Title: Tales From Earthsea
Author: Ursula K. Le Guin
First Publication date: 2001
Five stories of Ursula K. Le Guin’s world-renowned realm of Earthsea are collected in one volume. Featuring two classic stories, two original tales, and a brand-new novella, as well as new maps and a special essay on Earthsea’s history, languages, literature, and magic.
Darkrose and Diamond
The Bones of the Earth
On the High Marsh
Tales From Earthsea is a collection of short stories from the world of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin that take place before, during and after the events in the original storyline. It consists of five short stories – The Finder, Darkrose and Diamond, The bones of the Earth, On the High March and Dragonfly.
Personally, I am not a big fan of short stories. I simply do not believe they are able to convey a full, meaningful plot and allow for natural character development. But when I like series I always get excited when I get extra bits to go with the story – that being a scene from another person’s POV, a satisfying spin-off of a particular storyline that had been neglected or forgotten in the main story or simple fairy-tales/archives from the past.
The first story is The Finder.
It follows the struggle and hardships of a man called Otter. He starts as a boy with magical powers who has to hide them since he lives in a world where they are exploited, hated and feared — or used for evil. Long story short (pun intended :D) this is the story of how the community and the school of Roak was created.
I found it extremely entertaining and it wasn’t as short as I expected. And probably the fact that hundreds of years ago women and men had more equality when it comes to magic than the time when the real story takes place may have played a role. Since those short stories were written 10 years after the last book, Tehanu, I feel like the author felt the need to make it more appealing for women by allowing them to play a bigger role. It just feels more like a strategy rather than natural history — I just can’t figure out how Roak went from being governed by both women and men of magical power to just men who belittled the magical powers of women. And in the main storyline everybody always says that women don’t have power or can never be as strong as a male wizard.
It’s possible, I guess, but I think it should have been transitioned or explained better or she should have stayed behind the original idea.
The second short story is Darkrose and Diamand.
Believe it or not, it’s a love story. Another element that was not present in the original story (unless you count the bit in Tehanu but that was barely mentioned in passing). It’s a story about choice and calling. Diamond, the only son of a wealthy wood trader, has magic running through his vainя but his true passion is music. On the other hand, his father hopes he will follow him in the trade. And to top it all, Diamond is in love with the village’s witch’s daughter. It’s pretty much what you would expect from a love story with its rises and falls, mistakes and heartbreak. In terms of a love story — it’s great. In terms of fantasy Earthsea story — it fell short for me.
The third short story is called The Bones of the Earth.
It is sort of a backstory to one of the secondary characters, Ogion — Ged’s first teacher before he went to Roak. The story is written from Ogion’s teacher pov as they sensed and prevented an earthquake that was going to destroy Gont, or most of it at least.
It was cool to learn more about the side characters since Le Guin didn’t spend a lot of time giving them a backstory and developing them. Hence, with the exception of Ged, Tenar, Arren and Therru, the rest were kind of one-dimensional. We were told what we need to know about them and nothing more. They were tools, stepping stones for the main characters on their journey.
The fourth story is called On the High Marsh.
This one was weird for me. I follows the story of Iriot, which we know nothing about but suspect has magical powers. He find himself in a distant village looking for work as a animal healer. A widow gives him shelter and he goes about his work until one day the Archmage of Roak, Ged, visits and tells her a story about the terrible things Iriot had done — and yet he leaves Iriot in the village because he is ‘changed’. I don’t know, it went a little overboard if you ask me and I honestly have no idea why it was important to be added — for the main story or as an extra. No point at all.
The fifth story is called Dragonfly.
Oh, this was my favorite short story of the bunch, for sure! Here we have Dragonfly, a girl with a scary power that wants to learn and grow but doesn’t know how and into what. She meets a failed Roak wizard who convinces her to go to Roak to study even though they do not accept women there. His goal is to just sleep with her or humiliate his once teachers but that’s another story. They journey there and she is allowed inside by the mage that guards the door but this only starts the divide between the teachers and students alike that threatens to turn into a full-blown destruction. But plot aside, this one has dragons in it so what’s not to like?
Also, what I liked is that even though Le Guin tries to break the Roak’s tradition of only teaching men she does it in a smart way — she introduces the girl and logical reasons for letting her in. Then she shows that the only reason not to is some old tradition and their misconceptions about ‘chastity’. Unlike The Finder I found this one super thoughtful, entertaining and definitely a bonus to the main story (the events in it happen after Tehanu).
All in all, I’m pretty happy with this short story collection. I’ll give it 3/5 rating just because no short story can raise to the level of a full novel in my mind. And because some of the stories in it were, well, kind of boring for me.
What about you? What rating would you give? What are your thoughts and takes on Tales From Earthsea?