“He fears me, though I have no strength left.”
The Word of Unbinding, by Ursula K. Le Guin.
Today’s story is actually quite old, first published in 1964 by Fantastic, but I found it in The Way of the Wizard—edited by John Joseph Adams—just like the first story I reviewed. You can find used copies for great prices on Barnes & Noble’s website here, if you’d like the collection for yourself. You can also get the story on its own, in ebook format, here. This tale is the first in the world of Le Guin’s famous Earthsea, and sets as an introduction to both the universe and Le Guin’s writing.
In The Word of Unbinding, there is a malicious wizard known as Voll the Fell. He travels the islands destroying forests and imprisoning mages that dare to stand against him. The protagonist, Festin, is a wizard who lives among and talks to the trees, and finds himself captured one day without warning. Fearing for the forest he’s come to love, he admittedly knows little of Voll the Fell, but what he does know is that he must save his home.
Le Guin was a mastermind of speculative fiction and, reading her early work, it’s clear that this has been a fact for a long time, and will remain so. The language used is smooth, and ideas flow in a logical manner, from one to the next. I believe her voice carried strongly through the story, and, despite the tension of the narrative, I don’t know if I’ve ever felt more at peace while reading. At least, not in a far too long of a time.
The story itself is just as strong. Even nowadays, I don’t think there are many stories that stand out as this one does. It knows where and what it is, and what it needs to do, and then it does it. The main character, Festin, is much the same, which I find refreshing. Sure, he has questions, but he’s clever enough to figure out what’s going on and what action must be taken. Obstacles may wear him down, but they do not stop him. He’s not simply stubborn, or determined; he has a real purpose.
Another thing I really enjoyed, and expect to enjoy in the rest of the Earthsea stories, is how the magic works, especially at the end of this tale when the title comes into play. It enthralled me. It still does. It’s straightforward, but not without complexity, intricacies. There was no overly-detailed explanation shoehorned in, but nor was it all mystery. It simply made sense. It felt like real magic.
This story is a definite 5 out of 5 for me, and I’m eager to get through my reading list and pick up a copy of A Wizard of Earthsea, because I absolutely need to read more with this kind of characterization and magic. I wish I could have appreciated Le Guin’s writing before her passing earlier this year, but life and death can work in strange ways sometimes. I’m glad she’s left a legacy for me to stumble upon, and I hope I can review more of her work in the future.
In this day and age, how connected to nature do you feel? Do you think humanity is moving too far away from the natural world, or is this change for the better?