Rereading: THE FARTHEST SHORE by Ursula K. Le Guin

Illustrations by Charles Vess from the new Earthsea collected edition hardcover.

In the third Earthsea novel, first published in 1972, Le Guin skips ahead over twenty years. Ged is now the Archmage of Roke, and resides there as a teacher and guardian, but reports are coming to him of failing magic and mass forgetting of all kinds of knowledge from the distant border islands of Earthsea. When Arren, the young crown prince of the island Enlad comes to him with a similar story, and a pledge of service to Ged himself, Ged decides that he and Arren must set sail alone to the southernmost islands to try to find out what’s happening.

In those islands, they discover an evil presence that appears to people in their dreams, especially wizards and those with skills and knowledge, tempting them with the promise of eternal life if they will only follow him into the dark lands of the dead. Eventually Ged discovers it’s a wizard he once defeated, Cob, who is behind it. He has opened a hole between life and death through which all the good things of life in Earthsea are draining away. Ged and Arren continue their journey to find Cob, but Ged is badly wounded in the process. It will take a dragon to lead them to Cob, and even the dragons are losing their powers and their language.

This book is closer in subject and approach to “A Wizard of Earthsea” than to the previous one, “The Tombs of Atuan,” but Ged’s battle with evil goes to much darker and more damaging places, and leaves him forever changed. It’s a harrowing but gripping journey. Highly recommended.

And Then I Read: THE DREAMING #11

Written by Simon Spurrier, art by Bilquis Evely, colors by Mat Lopes, letters by Simon Bowland, cover by Yanick Paquette & Nathan Fairbairn.

Dora is trying to find Dream, and his trail leads to the World’s End pub, where stories are the currency, as seen in the World’s End story arc of the original Sandman series. Writer Simon Spurrier has shown he’s not afraid to take on the characters and settings of Neil Gaiman and make them his own, and this issue is a good example. The setting is the same, but not the same: the World’s End pub is actually on fire, but none of the many creatures in the bar are paying attention to that, so wrapped up are they in an intertwined story being told by three masked entities. Each storyteller’s part is completely different from the others, even though they connect, and each story is in a different art and fictional style: primitive culture, film noir crime, and science fiction, all handled deftly by artist Bilquis Evely, colorist Mat Lopes and letterer Simon Bowland. Back in the pub itself, Dora finds a new friend and admirer who seems to be the only one aware of the fire. He asks her to help put it out, but that task seems hopelessly beyond them…until Dora has an idea.

Great issue, recommended.

And Then I Read: BRONZE AGE BOOGIE #4

Main story written by Stuart Moore, art by Alberto Ponticelli, colors by Giulia Brusco. Backup written by Tyrone Finch, art by Mauricet, colors by Lee Loughridge. Lettering on both by Rob Steen. Cover by Ponticelli.

In this issue, writer Stuart Moore manages to work in some character development amid the craziness. We learn of Jackson Li’s conception in a remote Tibetan monastery, and see the developing relationship between Lynda Darrk from the 1970s and King Domnall from the 1970s B.C. Meanwhile, Domnall’s daughter Brita follows a poetic voice in her mind into the Taboo Zone, and Jackson Li has a revealing conversation with a Martian. New surprising partnerships are made by both.

In the Major Ursa backup, the highly intelligent bear manages to escape in the NASA spacecraft he helped develop, only to be shot down in flight by his boss…or was he?

Fun stuff, recommended.

Rereading: THE TOMBS OF ATUAN by Ursula K. Le Guin

Profusely illustrated by Charles Vess.

In the second Earthsea novel, Le Guin took a step further away from traditional fantasy themes and a step forward on her own unique path by making the viewpoint character a young woman. In a genre that was then thought to appeal mainly to men and boys, young adult fantasy in 1970, this was almost unheard of.

Tenar is the young woman, taken from her parents in infancy to become the priestess of the Old Gods of the Kargish Lands at the eastern edge of Earthsea, where the magic and wizards of the Inner Sea are forbidden and ineffective. The Old Gods had great power once, but that power has faded, replaced by newer gods and god-kings in the Kargish islands, but their worship is still led by a group of women priests and eunichs in the remote desert temples of the compound where Tenar now lives. Despite her role as chief priestess of the Old Gods, Tenar’s life is highly controlled and restricted by those around her. The one place where she has true power is in the vast maze-tunneled underground complex beneath the tombs of Atuan. This area is largely unknown to even the other women of the place. Tenar has been carefully taught to memorize the routes through it to the various rooms and treasures it contains.

One day Tenar detects a strange man inside the maze, something that has not happened in perhaps hundreds of years. At first she is furious at the desecration of her province, and leads the man into a trap deep inside the maze, but in time, she begins to speak to the man, and decides to spare his life to learn more about him and his world. That man is Ged, hero of the first book, now a full wizard of Earthsea, though his powers are greatly reduced in this stronghold of the Old Gods. Can his conversations with Tenar change her perception of the world enough to allow them both to escape the prison of the maze and the Tombs of Atuan? What will the response of the Old Gods be to that? Such is the meat of this excellent story.

Highly recommended.

And Then I Read: JIMMY OLSEN #1

Image © DC Comics. Written by Matt Fraction, art by Steve Lieber,
colors by Nathan Fairbairn, letters by Clayton Cowles.

As soon as I saw the cover of this comic I had a feeling I’d enjoy it, and I was right. Here, as in the distant past when he had his own title previously, Superman’s Pal is played for humor while getting into lots of trouble. Writer Matt Fraction also takes some time to explore Jimmy’s roots in Metropolis, as in the opening sequence, but the main story is Jimmy attempting to survive jumping out of a spaceship above the Earth without a parachute. As usual, everything goes wrong to an amusing degree, and even Superman’s rescue isn’t entirely successful.

Jimmy’s boss Perry White has every right to fire him, but settles for another solution to his Olsen problem: sending Jimmy on assignment…apparently a 12-issue series of assignments…beginning with Gotham City.

The art by Steve Lieber hits all the right notes, the script by Fraction is clever and entertaining. The colors by Fairbairn and letters by Cowles add to the fun, making this the most appealing new DC comic I’ve read in a while. Recommended.