I… actually beat Kelly at chess? I’m not expecting to win again any time soon, but I’m still marking the calendar: 30 August 2008, “Earthsea.”
Speaking of Le Guin, I recently finished Orsinian Tales. I wouldn’t call it her best by any means, though part of my judgement may be obscured because I went into it thinking they were interlinking stories about a medieval village, when instead they were all tales about a made-up Central European country called Orsinia. I appreciated the collection more once I caught on, and my favorites were “The Barrow,” “Conversations at Night,” “A Week in the Country,” “The Lady of Moge,” and “Imaginary Countries”–though the last could have stood without the last line. Personal preference.
These were my favorites not necessarily because of the language, which was below her usual brilliance, but because of the stories. The medieval village chief balancing belief in the old ways and the new Christianity. A quarry town and life under a communist government. Her ability to present imagination as fact, and only later do you see with the jaded eyes of adulthood. Despite being tales about a country, the stories were microscopic, focusing on specific, ordinary individuals at turning points in their lives. The astuteness with which she explores human character is noteworthy and largely makes up for the lack of poetry. Though, this lack might be because they were stories about Orsinia, a bare place that itself does not evoke poetry but hearts bent toward survival—a thought to keep in mind during a future reread. To some degree I was reminded of “The Day Before the Revolution” (found in Le Guin’s Wind’s Twelve Quarters, my favorite collection of hers yet), and, as a result, The Dispossessed—they also employ the use of subtle observation. I did, however, come across a few gems of perfect sentences that remind me why Le Guin is a master of language:
Like Stefan, she wondered at [Kostant], at his beauty and his strength, but she did not think of him as wasted. The Lord keeps the house and knows his servants. If he had sent this innocent and splendid man to live obscure on the plain of stone, it was part of his housekeeping, of the strange economy of the stone and rose, the rivers that run and do not run dry, the tiger, the ocean, the maggot, and the not eternal stars.
— “Brothers and Sisters”
What good is music? None, Gaye thought, and that is the point. To the world and its states and armies and factories and Leaders, music says, ‘You are irrelevant’; and arrogant and gentle as a god, to the suffering man it says only, ‘Listen.’ For being saved is not the point. Music saves nothing. Merciful, uncaring, it denies and breaks down all the shelters, the houses men build for themselves, that they may see the sky.
— “An Die Musik”