Veronica's Garden

Rachel Creager Ireland on writing, living, the Flint Hills, and the Post Rock Limestone Caryatids

Tag: art

Luscious, Moody Prose: On A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula LeGuin

I read A Wizard of Earthsea as a kid. I was a big fantasy geek, and it was in the school library. I didn’t remember much, though. I liked it enough to read it twice, and to go on to love other LeGuin books; but the language was a bit challenging for me in grade school, so I mostly remembered a dark moodiness pervading the book, and a lot of sailing between islands.

Last week I happened to find myself wandering the stacks of the Emporia Public Library, and this book appeared in front of my face, so I checked it out and reread it, and it’s now my new old favorite.

I still love the luscious, moody prose. It would be a great book to read aloud, or listen to as an audiobook.

“In winter it was different. He was sent with seven other boys across Roke Island to the farthest northmost cape, where stands the Isolate Tower. There by himself lived the Master Namer, who was called by a name that had no meaning in any language, Kurremkarmerruk. No farm or dwelling lay within miles of the Tower. Grim it stood above the northern cliffs, grey were the clouds over the seas of winter, endless the lists and ranks and rounds of names that the Namer’s eight pupils must learn. Amongst them in the Tower’s high room Kurremkarmerruk sat on a high seat, writing down lists of names that must be learned before the ink faded at midnight leaving the parchment blank again. It was cold and half-dark and always silent there except for the scratching of the Master’s pen and the sighing, maybe, of a student who must learn before midnight the name of every cape, point, bay, sound, inlet, channel, harbor, shallows, reef and rock of the shores of Lossow, a little islet of the Pelnish Sea. If the student complained the Master might say nothing, but lengthen the list; or he might say, “He who would be Seamaster must know the true name of every drop of water in the sea.”

But what struck me more was the shadow. Unlike, oh, just about every fantasy book ever, Earthsea doesn’t have a real villain. There are plenty of bad people, but the real evil is merely a shadow. It hunts hero Ged, until he turns to hunt it. No one knows exactly what it is, but it is believed that this entity’s will is to take over Ged and do evil through him. And what is its name? Maybe it has no name at all. If you’ve done any Shadow work, you’ll guess the answer to the question.

I’ll try not to spoil the book for you. I’ll just say that I think I was a little disappointed in the ending as a child, or maybe dismayed; but as an adult, it is perfect. Because evil doesn’t really come from some Other person, and one might wonder if LeGuin was the first fantasy writer in history to notice this.

A Wizard of Earthsea is a relatively slim two hundred pages, but it’s rich, dense, and never falls into fantasy cliches. Nearly fifty years after its first publication, it’s far less dated than the books of Tolkien or Lloyd Alexander. (The latter being the author of another series I loved, The Prydain Chronicles. They’re still good, but . . . dated, particularly in the characterization of male vs. female characters.)

It’s a wonderful experience to reread a book I loved as a child, and find it even better than I remembered it.

fat lady on airplane

I took a picture of the cover of the book, but, for complicated reasons, the computer can’t find the photo. When I enter the name, it can only find this shot of me, taken by Kevin Ireland, on an airplane above the Central American Pacific Ocean. No, I can’t fix the exposure. Think of it as art.

Advertisements

Dragging the Unspeakable Up From the Subconscious

I was at Knox College in the late 80s and there was an art show that I loved, by an alum whose name eludes me now. He sometimes went by the name Tao Jones, but other people are using that name these days. I remember the tagline, “Drop the bomb, we can’t stand the suspense!” and 6-foot tall pieces of glass (probably salvaged windows) spray-painted with fluorescent images of x-ray skeletons. No one piece stands out, but the message so struck me that I regretted for years that I hadn’t bought one, any one, to display in my home, wherever it would be, to show the world that this is the reality of my existence: it could end at any moment. End it already, please, can’t we just get on with it?

I was particularly chagrined when a couple stoner dudes ended up with one of those pieces as a “coffee” table in their dorm room. I heard they’d bought it for $5 when the show closed. I’d hang out in their black-lit room with my friends, drinking beer and feeling jealous of their table.

I’m not sure that artist was particularly well respected among the art department. The show was kind of gimmicky and probably thrown together in a hurry. It didn’t demonstrate any particular skill at painting, or even spray painting, for that matter. But a recent conversation about apocalyptic thinking has reminded me of that show. I am grateful to have seen it. It has stuck with me all these years, because of the urgency of its shocking message: let us out of this limbo, by any way possible.

I’m not an art critic, so probably no one wants to read my thoughts about art and politics and postmodernity in the 1980s. Just let me say: Some truths are unspeakable, and it is the job of artists of every medium to speak them. Some thoughts are unthinkable, and it is our job to drag those up from the basement of the subconscious, so we can see them, examine them rationally, and choose to believe or not, and how and if we will act in their presence. The shaman does not visit the underworld for the party; s/he goes there to bring back gifts and tools for the people, for their healing and survival. Artists, if you delve into the deep unconscious netherworld, do come back, we need you and your messages. A people without artist/shaman/healers is in big trouble.

We did not get our nuclear apocalypse. We lived to see the disintegration of the Soviet Union. We lived through Y2K. We lived through 2012. Bring your fears to light, and see the apocalyptic fetish for the sickness that it is. The president is not trying to incite a race war. The UN is not trying to depopulate the world by making everyone sick. We may be in the throes of environmental apocalypse as I write, but the outcome is yet to be determined. It is not time to beg for a merciful end. It is time to be, and stay, connected to everyone and the earth. Time to live out, and live into, oneness with all, peace, and gratitude.

Happy Thanksgiving, folks.

Here’s an old, apocalyptic Flaming Lips song. I used to listen to it on my Walkman.

Orange Fish

I never told you when I finished with Kevin’s room. This was the last piece, an Earl Newman poster that my parents had in their basement for as long as I can remember. There were three, which I imagine they purchased sometime in the 50s or 60s, and never mounted or displayed. I finally framed two; this one, and another print of the same fish, with a yellow background. Yellow hangs in my living room now, and orange fits nicely in Kevin’s mancave.

A couple other Newman prints, brilliantly beautiful illustrations of zodiac signs, might find a place in my writing/craft studio. When I do it.

%d bloggers like this: