I Owed Ursula K. LeGuin A Hug...
I’m not entirely sure how to start this one. I’m sure there have been plenty of books that have influenced my way of thinking, but I’m not sure any have influenced me as much as A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin.
It's an excellent piece of fiction. Succinct, satisfying, and so very much more than the “children's book” it was published as. It has come to be one of my all time favorite books, resonating with me on a very personal level, and I originally read it on a whim.
That part always gets me. That I probably wouldn't be where I am if I hadn't decided to grab a copy of the book at the recycle bookstore in downtown Mountain View. It made sense at the time. I had heard a bit about it from my older brother, had talked about it for a moment with the person working at the store, and it just sounded like it would be worth the read. Going into it I knew three things:
The “K” in Ursula’s name stood for Kroeber, as in Alfred Kroeber, not just her father, but the father of anthropology, which was my major.
The book was revolutionary for its time and is still one of the few examples of a fantasy novel that features a person of color as the protagonist, and an even rarer example of a dark skinned spellcaster that isn’t the villain of the story.
It was her opinion that academia had made a wrong turn when it no longer categorized fantasy and science fiction as proper literature.
Long story short, I read it, loved it, and I took its lessons to heart. Her words got me through some rough patches, and I remain grateful for the audacity she had to publish them to begin with (it was the 60s). Tragically, the woman who wrote the story, who created Earthsea and the hero that inspired me to not just face my demons, but actively hunt them down, not just combat them but accept them as myself, passed away last year.
I had hoped to meet her one day. I even had the opportunity a couple of years ago. Ultimately, a harsh bit of flu prevented her from speaking at the event, but I had bought a ticket. I even practiced my thank you, rehearsed what I would say to her if given the chance. At least I tried to. Honestly, I hadn't a clue what I would say or if I’d even be able to form words at that point. I prayed she'd be willing to sign my well-worn copy of her book, and concluded that I would hug her if she let me. I knew I owed her that much.
For a bit I settled on telling her, as Napoleon once told Jacque-Louis David, "You have understood me.", and just leaving it at that. But I felt that a trifle pretentious. More than anything, I just wanted her to know her story helped shape the man I am today.
I related very much to Ged the Sparrowhawk. We had a lot in common. Both hyper little kids, who were nosey but bright. We both aspired to greatness- to power. We were both topics of discussion amongst the faculty at our schools, mostly because of our cleverness and bad attitude. Both grew up to be smug young adults, confident, or perhaps overconfident in our abilities. And we both got a proper ass kicking as a result of our hubris. Finally, we both owned up to those past mistakes, accepted our shadows and moved on as instruments for the light. (as pretentious as it is to claim to be such a thing, I have all the credentials if you want to fight about it)
She remains a powerful influence on me and my writing, heck even my D&D games and I’m kind of sad I never got to thank her. So even though it’s late, and its small…
Thank you, Ursula, for giving us such a wonderful world to read about.
I hope she’s at peace. I hope she had at least some idea of how important her words were. I hope I can do for someone else, what she did for me.