The smith stared at his son who stood wraithlike in that weird, dank mist. It took him a minute to see Duny's meaning, but when he did he ran at once, noiselessly, knowing every fence and corner of the village, to find the others and tell them what to do. Now through the grey fog bloomed a blur of red, as the Kargs set fire to the thatch of a house. Still they did not come up into the village, but waited at the lower end till the mist should lift and lay bare their loot and prey.I'm reading Ursula K. LeGuin's A Wizard of Earthsea, the first book in the "Earthsea" trilogy. I have heard that there are actually more than three novels in this series now, but I've only read the first three. A Wizard of Earthsea was originally published in 1968. I don't know when I first read it, but it must've been in the early 1970s. I think I read these books before I read Lord of the Rings. I've always remembered "Earthsea" fondly, and when I found a set on the bookshelves at a house I was sharing eleven years ago, I read them and I was pleased to find them as fine as I'd remembered. Mighty Reader got me a set (in the original covers, hurrah!) for Christmas last year, and this seems to be when I've decided to read them again. I report that the books remain as good as I'd always thought they were.
The tanner, whose house it was that burned, sent a couple of boys skipping right under the Kargs' noses, taunting and yelling and vanishing again like smoke into smoke. Meantime the older men, creeping behind fences and running from house to house, came close on the other side and sent a volley of arrows and spears at the warriors, who stood all in a bunch. One Karg fell writhing with a spear, still warm from its forging, right through his body. Others were arrow-bitten, and all enraged. They charged forward then to hew down their puny attackers, but they found only the fog about them, full of voices. They followed the voices, stabbing ahead into the mist with their great, plumed, bloodstained lances. Up the length of the street they came shouting, and never knew they had run right through the village, as the empty huts and houses loomed and disappeared again in the writhing grey fog. The villagers ran scattering, most of them keeping well ahead since they knew the ground; but some, boys or old men, were slow. The Kargs stumbling on them drove their lances or hacked with their swords, yelling their war-cry, the names of the White Godbrothers of Atuan: "Wuluah! Atwah!"
Some of the band stopped when they felt the land grow rough underfoot, but others pressed right on, seeking the phantom village, following dim wavering shapes that fled just out of reach before them. All the mist had come alive with these fleeting forms, dodging, flickering, fading on every side. One group of the Kargs chased the wraiths straight to the High Fall, the cliff's edge above the springs of Ar, and the shapes they pursued ran out onto the air and there vanished in a thinning of the mist, while the pursuers fell screaming through fog and sudden sunlight a hundred feet sheer to the shallow pools among the rocks. And those that came behind and did not fall stood at the cliff's edge, listening.
The prose is quite rhythmic and propulsive, as you can see from the above excerpt. It has both the flavor of the tale-teller's art and of Modernism, I think. The surface simplicity of fairy tales and the angular rolling along of Fitzgerald or Hemingway. It's also a compact story, each volume being more a novella than a novel, not at all what one imagines nowadays when one thinks of a high fantasy trilogy.
The other thing "Earthsea" contains is the entire Harry Potter story, in compressed form. There's the proud boy whose mother died when he was a babe, the school of wizardry, the connection/battle with a dark half of himself, and even the scar on the boy wizard's face. What Rowling takes 7,000 pages to do, LeGuin managed in about 400. But I am not here to compare the two works. LeGuin's novels, I assume, have in some way informed my own novels. I recognize the sparse prose, the brevity of the action, the intimate focus on a single character, and the movement. LeGuin's characters are always leaving home, going somewhere, traveling. It came as a shock to me when I saw how every novel I write is essentially about someone on a journey. Not the hero's transformative journey, but by gum my protagonists are not at home. All of the novels I have planned for the future are also about people in transit. Huh, I say. Huh. I will have to write something soon about people who stay home.