Official site for the high/dark fantasy books of authors Barb Hendee and J. C. Hendee, including the Noble Dead Saga (a.k.a. The Noble Dead series), the Mist-Torn Witches series, the Vampire Memories series, and TNDS: Tales from the world of the Noble Dead Saga.

[Re]Reading Fantasy, Part 1:
Chasing the Sparrowhawk

It has been a while since anything new was posted to NobleDead.org. The last few years saw major changes for us (Barb and J.C.). Along the way, I promised on certain social systems to post my thoughts concerning a mixed read of new and old works of high fantasy [HF]. Seems like an appropriate use of our site, for now. So here we are…

A Wizard of Earthsea

The Earthsea Cycle, Book 1

Ursula K. Le Guin

If you've read HF as long as I have, you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who hasn't read this first book of 3 (now actually 5… or is it 6). At the start, I had trouble with it; it has been nearly 50 years since I last read it.

The opening chapter reads seemingly like many HF books I've started in recent times only to abandon them and never return. A just-the-facts approach has little finite detail in sensory input that I demand. In part, this may be influenced by the young adult assumed audience that shapes the narrative.

You don't get to know Ged or his small corner of the archipelagos very well before he moves on. He doesn't strike one as noteworthy, even when hints are dropped about his different nature. And it isn't until Ged reaches the Isle of Roke and its academy for wizards that the book of old I remembered began to faintly evoke its original nature. [Maybe I'm just a hard-sell.]

Once again it wasn't in the sensory details, which were [are] still too generic for my tastes. There is even a point when Ged's inner nature changes for no worthwhile reason at all; he becomes arrogant, petty, spiteful and suddenly over-gunned to his own demise. But more importantly, what began to come back for me were the prose; and that influence grew steadily. There was even relief for me within it, for I truly hate drudging through a “just the facts” approach common to many modern narratives.

I heard someone in my head reading to me.

I heard the voice of old that I had forgotten.

I found Ursula again, long lost from the days of the nightlight under the covers in reading well past midnight alone in my bedtime. And I remembered…

At 10 years old or less, I finished the book in three nights. My mother glanced at me in serving breakfast, frowned, said something I don't remember and felt my forehead, as if checking for a fever. I remember my father leaving for work completely oblivious, and my mother rushing us kids out the door to catch the school bus. The ride was far shorter than usual—I dozed off multiple times. Upon arriving home that afternoon, mother had another fit, complete with thermometer. I had a fever; I didn't care; I was relieved.

All I wanted was to keep reading alone with my dog, Scampy, meanest person I ever met on four legs and my best friend. I—we—read the whole book again.

I didn't care about being bed-ridden for four more days and nights, as long as I could escape into Ged's world instead of my own. I got to keep reading without losing sleep and escape a life I didn't like / want / work / wasn't really mine for a little longer. And then it was over; back to school and that life.

Have you ever wanted to stay sick… really sick?

Are you wondering when I'll start the real review? I already did, and you missed it.

Le Guin's work points to what is missing in so many works (to remain unnamed) that I started but never finished. While I have always preferred specific details to build someone else's world in my mind, there is something to be said for taking the different route of evocation through incantation. The simple phrase crafted in subtlety can conjure more than—or in addition to—what is right before your eyes.

Le Guin has this; most recent writers I've sampled do not have it and never will; I may be one of them. No, I won't name those others; do your own bloodwork and don't ask me to do it for you.

What I take now from Ursula's teaching is a lesson forgotten by many: conjure as well as narrate, conjure more than narrate.

—J.C. Hendee
NobleDead.org
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Next up in the reading schedule…

The Name of the Wind

Patrick Rothfuss