Friday, April 28, 2017

Movie Review - Tales from Earthsea

Tales from Earthsea
Based on the book by Ursula K. Le Guin
Starring: Brian George, Susanne Blakeslee, Kat Cressida, Matt Levin, Timothy Dalton, Cheech Marin, Jess Harnell, Blaire Restaneo, Willem Dafoe, and Mariska Hargitay
Release Date: July 29th, 2006
Rating: ★★
To Buy

The balance of the world is out of order, even the majestic dragons are killing each other. Young Prince Arren, driven by some unknown force, kills his father the King. Taking his father's sword he flees. On his desperate journey he runs into the Archmage Sparrowhawk who is on his own journey. Sparrowhawk has felt the world going out of kilter and has gone in search of the source of this wrongness. Sparrowhawk invites young Arren to travel with him. They encounter village after village destroyed, farmhouses burned and crops gone to seed. In Hort Town they finally find some kind of life, people wasting theirs taking the drug Hazia and slavers scouring the town for merchandise. Arren rescues a young girl from the slavers, but he incurs their wrath and when they find him asleep on the shore they enslave him. After being rescued by Sparrowhawk the two journey to the farmstead of Tenar, an old friend of Sparrowhawk's. There Arren meets the girl he rescued, Therru is the ward of Tenar. On the farm Arren is given time to heal from his ordeal while helping Tenar with the chores. But Sparrowhawk's mission isn't completed and soon it becomes apparent that Arren's ordeals are connected to the chaos in the world which now has a name, thanks to the slavers who work for him. The wizard Cob is destabilizing Earthsea in his quest for eternal life. Will the young Prince be able to make amends for the wrongs he has committed by stopping Cob? Or is all Earthsea doomed?

From the title of this movie I assumed that the plot would be taken from Le Guin's fifth Earthsea book, Tales from Earthsea. Well, you know what they saying about assuming things... because I was very wrong. Instead this is a weird amalgamation of the third and forth books in the Earthsea cycle, The Farthest Shore and Tehanu, without really ever being either of those books or it's own story. It doesn't really have it's own identity, feeling so piecemealed that a cohesive whole is hoping for way more than this film has to offer. I seriously don't understand what it is about Le Guin's Earthsea cycle that leaves it so hard to adapt. Each of the two adaptations has gotten key elements wrong, mainly whitewashing all the characters, which seriously baffles me in this instance because this wasn't made by white males this time around. But at least the Sci-Fi channel's adaptation was able to stand on it's own, being so different as to embrace those differences and create it's own mythology. Here there's so much actual mythology from Earthsea jammed incoherently into the story that I just can't even. I mean sometimes the dialogue doesn't actually make any sense. And as for Disney releasing it... I was raised on early eighties "children's" films, so I know violence, but OMG, the violence in this is so random and brutal and I don't think they ever really addressed the whole "slavery is evil" issue. Apparently it's the first and only PG-13 animated film Disney has ever distributed. Tales from Earthsea, the film, is just wrong on almost too many levels to count.

But apparently this production was plagued from the beginning. My brother informed me that while this is a Studio Ghibli film it wasn't done by Hayao Miyazaki, but his son Gorō and thus did the drama begin. Hayao had for years and years been wanting to adapt Le Guin's Earthsea cycle and had always been denied. Only after winning an Oscar for Spirited Away did Le Guin give her permission. Permission given which I think she later regretted despite claiming to like the end product though admitting that it wasn't in the least like her book. I'm not surprised in her being disappointed. Hayao, being too busy working on Howl's Moving Castle, the studio decided to let his son Gorō direct this as his first film. A move which his father not only disapproved of but actively argued against. So whether it was this tension or his inexperience, Le Guin's world didn't get the treatment it deserved and instead we are left wondering what might have been. As for the American release... I never really envisioned Sparrowhawk as say Timothy Dalton, because, you know, whitewashing, and his voice is almost too regal, he doesn't sound like he's ever shepherded goats. As for Willem Dafoe, yes, he's the perfect voice actor for villains, but the lackluster feeling of the film seeped into his performance. It felt like he read the lines in one take and that's all she wrote. In fact by the end of the film it's like all people involved had given up any hope for it, what with the closing theme song not being redone in English or even subtitled. I don't think they expected anyone to make it to the end.

What I hoped would redeem any lack in plot would be visual splendor. Because there's one thing that is "usually" a given with Studio Ghibli films and that's impactful imagery that will be on shirts and dorm rooms for years to come. The problem is that it's just not. The imagery is never it's own, it always feels so referential to specific things that all I did was think over and over again about those specific references while realizing how much better they were. The look was literally Legend meets Labyrinth meets The Addams Family meets Gummi Bears. You might laugh a bit at the Gummi Bears one while admitting the validity of the others, but seriously, the entrance to the castle is completely the entrance to Castle Dunwyn. Especially as depicted in my Colorforms play set. And also I REALLY need to watch Legend again, it's been too long. Aside from these specific filmic references the overall look the film went for is Persian. Which baffles me. You whitewash the characters and strip any racial identity that is in the books and give them a new one? What!?! And the thing is, I'm a really harsh judge when it comes to this because of my love of Kaoru Mori's meticulous and magnificent Manga series A Bride's Story. So if you're looking for racial confusion and memories of better films, you can't go wrong with this here film.

Unless you like strong women. Because, this is seriously a deal breaker. The strong, independent, and frankly amazing characters of Tenar and Therru her become nothing more than characters that have one purpose, to serve in advancing the stories of the men. Because obviously the only purpose of having women be in a film or story is to prop up the male narratives. Can you hear that growling? Oh wait, that's me. And it's not my stomach. It might partially be my teeth grinding, but there are other reasons too. The women get captured and get endangered and need men to rescue them. Tenar didn't escape from the Tombs on her own, rescuing Sparrowhawk whom she help prisoner. Oh no, she was the prisoner rescued, who must AGAIN be rescued as she has become a lure for Cob to trap Sparrowhawk. Oh, poor women. The scene when Sparrowhawk and Arren do all the work at the farm because the poor womenfolk wouldn't have gotten along unless they showed up!?! WTF!?! How are they running this farm then without the help of these men the rest of the year? I'm surprised that at this point Le Guin didn't ask for all association with the film to be severed. First the whitewashing and now the sexism! If there's any sexism in her books it's to show the plight of these strong and independent women! Who can run farms on their own! But the scene that made me want to spit fire? When Therru finally turns into a dragon the moment of majestic beauty is take away from her as it's given to Arren who rides her. HE FREAKIN' RIDES HER!

And buried, somewhere within the film, they tried to comment on the duality of humans with Therru and Arren. But instead of focusing on the more obvious with Therru being a freakin' dragon as well as a little girl, they go this weird ambiguous route that I'm still not sure I grasp. Somehow Arren was split in half either by killing his father or by the evil that plagues Earthsea. He now has a "light" and a "dark" side. The dark is all, well, it's the Arren we see most of, broody and boring. The light side appears to be trying to kill Arren, which makes no sense because it's the light side. Good should be trying to help evil not kill it, right? Or you know, integrate it somehow? Bring the two halves into one whole? The sloppily handled duality is just there and baffling. I really don't get what it's point is, was, or will be. It's like they were searching for some higher meaning and instead of taking meaning from the books they made their own half-assed mythology about splitting a human into light and dark and seriously, if it's beyond me I'm thinking a kid wouldn't get it either. But then Tales from Earthsea is continually taking these little bits and pieces from the books that in the context of the books make sense, but here are just baffling. Why does Therru knowing Arren's real name supersede the power of Cob knowing it? Why do they just explain the whole people can be dragons as quick backstory to a mural? Why is Therru made into a whiny stomp your feet girl? I guess I'll forever be wondering why.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Book Review - Ursula K. Le Guin's The Other Wind

The Other Wind by Ursula K. Le Guin
Published by: HMH Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: 2001
Format: Paperback, 288 Pages
Rating: ★★
To Buy

The balance has not yet been set right. After the Ring of Erreth-Akbe was once again made whole and the prophecy of a king placed on the throne came to pass it was assumed the world would right itself because of this change. Yet Lebannen has been king for half his life and yet the change isn't for the better. Lebannen has called for Tenar and Tehanu to come to give him counsel so Ged is alone on Gont when Alder arrives. Alder is a village sorcerer from Way who specializes in mending. He has been having horrible nightmares since his wife Lily died. He is on the other side of the wall from the dry land, the land of the dead. His wife is there on the other side calling to him. They even embraced across the wall and when Alder awoke he was scarred where his wife had touched him. The next night more dead were at the wall in his dreams including his mentor. Each night he goes to that wall and he sees the dead trying to break through, trying to destroy the barrier. At his wits end he went to the wizards on Roke who then sent him to Ged, who has been to that dry land. Ged listens to Alder's story and sends him on his way to his wife, Tenar, with a kitten and two questions.

Once at the seat of the king in Havnor Alder is but one problem among many sticky political situations, from an unwanted bride from the Kargs to rumors of dragons attacking the western islands. Soon the dragons attack Havnor and Tehanu helps to make a temporary peace. But Alder isn't shunted aside, far from it, Lebannen and his counselors listen closely to him and soon realize that his problem, the dragons, everything might be connected. A delegation is assembled representing all parties involved, from dragons to wizards to man, and they talk, and they listen, and they realize that the cycle of death has been somehow interrupted by the wizards building that wall in the dry land causing unrest. This unrest is becoming dangerous, especially to Alder who can hear the call of the dead even in his waking hours now, and the delegation decides decisive action must be taken. They set forth to Roke, the center of the world. They know not what they will do there or how they will accomplish what needs to be done but with all of them working together they must find a solution otherwise all Earthsea will perish.

The main thing I have always admired about Le Guin's Earthsea cycle is that there was an originality to it. Yes, there were references, pastiches of other series that came before, and in Lebannen's journey more than a nod to The Once and Future King. But while there were these building blocks, this DNA, what Le Guin created was something entirely new out of all that had come before. Until now. And I really am left a little at a loss for words. What she wrote over many decades was a new and unique story that ended much like every other fantasy series and in doing so fails the reader. It's just so derivative, and mainly it's derivative or Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings series. I mean, there is no way around the fact that Lebannen basically assembles the Council of Elrond. Instead of men, hobbits, dwarves, elves, and wizards, we have men (two different races), wizards (two different methods of training), sorcerers, and dragons. Dragons and Kargs and Kings oh my! Oh, and remember there's a ring. And they have there meeting in a secret grove and make decisions that will effect all of Middle-Earth, oops, I meant Earthsea. And in the end the dragons, the most mystical of all the beings, head into the west... so yeah. Not. Original.

Yet this lackluster finish doesn't discount the whole cycle, even Tolkien wasn't perfect, and Peter Jackson is even more fallible with those horrid Hobbit movies. Looking at the cycle as a whole I came to a very interesting realization. I looked at my favorite books, The Tombs of Atuan and Tehanu, and the stories that most affected me in Tales from Earthsea, and they all had something in common. The writing I have loved the best is when Le Guin has her story set in a specific location. When she has her characters traveling hither and yon I don't feel the connection to them as I do when they are rooted. Le Guin is able to create such a deep connection to place in sustained narratives that when her stories aren't given this sense of place they flounder. The Tombs in The Tombs of Atuan become their own character, as does Re Albi in Tehanu. In fact when Alder visited Ged in Re Albi at the start of this book I was given momentary hope. Here I was at home. Here I was in Ogion's cabin which was made for his master. This place had become a part of me. I wanted to stay there, I wanted to abide. But perhaps that's just me. One of my friends jokes that I'm the only person she knows who wouldn't jump at the chance to travel with The Doctor because I love being home. I love my roots.

Where The Other Wind also stands out is how they figure out what is going on through the different lore. I love folklore and how it evolves over time and how it informs our cultural identity. All the different cultures had a similar take on a similar tale, from Pelnish lore to Kargish, all the way to the dragons, they all contain a grain of truth. By comparing and contrasting and combining they are able to find the essential truth, that which will help them. The Other Wind is basically an ode to comparative literature analysis. Hearing these stories and trying to work out the truth before it's revealed is a wonderful little puzzle. But as with many puzzles if not solved in a timely manner they outstay their welcome. After awhile the stories become repetitive and not just by their similarities but by the fact the characters are actually repeating themselves to work out how best to handle their situation. So while problem solving through storytelling really appeals to me I reached a point where I just wanted the problem solved. Le Guin belabored the point in what is ironically a very slim volume.

But what is once again a problem is the ending. I thought that Tales from Earthsea had worked out some of Le Guin's issues with endings, but if this book is any judge it just made it worse and took a bit of the spark with it. So the question I have is once the Council of Elrond has gotten to Roke and the Immanent Grove and passed over to the dry land how does breaking down the wall actually help? The wizards built the wall eons ago to capture immortality by creating nirvana. But once the wall was up the wind stopped blowing across the land that used to belong to the dragons and all died there and the dead were trapped, not in heaven but in a hell of their own making. So yes, there's no wall now, the trapped souls can escape, but the wall wasn't built consciously, or at least that's how Le Guin makes it seem. The wall was built because man dared use the language of the making and in giving people their true names they forced them into this dry eternity. So by still giving people their true names the wall will just be rebuilt. Therefore what actually needed to happen is that magic needed to be fully removed from the equation. But this doesn't happen. Le Guin always takes her stories right up to the end and then seems to lose interest and can't be bothered to see it through to it's logical conclusion by tying up the lose ends.

In fact she doesn't just illogically stop the imbalance, because seriously, I don't think it will work, she starts laying on all this new information in the final pages. So while this is supposedly the end she's laid so much new road down that it seems like the jumping off point for another six books. Ignoring the whole problematic continued existence of magic, we learn that dragons can supposedly go between worlds? WTF!?! Shouldn't we have known this before beyond Ged's cryptic question asking if dragons can go over the wall. So dragons just go here there and everywhere? So why exactly didn't they just take down the wall in the first place? Dragons are beings of magic and time and time again they are shown to be pretty equal to magicians and yet they let that wall stand? Yeah, not likely. But what really annoyed me is that I felt Tehanu's story was just forgotten. At the end of the forth book I needed to know her story but instead Le Guin gave it to Irian in "Dragonfly" in Tales from Earthsea. Irian took Tehanu's thunder! It's just, gaw. It's annoying. So much wonderful setup and so much disappointment in the follow through. Part of me wants more books so that the wrongs can be righted. But the other part of me just wants the journey over because I have a feeling that more questions would be raised than answered if another book existed.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Tuesday Tomorrow

Within the Sanctuary of Wings by Marie Brennan
Published by: Tor Books
Publication Date: April 25th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 336 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Within the Sanctuary of Wings is the conclusion to Marie Brennan's thrilling Lady Trent Memoirs.

After nearly five decades (and, indeed, the same number of volumes), one might think they were well-acquainted with the Lady Isabella Trent--dragon naturalist, scandalous explorer, and perhaps as infamous for her company and feats of daring as she is famous for her discoveries and additions to the scientific field.

And yet--after her initial adventure in the mountains of Vystrana, and her exploits in the depths of war-torn Eriga, to the high seas aboard The Basilisk, and then to the inhospitable deserts of Akhia--the Lady Trent has captivated hearts along with fierce minds. This concluding volume will finally reveal the truths behind her most notorious adventure--scaling the tallest peak in the world, buried behind the territory of Scirland's enemies--and what she discovered there, within the Sanctuary of Wings."

But but but... the last!?!

The Witchfinder's Sister by Beth Underdown
Published by: Ballantine Books
Publication Date: April 25th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 336 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Before Salem, there was Manningtree....

“This summer, my brother Matthew set himself to killing women, but without ever once breaking the law.”

Essex, England, 1645. With a heavy heart, Alice Hopkins returns to the small town she grew up in. Widowed, with child, and without prospects, she is forced to find refuge at the house of her younger brother, Matthew. In the five years she has been gone, the boy she knew has become a man of influence and wealth—but more has changed than merely his fortunes. Alice fears that even as the cruel burns of a childhood accident still mark his face, something terrible has scarred Matthew’s soul.

There is a new darkness in the town, too—frightened whispers are stirring in the streets, and Alice’s blood runs cold with dread when she discovers that Matthew is a ruthless hunter of suspected witches. Torn between devotion to her brother and horror at what he’s become, Alice is desperate to intervene—and deathly afraid of the consequences. But as Matthew’s reign of terror spreads, Alice must choose between her safety and her soul.

Alone and surrounded by suspicious eyes, Alice seeks out the fuel firing her brother’s brutal mission—and is drawn into the Hopkins family’s past. There she finds secrets nested within secrets: and at their heart, the poisonous truth. Only by putting her own life and liberty in peril can she defeat this darkest of evils—before more innocent women are forced to the gallows.

Inspired by the real-life story of notorious “Witchfinder General” Matthew Hopkins, Beth Underdown’s thrilling debut novel blends spellbinding history with harrowing storytelling for a truly haunting reading experience."

Witches, England, what's not to like?

The Librarians and The Mother Goose Chase by Greg Cox
Published by: Tor Books
Publication Date: April 25th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 288 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The Librarians and the Mother Goose Chase, an original novel based on the hit television show, The Librarians by New York Times bestselling author, Greg Cox.

For millennia, the Librarians have secretly protected the world by keeping watch over dangerous magical relics. Cataloging and safeguarding everything from Excalibur to Pandora’s Box, they stand between humanity and those who would use the relics for evil.

Stories have power.

In 1719, Elizabeth Goose published a collection of rhyming spells as a children's book, creating a spellbook of terrifying power. The Librarian of that age managed to dispose of all copies of the book except one, which remained in the possession of Elizabeth Goose and her family, temporarily averting any potential disaster.

Now, strange things are happening around the world. A tree-trimmer in Florida is blown off his elevated perch by a freak gust of wind, a woman in rural Pennsylvania is attacked by mutant rodents without any eyes, and a college professor in England finds herself trapped inside a prize pumpkin at a local farmer’s market. Baird and her team of Librarians suspect that the magic of Mother Goose is again loose in the world, and with Flynn AWOL―again―it is up to Cassandra, Ezekiel, and Stone to track down the missing spellbook before the true power of the rhymes can be unleashed."

I enjoy the show so I'm excited to get into this continuation of the show in print form.

The Second Bride by Katharine Swartz
Published by: Lion Fiction
Publication Date: April 25th, 2017
Format: Paperback, 336 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Ellen Tyson's idyllic village life is derailed when Annabelle moves in. The teenage daughter from her husband's first marriage, Annabelle is seventeen, surly, and defiant. And she has no interest in being part of her father's second family.

When a death certificate from the 1870s, hidden beneath the floorboards of their attic, is discovered during a renovation, Ellen tries to use it as a way to get closer to Annabelle. But as both women learn about Sarah Mills who died in 1872, they find the past reflected in their own lives in strange and startling ways.

A dual narrative between the present and the 1860s, The Second Bride is a powerful and moving drama that narrates the difficulties and joys of blending families."

I'm a sucker for dual narratives.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Book Review - Ursula K. Le Guin's Tales from Earthsea

Tales from Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin
Published by: HMH Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: 2001
Format: Paperback, 480 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

Magic has always been at the center of the epic stories of Earthsea. It is the heart of the great archipelago just as much as the Immanent Grove on Roke is. But magic takes many forms and also takes a toll. From the days when magic wasn't institutionalized and evil wizards could take advantage of others, leading to the safe haven of Roke and magic being taught by men and women to those with a pure heart and ability to having to face the ultimate choice between one's ability for magic and one's true heart's desire, stories can be grand in scale or seemingly small, like the love between two people. And love takes many forms, between man and woman and between master and apprentice. The great mage Ogion's master, his teacher, made the greatest sacrifice to save Gont and yet, years late, all people remember is Ogion's heroism. Yet surely all Ogion remembers is that he didn't get to say goodbye. But Ogion left Roke, went to Gont to complete his training, while there were those on Roke whose true love was power. Power that can break a human completely. Power that is so dangerous that it is best to forget, it is best to choose a new path, a new destiny. But there are some destinies that can never be avoided. The latent power within where you know you weren't destined for this world, you were destined to fly. But your sex, your station, precludes you. So what's wrong with breaking a few rules if the magic inside you is leading you to who you're meant to be? It all depends on your story.

What's interesting about Tales from Earthsea is that the whole book feels like a writing experiment, which Le Guin herself basically confirms in her foreword and afterword. These tales being not much more than trial and error as to how best to handle the conclusion of the Earthsea cycle and come to grips with the narrative arc. What this means is that they vary in quality from transcendent tales of Ogion saving Gont to rather ponderous tales of choosing your journey through life, be it music or magic. I do find it interesting though that she is rather blunt in her bookends to the tales and what comes across is the feeling of a writer who is visibly struggling with her shortcomings. What I admire is that she obviously knows she needs improvement and was willing to take the time to try to fix her failings. Because the truth is we all can improve and hone whatever craft, whatever calling we have, and to admit this so publicly? I really am in awe of that. But more than that, I can see the improvement! Le Guin's biggest flaw is her inability to handle endings properly. There's an ineptitude there that all these tales are working to redress. In fact of the five tales here collected, only 'Darkrose and Diamond' had a slightly convoluted ending. Now that is improvement. Because even though I adore The Tombs of Atuan, I have to say, even it has a rushed ending that could have been improved.

Yet she's not just redressing the issues of her plotting, she is redressing the balance, the equilibrium that is so out of whack in Earthsea that it could be the cause of the great change that is underway in the archipelago. What she is finally doing is firmly establishing women and their roles within the cycle. Because this series has always been about maintaining the balance. This series was never just about Ged, it was about Ged and Tenar, two sides of a coin. So therefore, aside from reading about Tenar, how are women set within this universe? While a more traditional series written by a male author might just ignore this whole issue and not even question an entire male party heading off to Mount Doom, a modern female author would hopefully in this day and age not do this. Thankfully Le Guin is such an author. Therefore we're finally seeing in much more detail how woman fit into the magical system of the mages. It's not just hedge witches anymore! While we would dearly miss the hedge witches we've come to know and love, seeing more into the male hierarchy of Roke and the holes in their theories when we see that women were a part of that founding, we see that women are far more powerful than the males would like to think. There's a feeling of reclaiming their story throughout the pages of this book, seeing that it's not all celibate men dictating the course of history.

But those celibate men have been causing troubles and there's a big plot hole in this book because of it. In the first tale, 'The Finder,' we read about Otter and his arrival at Roke, which was run by women, and the founding of the school for wizards there. A founding wherein his partner was female and she was the first Master Patterner. Yet in "modern" times the school is basically a monastery with men hoarding all knowledge of magic because women can't deal with it because of their delicate sensibilities and all that bull shit. So sex AND women were originally allowed, but come the "modern" times in the fifth tale, 'The Dragonfly,' and Irian is being turned away because she is female, though she did attempt a male disguise. So the plot hole is HOW THE HECK DID THIS HAPPEN!?! How did Roke go from an egalitarian to a patriarchal society? There is ONE mention in the history of the land in 'A Description of Earthsea' that the first Archmage just got ride of the women. How!?! And when!?! I mean, I thought this book was kind of here to fill in the blanks and yet to show us this wonderful golden age of equality and then show us what we know it becomes without an inbetween seems like a major oversight. I mean seriously, how and why? Le Guin made this world, the least she could do is explain how this major imbalance of the sexes came to be.

Le Guin though loves to leave her stories a little messy. She picks up threads in later stories and books and so while this book as well as the final book, The Other Wind, doesn't address this seismic shift, just the fact of it's being, I wouldn't rule out her finally coming back to it years from now. In fact it wasn't until this book that we got some much longed for resolution when it came to Therru and her being a dragon. While it is only repeatedly insinuated in Tehanu that Therru is able to turn into a dragon, as she can call the great dragon Kalessin and speaks the language of the making, we never see her turn into a dragon. She stays human and with her humans and it's really a big letdown. In fact you kind of start to wonder if she even CAN turn into a dragon and maybe you were just reading what you wanted to read in Tehanu. But then comes the story "Dragonfly" and we FINALLY have a girl turning into a dragon! Not only that, she arrives on Roke and puts the masters all out of whack and then, bam, dragon. It's not a perfect tale by any means, starting off with a very creepy "wizard" Ivory trying to seduce Irian in her human form. But once we journey to Roke everything seems to fall into place. We see Irian doing the transformation that Therru may one day do and proving all my daydreams about Tehanu right. Yes to women not only being powerful but being dragons!

Yet in the end Tales from Earthsea has a very Tolkien vibe. Because this isn't one consistent narrative but lots of little stories that help you piece together the history of Earthsea. This can be seen most in 'A Description of Earthsea' which is SO Tolkien in that it lays out the races, the sexes, the languages, the dragons, everything is set down, but it's set down in a quick and perfunctory manner which mercifully doesn't go to the multiple volumes Tolkien would. I think that is what I love most about Earthsea, you know what you need to know and so much more is hinted at but you don't have to laboriously plod through all this ephemera to get the history of the archipelago. Yes, it might bother me that I want to know exactly how women were thrown out of the school on Roke, but would I want to read a three volume box set to learn why? No I wouldn't. The reason why Earthsea is so good a place to journey to is that's it's accessible. It's not bogged down in history and stilted writing like Tolkien, sorry to Tolkien fans but he was a historian not a writer. It's not replete with religious overtones that are trying to convert you to Catholicism, and yes, I do love Narnia, but that ending is brutal. Earthsea is like this wonderful middle ground that has the stories, the history, but also powerful women and an approachable text. So while I might not love everything about it, I do love visiting and hope that one day maybe in the not too distant future Le Guin will give us another adventure to this cycle.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Book Review Ursula K. Le Guin's Tehanu

Tehanu by Ursula K. Le Guin
Published by: Saga Press
Publication Date: 1990
Format: Paperback, 252 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

Tenar didn't choose the life she was destined to live, nor did she choose the life that Ged and Ogion offered her, instead she chose her own life, marriage to the farmer Flint and two children, a son and a daughter. A life much like her mother lived in Atuan before Tenar was taken away to serve the Nameless Ones. The wizards might look down on her for choosing the life of a typical female, but it's a life she never thought was in her grasp. It's been twenty-five years since she made her choice, since she moved to Oak Farm on Gont and raised her family. Her children are now grown and gone and her husband is in the ground. But she has no regrets. She has made a life for herself as Goha, a pillar of the community, one whom others turn to. They turn to her when a young girl is left by vagrants badly burned and on the brink of death. Tenar helps save the child's life and takes her as her own. Therru is her third child and as she's so young she takes her to Re Albi when she gets word that Ogion is on his deathbed.

Ogion was like a father to Tenar and she wonders what her life would have been like if she had stayed, if she had learned magic. His final words to her though are in regards to the power residing in Therru and the change that has been wrought in the world. All has changed. Because unbeknownst to Tenar Ged has defeated the evil that was infecting the world, the evil that lead to Therru's disfigurement. There is to be a king in Earthsea again. A king that very much hopes that Ged will be at his side. But Ged has returned to Gont on the back of a dragon, powerless and ill. Tenar must return him to health and hide him from the crown. She had seen them all living at Re Albi, but evil magics push her and Therru away and Ged goes off into the mountains. Back at Oak Farm life returns to normal, or the new normal as it were. Though there is still danger. Those who attacked Therru want her back and other villains aren't very much in favor of the new king and his rule. Will Tenar and Ged be able to defeat the evil on Gont? Or will their age and diminished powers need help from another source?

Almost two decades after The Farthest Shore Le Guin came back to Earthsea with Tehanu. What's interesting in this is not the length of time she took to write it but in that it picks up Ged's story almost minutes after we last saw him. And yet, this isn't Ged's story. This is Tenar's. As a woman I felt far more of a connection to Tenar than I ever did to Ged. Tenar is his balance. The magic of Earthsea is all about balance and equilibrium so therefore it makes sense for Ged to have a strong female counterpoint. Yet I felt that by bringing these two characters together sexually as a couple it almost undid all that came before. It made Tenar's decisions to turn her back on magic and take on the traditional role of a female as just all backstory for when she finally got Ged. As for Ged, he's broken, so she's only allowed to have him because he can no longer be what he was? Yeah. Nope. While after I read The Tombs of Atuan I might have thought what if, sometimes it's far better to have that "what if" never acted on. How many times has the eventual consummation of a relationship destroyed a narrative Moonlighting style? The number is probably too numerous to count, so yeah, I just wish Le Guin hadn't gone there.

In fact, judging by her afterward I think there's a lot about this book she would second guess if she were to write it again. What I find interesting is that what readers seemed to object to most was the diminishment of Ged and the embracing of feminism. Firstly, this isn't Ged's story, so get over it. Secondly, I wouldn't call this book feminist, I would just say that it successfully shows a woman's POV, and given that this is Tenar's book, that makes total sense. I mean, yes, you could call any book with a female lead feminist, but what I particularly love about Tenar is that she embraces the true meaning of feminism, in that you don't need to be militant to be a feminist, you can be a warrior in your own way. You can be a feminist while still embracing the more traditional role of females of hearth and home. She's true to herself, and if that is feminism, well, I'm glad this book is such. Tenar gets the life she never thought she'd have by turning away from magic and that knowledge, and finding different knowledge and truth in herself while being vocal about what it is to be a woman.

The truth that's spoken about being a woman is that it is dangerous to be female. When people talk about living in a society that at this moment doesn't feel safe, the thing about being a woman is that you never really feel safe. And maybe it was being shown this truth that readers objected to. Yes, you can try to harness your power, marshal your resources, but any time you're out walking and you hear something or see someone coming towards you from a distance, you worry. You think, this is danger. With society taking more and more rights away from us and with danger lurking around an innocent looking corner, I think this book needs to be read by more people. It gets into the psyche of what it is to be female, but also, how to live if the worst does happen to you. If you're burned and raped and left for dead. Therru's journey is inspiring. She takes back her power and survives and, in the end, thrives. So once again, if this is considered "feminist" then so be it. This needed to be said, this needed to be seen. And if you're a reader who can't get past a label of "feminism" that doesn't really bring to the forefront the complexities Le Guin is dealing with, than I'm really sorry for you because you're missing out on so much.

Which brings me to Therru. Therru is awesome. But. Yes, you knew that "but" was coming. The problem is Therru's story feels only half told. She is a young girl destroyed by family through violence and fire. She is rehabilitated through Tenar's love. At the end she shows her true power, linking her to a story Ogion used to tell Tenar about a woman who was a woman and a dragon at the same time. Yet her backstory isn't fully explained and her future is left up in the air and is hopefully explained in the final to books in the Earthsea cycle. As for that left unanswered? Her father/uncle, the man who was the most concerned with her of her abusers keeps returning and trying to claim her. Why? Was it because he was drawn to her because of her innate power? Was it because he wanted to silence her forever? Was it because her power scared and thrilled him and that's why he would attack her but also wanted to be near her? The motives are NEVER explained. As for Therru and her relationship to Ogion's story... was she always part dragon? Hence the power drawing those to her? Or was her attack and near consumption by fire what gave her power? Made her have a new affinity for fire? I just feel that Therru even after a couple hundred pages is just as much a mystery as she was at the start and I NEED more of her story.

But then again, I've noticed that Le Guin isn't very deft with handling endings. She tends to rush straight into things and everything ends in a jumble. Here just a paragraph or three of degradation for Tenar and Ged at the hands of a wizard and then Therru and a dragon to the rescue. Literally this book is drawn to a rapid conclusion in only twenty-five pages! And also, I kid not, ends on a cliff. It's like, despite at the time calling this "The Last Book of Earthsea" she already knew there was going to be more and a cliffhanger might be funny. Yeah, cliffhangers are the last bastion of those who are a little bit lazy when it comes to being storytellers. They torture their readers by employing this device, so I guess the fact that she hinted at it but didn't actually do it should be considered a win for us readers? I think my main problem is that Le Guin has created this vast and complex world and yet likes to leave it a little messy and unresolved. Yes, this makes it more realistic, but this is fantasy. Fantasy is allowed to have everything handed to you on a platter with a nice neat bow. Her approach might not be as satisfying, but personally, I could have used a few more answers and a few less "until next times."

Monday, April 17, 2017

Tuesday Tomorrow

Cold Earth by Ann Cleeves
Published by: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: April 18th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 400 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"From Ann Cleeves, winner of the CWA Diamond Dagger Award, comes Cold Earth.

In the dark days of a Shetland winter, torrential rain triggers a landslide that crosses the main road and sweeps down to the sea.

At the burial of his old friend Magnus Tait, Jimmy Perez watches the flood of mud and water smash through a house in its path. Everyone thinks the home is uninhabited, but in the wreckage he finds the body of a dark-haired woman wearing a red silk dress. Perez soon becomes obsessed with tracing her identity and realizes he must find out who she was and how she died.

Cold Earth is the seventh book in the beloved Shetland series, which is now a major success for the BBC."

Anyone else glad that the TV shows based on her books are a success meaning we're finally getting the books stateside?

A Line Made by Walking by Sara Baume
Published by: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication Date: April 18th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The author of the award-winning Spill Simmer Falter Wither returns with a stunning new novel about a young artist's search for meaning and healing in rural Ireland.

Struggling to cope with urban life-and life in general-Frankie, a twenty-something artist, retreats to her family's rural house on "turbine hill," vacant since her grandmother's death three years earlier. It is in this space, surrounded by countryside and wild creatures, that she can finally grapple with the chain of events that led her here-her shaky mental health, her difficult time in art school-and maybe, just maybe, regain her footing in art and life.

As Frankie picks up photography once more, closely examining the natural world around her, she reconsiders seminal works of art and their relevance. With "prose that makes sure we look and listen," Sara Baume has written an elegant novel that is as much an exploration of wildness, the art world, mental illness, and community as it is a profoundly beautiful and powerful meditation on life."

I want to run away and just regain my footing, art, and life! 

The Walworth Beauty by Michele Roberts
Published by: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
Publication Date: April 18th, 2017
Format: Paperback, 400 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"From the Booker-shortlisted author comes a sensuous, evocative novel exploring the lives of women in Victorian London, for fans of Sarah Waters, Emma Donoghue and Kate Atkinson 2011: When Madeleine loses her job as a lecturer, she decides to leave her riverside flat in cobbled Stew Lane, where history never feels far away, and move to Apricot Place. Yet here too, in this quiet Walworth cul-de-sac, she senses the past encroaching: a shifting in the atmosphere, a current of unseen life. 1851: and Joseph Benson has been employed by Henry Mayhew to help research his articles on the working classes. A family man with mouths to feed, Joseph is tasked with coaxing testimony from prostitutes. Roaming the Southwark streets, he is tempted by brothels' promises of pleasure - and as he struggles with his assignment, he seeks answers in Apricot Place, where the enigmatic Mrs Dulcimer runs a boarding house. As these entwined stories unfold, alive with the sensations of London past and present, the two eras brush against each other - a breath at Madeleine's neck, a voice in her head - the murmurs of ghosts echoing through time. Rendered in immediate, intoxicating prose, The Walworth Beauty is a haunting tale of desire and exploitation, isolation and loss, and the faltering search for human connection; this is Michele Roberts at her masterful best."

YAS! Go Victorian times!

Manderley Forever by Tatiana de Rosnay
Published by: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: April 18th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The nonfiction debut from beloved international sensation and #1 New York Times bestselling author Tatiana de Rosnay: her bestselling biography of novelist Daphne du Maurier.

“It's impressive how Tatiana was able to recreate the personality of my mother, including her sense of humor. It is very well written and very moving. I’m sure my mother would have loved this book.” ― Tessa Montgomery d’Alamein, daughter of Daphné du Maurier, as told to Pauline Sommelet in Point de Vue.

As a bilingual bestselling novelist with a mixed Franco-British bloodline and a host of eminent forebears, Tatiana de Rosnay is the perfect candidate to write a biography of Daphne du Maurier. As an eleven-year-old de Rosnay read and reread Rebecca, becoming a lifelong devotee of Du Maurier’s fiction. Now de Rosnay pays homage to the writer who influenced her so deeply, following Du Maurier from a shy seven-year-old, a rebellious sixteen-year-old, a twenty-something newlywed, and finally a cantankerous old lady. With a rhythm and intimacy to its prose characteristic of all de Rosnay’s works, Manderley Forever is a vividly compelling portrait and celebration of an intriguing, hugely popular and (at the time) critically underrated writer."

Let's open the vault and get those Du Maurier secrets! 

Elephi: The Cat with the High IQ by Jean Stafford
Published by: Dover Publications
Publication Date: April 18th, 2017
Format: Paperback, 80 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Elephi Pelephi Well Known Cat Formerly Kitten lives a comfortable life with a kind but dull couple who often leave him to his own devices. Being a cat with a high IQ, he longs for stimulating companionship, and when he spies a snow-covered car outside his Fifth Avenue apartment, Elephi recognizes the opportunity for an adventure. Taking advantage of an open door, the intrepid cat bolts out to the street and devises a rescue for the abandoned vehicle, a daring maneuver that leads to comic confusion and a surprising new friendship.

Splendid black-and-white drawings that evoke New York City of the 1960s complement this classic by the winner of the 1970 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Jean Stafford is best known for her short stories, which appeared in the New Yorker and other literary magazines. Her own beloved pet inspired this tale of Elephi, Stafford's only children's book, which is clearly the work of someone who loves and understands cats."

The cat is wearing a monocle! I'm sold.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Book Review - Ursula K. Le Guin's The Farthest Shore

The Farthest Shore by Ursula K. Le Guin
Published by: Houghton Mifflin
Publication Date: 1972
Format: Hardcover, 422 Pages
Rating: ★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

Arren, the young Prince of Enland has come to the island of Roke to speak to the Archmage. He has been sent by his father, who is a wizardly man, to tell the Archmage that magic is dying, Earthsea is in danger. There is a sickness throughout the land, a malaise. Crops won't grow, spells are forgotten, and yet people don't care. On Roke they are ignorant of these changes in Earthsea, being protected by their magics. The Archmage, Sparrowhawk, sees the danger and vows to discover the source. Having grown up hearing the exploits of this great man Arren offers himself as his traveling companion. His sword. It is Arren's greatest desire in life to go on an adventure with his hero, though little does he know that adventures might sound wondrous in song, but are often arduous journeys where your survival is often a question. They leave Roke in Lookfar, sailing to Hort Town. A wizard there, while almost killing them, provides the first clues to the sickness. There is a wizard whose malign influence is tainting the world, trying to upset the balance between life and death. Earthsea depends on this balance, by shifting to the dark the will to live is draining out of the world. The two travelers see this again in Lorbanery, famous for dying silk, but they dye silk no more. Soon the malaise starts to effect Arren and Sparrowhawk almost dies because of his apathy. Yet they are spared once again and the dragons lead them to the final battle between good and evil. Will good triumph and an old prophecy be fulfilled? Or will evil win and strand the two adventurers in the land of the dead?

After how deeply I connected to the second book in this series, The Tombs of Atuan, there was almost no way that the third volume could spark that kind of devotion. But I was willing to have an open mind. Because the truth is, I was wary about The Tombs of Atuan and then it eventually not only sucked me in but won me over. So heading into The Farthest Shore my mind was open, I was ready for the next adventure of Ged and well... I was left cold. Like I was dumped out of Lookfar in some remote inlet and just left there. There were many reasons for this disconnect, the time jump, the earnest Arren, the meager plot, the truth is The Farthest Shore just didn't feel substantial enough when compared to the previous two volumes. I mean they are on land for little if any of the book, not that I'm saying a book set on a boat is boring, just this book set on a boat. Because when they're in the boat they just sit there. Occasionally move from one end to the other, there's the random swimming, oh, and the boring food that at least sustains them... so the whole book is on a boring boat, where not much is happening, they land, there's an angry mob, yell, yell, shout, attack, attack, back in the boat, sail some more, land again, oh look the evil ennui is here too, shout, attack, flee to boat, repeat again and again, until the lassitude infects Arren and he sits in the boat watching Ged die. Yeah, this is one happy book!

The flaw of the book is that Ged isn't the hero. Yes, he wasn't the hero in The Tombs of Atuan, but at least there he felt integral to Tenar's journey, here... here he's just an old man that doesn't really do much and the burden is shifted to the slight shoulders of Arren. When you look at Arren's arc as a whole from naive youth to the future king that will reunite all of Earthsea, it makes you not so hasty to judge him. But this is knowledge obtained after you've read the entire book, so for most of the book you're stuck with the trouble of Arren. Arren is just too naive and his hero worshiping of Ged, it's too much. He's a sycophant. He makes Beatlemania seem tame. It's actually nauseating. Heck, I'm not anti Ged, it's just, because of the timelapse, well, we don't know ALL of his adventures, unlike Arren who probably had a scribe laboriously write them out and have them bound in the finest calfskin. Logically I know that Le Guin wrote Arren to this extreme to contrast with his late apathy of Ged in the boat dying of a spear wound, to show how deep the sickness that has gripped Earthsea really goes, but still. Just no. There's just something about this blind optimism for adventure that is just too naive for me, especially considering how much danger and hate they encounter along the way.

Of course if there was still a connection between the reader and Ged then perhaps Arren's fanaticism could have been overlooked, but there's just too much time between the previous volume and this one. We saw Ged become a wizard and overcome a dark shadow and reunite the halves of the ring of Erreth-akbe but as we learn in Tehanu, that was twenty-five years previously, despite there only being two years between the publication of The Tombs of Atuan and The Farthest Shore. During that time Ged must have had countless adventures, all known by heart by Arren, but unknown to the readers. We join him as Archmage of Roke, and we no longer know him. He's a stranger. This forces the narrative onto Arren's shoulders, and as I've already said, this doesn't work. Ged was who we started this journey with and it should be through him that we "finish" this journey. Instead he's enigmatic, remote, withdrawn, nothing like what we've seen before. Yes, having already started reading Tehanu I know the whys and wherefores, but the problem with Le Guin's series is that sometimes she is willing to sacrifice aspects of the current story in order to serve the overall story. While this is the way successful series are built, I still want each volume to work on it's own. I want each part of the story to be satisfying, not a placeholder to get to the next arc.

But the other thing I have to wonder is how long does it take to set Earthsea to rights? Because at the end of The Tombs of Atuan the two halves of the ring of Erreth-akbe were reunited and therefore peace was to be restored to Earthsea with the ascension of the rightful king. Um... it's been twenty-five years, literally almost a generation and things have just gotten worse and worse. I know it takes awhile to jump start the whole fixing a world but a generation!?! As I said, having jumped to the next story there are hints at other reasons this is happening, but just for the here and now, well, it's sad and depressing. This great victory for good and Ged and yet he goes off to be Archmage and shuts himself off from the world thinking what, that the world would just right itself? That his work was done and it was time to train up a new generation of wizards? Not only does it seem unfeasible, but it seems wrong of Ged. He literally turned his back on the world and now everything is shit. In fact when it's revealed that Ged knew the dark wizard who was behind the unbalancing of Earthsea, don't you think if he had stayed a little more connected, a little more invested with seeing through this peace he hoped to bring about that all this wouldn't have happened? Just saying, Ged, you dropped the ball and you SO don't deserve the worship of Arren.

Though in the end it was the magic leaving the world and the lassitude taking over Earthsea that made the book lackluster. Because that malaise permeated every page of this book and literally made me not want to pick it up. Whereas I devoured the first two books literally in a couple of days, it almost took me a week to struggle through until I reached the farthest shore. The ennui became a part of me. Perhaps I should tip my hat and say that Le Guin is such a successful writer she made the pervasive mood of the book literally jump off the page and into my life, but that doesn't take into account my desire to just set this book aside and never bother finishing it. If Arren can sit by and watch Ged die, why do I have to sit by and read about it? Why don't I move onto something a little more upbeat, a little less, everyone is going to die and we don't really care one jot. Or I could just sit in this chair and stare at the wall. Walls are nice. Walls are restful. Yes, I might have read this book in the middle of an illness, but I read the other two in the exact same condition. It's rare when I think sleep is the better option than reading. In fact choosing sleep over reading is usually detrimental to my mental health, needing a little escape before bed, but I would totally choose a nice nap over ever having to read this book again.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

TV Review - Earthsea

Based on the book by Ursula K. Le Guin
Starring: Shawn Ashmore, Erin Karpluk, Danny Glover, Alessandro Juliani, Richard Side, Chris Gauthier, Mark Hildreth, Heather Laura Gray, Alan Scarfe, Katharine Isabelle, Sebastian Roché, Jennifer Calvert, Emily Hampshire, Kristin Kreuk, and Isabella Rossellini
Release Date: December 13th-14th, 2004
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

King Tygath longs to subdue all of Earthsea and achieve immortality through the Nameless Ones. Two people stand in his way, Ged and Tenar. Yet he knows neither by name. Ged is the wizard prophesied to unite Earthsea in peace while Tenar will guard the labyrinthine prison of the Nameless Ones. Despite never meeting, Ged and Tenar know each other, through visions they have had for years. But their inevitable meeting isn't to happen. Yet. First Ged must leave his small village on the isle of Gont. He feels that he will forever be trapped there, the son of a smith, when he longs to do magic. He uses what little magic he knows from an old woman in the village to save his townspeople from the Kargides who arrive searching for the wizard of the prophecy. Ged dies in the attack. But the wandering magus Ogion arrives and revives Ged, taking him on as his pupil and giving him his true name, Sparrowhawk. But Ogion sees that he isn't the teacher for Ged and sends him to Roke, where he will attend the wizarding school there. Yet Ged doesn't understand why there are limits to magic and in a forbidden duel with a fellow student he releases a Nameless One. This act will haunt Ged and also signals to King Tygath that Ged is the wizard of the prophesy.

Ged is hunted by the Gebbeth, who eventually takes on Ged's form. His battle though will bring him to Atuan and Tenar. Tenar is the prized pupil of the High Priestess Thar. Thar is obstinate against King Tygarth and his desire to release the order's prisoners, the Nameless Ones. The King therefore is plotting with Thar's second in command and his lover, Kossil, to poison Thar and therefore make Kossil the one with the knowledge to release the Nameless Ones. Yet things don't go according to plan when Thar names Tenar as her successor. They therefore plot to tarnish Tenar's perfect image and achieve the immortality they seek. But on her deathbed Thar mutters a warning that what King Tygarth seeks is impossible. Little does she know that it is impossible because of the disgraced Tenar who is now captive in the order's dungeon with Ged. The two of them have been destined to meet. Destined to save Earthsea. But will they be in time to bring peace to the land or will King Tygarth rule forever?   

Here's the thing about this miniseries, if you go in expecting it to be in ANY WAY like the books by Ursula K. Le Guin, you are going to be disappointed. If, on the other hand, you take it at face value, don't over analyze, and yes, that's ironic coming from me, then it's entertaining. It's good for what it is but what it is is not the books you know and love. Driven by the success of the Harry Potter film franchise which in 2004 had adapted the first three books by J.K Rowling and by the success of The Lord of the Rings film franchise, which released it's final film a year prior this series was tailored to be a combination of the two. Therefore the action was predominately split between the wizarding school on Roke and the war on Earthsea led by King Tygarth and his Kargides. While in the books Ged's education is important, it's not such a focal point, as for the raiding Kargides? They're hardly mentioned except in passing. This miniseries was trying so hard to be an amalgam of something that it wasn't that it missed the opportunity to bring Le Guin's groundbreaking books to a great public. So while I did enjoy it I could help thinking what if?

Because what this could have been, what this should have been is an epic fantasy version of Roots. And you can tell looking at the DVD cover, well... Shawn Ashmore, he's, um, he would not be a protagonist in Roots. In fact Danny Glover is about the only thing they got right with regards to the source material, and personally, I felt a little bad for him. Did he sign on knowing the books? Did he think this would have been the epic it should have been? Whitewashing is being talked about more and more in regards to mainstream media. When Le Guin wrote her scathing tirade lambasting this production whitewashing wasn't discussed as readily as it is today. I feel that while the race issue has become more polarized at least audiences are getting more and more savvy, just look to the recent failure of Ghost in the Shell, casting Scarlett Johansson as the lead was an insult and audiences showed their disdain by not going to the film. Then there was the convoluted whitewashing of the Ancient One in Doctor Strange. I say convoluted because they went a step in the right direction by casting a woman in a male's role, but then it was a white woman who then started badmouthing her own casting... Any way you look at it, the lack of diversity on the screen is an insult to Le Guin's vision and I'm surprised she didn't find a way to fully distance herself from the production.

What I felt though really took this miniseries away from Le Guin's vision wasn't just the whitewashing, which is unacceptable, but the refocusing on war and violence. It's rare to have a series of books that celebrate humanity and the search for self. It's even rarer to find that series in fantasy where epic battles the equal of Helm's Deep or The Battle of Hogwarts seem to be the order of the day. Reading the books by Le Guin is a refreshing experience. They have become classics because they aren't like what else is out there. To strip the story of all that and replace it with King Tygath, a power-hungry and violent ruler who is almost irrelevant in The Tombs of Atuan, it's just insulting to the viewers. The reason why I don't like the Marvel film franchise or in fact really any superhero films is it's just action scene after action scene with no character development. So Sci-Fi did to Earthsea what they assumed their viewers wanted... made it epic battles and raids. While their might have been one raid in the first book, it wasn't with an express purpose of war and dominance, it was part of Ged's journey. But now, because of "popular tastes" Ged's journey is just one battle after another not to find himself but to save Earthsea from an evil tyrant. Sigh.

But the thing is, what this miniseries wants to be is the equal of The Lords of the Rings or Harry Potter, yet those are movies with IMMENSE budgets... this was a miniseries shot in Vancouver. Therefore your CGI looks a little or in this case A LOT like a bad video game and the special effects look like something Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell cooked up. At first I thought that the miniseries HAD to have been made a lot longer ago then just thirteen years because it's literally that bad, but the more practical effects had a kind of cheesy charm. It is my belief that CGI doesn't age well at all but practical effects, even if they look cheesy, they will hold up better over time. Because while technology might have improved, at least it's a physical thing that's there and not some greenscreened snake. Seriously, stop doing CGI snakes, they NEVER look right. So I kind of went to a weird place and started wondering, what if they had upped the cheese factor on the effects. Gone all in on The Evil Dead vibe. I personally think that could have really worked, made it shine a little, or at least made it amusingly memorable. It never had a chance to be a cinematic masterpiece, so why not go the other way?

Though for me the biggest insult of the miniseries which I kind of had to keep telling myself to ignore and just accept for what it is is how they treated the storyline from The Tombs of Atuan. I mean, it's just... nope. Nope, nope, nope. I seriously loved that book so much and aside from the insult of having Kristin Kreuk be Tenar, they just didn't get it. I mean, watching this miniseries it's pretty obvious they just didn't get anything about the source material, but what bothered me most about the story in Atuan was that it stripped the women of power, giving it all to the King, but more importantly, it made them servants of good. In the book they worship the Nameless Ones. Worship, as in revere and idolize. Here they're trying to keep the Nameless Ones locked away from the world. What!?! I mean, seriously what? That the good Tenar could come out of this bad situation, that she could find herself when she was raised for evil? That's a true journey of discovery. Here she's just a lame handmaiden waiting for the guy to come along and figure everything out and give her the heroic kiss as the world is set to right. NO NO NO! Ged is to be at her mercy and it is her with the upper hand. Just no. I'm really starting to second guess why I liked this miniseries. I guess for one rare instance I was able to separate what it was, what it could have been, and what it became into separate categories and somehow I was OK with that. Still don't quite know how.

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