is similar to how things work in Glorantha. Communities and their bonds are just as much entities as heroes and dragons, and both affect and can be affected by magical and mundane means.

    The "smaller scale" comments fired off comparisons with CJ Cherryh. Her heroes have feet of clay, and individuals are often forced to deal with things as individuals, regardless of how powerful they may be in society.

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    I had this thought while reading _Tehanu_, but had forgotten it until reading the Q&A with UlG that @dr_mitch posted.

    One of the striking differences with _Tehanu_ as compared to the previous three books is, I think, the way cosmic stuff about the world is handled. In the first three, Ged and others were very reluctant to talk to those outside the circle of mages about what actually happened at death - the whole wall of stones, dry land etc. That land featured in one way or another in those books, but idle conversation about it was discouraged. IIRC Ged says at one point to Lebannen that he feels he has to tell him some stuff in order to prepare him for the approaching ordeal/conflict, with the implication that this was only happening because the situation was so desperate.

    In _Tehanu_ we get almost the opposite... nobody goes to the wall, or has to tread this narrow line between life and death. But Hawk is happy to speak quite openly about the place where the sun never rises and the stars never set. And he says this to Tehanu herself, who (if she was simply the human girl she seems at this stage of the story) could not possibly have understood him. But in fact she replies "did you fly?" - which is a marvellous dragon-question - and he takes her seriously and says "I can only walk."

    Looking back, I see this as another example of how his mage skills are now portrayed simply as a kind of artificial overlay on top of his ability to be in the right place, and understand the world as it is. Like Ogion, he perceived (but without explicit magic) that the young woman he was talking to was in fact a dragon, and pitched his words to her true self, rather than the apparent form in front of him.
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    I had to time to listen to the book twice over, and on the second listen I noticed that there’s a LOT of foreshadowing with respect to Tehanu’s nature that I missed the first time round.
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