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28 December 2012 @ 04:30 pm
"... yet would I remember that once I saw the dragons aloft on the wind at sunset …”  

In this month of short days, I found myself turning to a reread of Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Farthest Shore, which has become one of my comfort reads. (A couple decades ago, I would have turned to Tombs of Atuan instead. Perhaps in a couple more I’ll turn to Tehanu.)

He knew now why this tranquil life in sea and sunlight on the rafts seemed to him like an after-life or a dream, unreal. It was because he knew in his heart that reality was empty: without life or warmth or color or sound: without meaning. There were no heights or depths. All this lovely play of form and light and color on the sea and in the eyes of men, was no more than that: a playing of illusions on the shallow void.

They passed, and there remained the shapelessness and the cold. Nothing else.

Sparrowhawk was looking at him, and he had looked down to avoid that gaze. But there spoke in Arren unexpectedly a little voice of courage or of mockery: it was arrogant and pitiless, and it said, “Coward! Coward! Will you throw even this away?”

So he looked up, with a great effort of his will, and met his companion’s eyes.

Sparrowhawk reached out and took his hand in a hard grasp, so that both by eye and by flesh they touched. He said Arren’s true name, which he had never spoken: “Lebannen.” Again he said it: “Lebannen, this is. And thou art. There is no safety, and there is no end. The word must be heard in silence; there must be darkness to see the stars. The dance is always danced above the hollow place, above the terrible abyss.”

When I fly (in an airplane, not by magic–though all flying is a sort of magic), I can judge how I’m feeling by how I respond to in-flight turbulence.

There’s a part of my that’s a little uneasy about flying … mildly uneasy, nothing compared to friends who are genuinely phobic. But when I’m feeling worn thin and small, that uneasy part of me flinches at turbulence, braced with every jolt for the jolt that will throw the plane out of the air. Humans flying seems such an improbable thing anyway. Surely it can’t last, some part of my backbrain thinks. Surely this jolt will be the one the plane doesn’t lift out of, or the next, or maybe the next.

Of course, planes can fall out of the sky. But in any given instant, the plane I’m on probably won’t.

But when I’m feeling strong and whole, that knowledge isn’t the thing I look to for reassurance and comfort.

It’s something more I look to. A feeling of joy in that bouncing of plane in air–of me in air. I’m flying, and I know it, and how incredible and exhilarating is that? It’s an impossible and wondrous and dancing thing, and I’m able to cast something of myself out into that dance and that joy, trusting the sky to hold me up.

Or … not quite. When I’m living most fully, I’m not actually actively reassuring myself that mostly, probably, more often than not, the sky won’t let me fall. Those are comfort thoughts for hard times.

In good times, I know full well the sky can drop me at any time. I fly accepting that knowledge, not denying it but not obsessing about it either, and somehow … joy isn’t lessened for it. That acceptance may even be part of where the joy comes from, though not all of it.

Because flying? It is an impossible and wondrous and dancing thing.

Mirrored from Desert Dispatches: Wordpress Edition.

Swan Tower: shipswan_tower on December 29th, 2012 08:26 am (UTC)
There's a song by the Canadian Celtic rock group Enter the Haggis called "Down with the Ship," which contains probably my favorite line in any song of theirs ever: "Like ships we were made / To dance on our graves."
Janni Lee Simner: Spirited Awayjanni on December 31st, 2012 04:40 am (UTC)
I like that. (And, okay, like the group name, too. :-))
Comrade Cat: general-art female scholar witchcomrade_cat on December 29th, 2012 10:44 am (UTC)
Why the switch from The Tombs of Atuan to The Farthest Shore?

I have a confession to make: I read A Wizard of Earthsea once when I was a kid and it was okay.

I always loved The Tombs of Atuan but don't know if I ever finished The Farthest Shore.

Tehanu I hated the first time, mainly because both the protagonists had to give up magic, but liked it better the second time.

My ultimate favourite is The Other Wind, though, with its message of hope and its clever reworking of previous structure.

I never got into The Left Hand of Darkness either, I thought it was slow. I'm slowly working my way through The Dispossessed now, but, well, slowly. Even though some bits are awesome.

I love love love Voices, Gifts, and The Telling. Powers was kind of weird, and I have to read it again at some point.

It just seems odd that I love some of her stuff so much and can do without others. Usually I either love an author or I'm bored by her.
Janni Lee Simner: Spirited Awayjanni on December 31st, 2012 04:44 am (UTC)
It wasn't a conscious thing, more that which was comforting shifted over time for me.

I suspect it has something to do with my younger self having both wanted adventures more badly and not yet believed in her own mortality even a little, but it's hard to say.

I do know I hated Tehanu when I read it in my 20s, loved in in my late 30s. Because in my 20s I wanted Tenar to have adventures; in my 30s I could appreciate that there were many ways to build a life, and that Tenar's way of doing so was a victory of its own, too.

But I find I'm this way with most authors: I never adore every book by them equally. Some are the book I'm looking for, some not, and more and more I think this is at least as much about me as reader as about one book being better or worse than another.

I do know with my own books, which books are favorites varies hugely from one reader to another too. I think every reader is just looking for something somewhat different, and that different books will fill that what-I-want space for each individual.

Edited at 2012-12-31 04:46 am (UTC)
Comrade Cat: books-pocket watch bookcomrade_cat on December 31st, 2012 05:59 am (UTC)
Hm. I'm in my 30s, but I still want to have adventures. Although I can see building something is a life - I'd love to have my own bookstore, for example! Building a system and organisation that works is a creation. I suppose people could feel that way about a farm. And I guess I can see Tenar having sort of agoraphobia/social phobia after the way she was raised.

It really bugged me that Ged had to give up sex to have magic though, and that Tenar's magic seemed lesser. I've always tended to identify with male characters if I wanted/needed to, and of course I'd love to have magic, along with masses of fellow fantasy fans.

Which is a bit odd in itself, b/c I wasn't really looking for a relationship at the time I first read Tehanu, I was kind of young. I guess I saw having a mate (in the sense of friend and of sexual partner) as part of having a full life. Or it's my society-induced femme conditioning. :/

I usually just like the author's writing style, and I'll read whatever they write, unless I come across a book that is egregiously annoying or slow or something. When I read random non-genre fiction, it tends to be due to the pleasing writing style, although I have recently begun being interested in slice of life fic when it pertains to mental illness.

Er, if you don't mind saying, how old are you now? 30s, 40s? I'm 34. It's kind of interesting, growing older.
Janni Lee Simner: dancejanni on December 31st, 2012 05:27 pm (UTC)
Forty five, and yes, it is!

I think Ged's having given up sex was one of the things she was trying to "fix" in later books ... the last three books in so many ways are a revisiting of the problems of the first three. (Something I have mixed feelings about, even while seeing the problems as real problems and getting why she wanted to revisit them.)
patty1943patty1943 on December 29th, 2012 11:16 pm (UTC)
Like your perspective. Gotta re-read Le Guin.
Janni Lee Simner: Spirited Awayjanni on December 31st, 2012 04:47 am (UTC)
I've found the earthsea books stand up to rereading very well indeed.

Haven't tried to reread her adult stuff. Ought to, really.
Comrade Cat: general-engel kosmonautacomrade_cat on December 31st, 2012 06:03 am (UTC)
I think she wrote most of her adult stuff earlier - I think her writing has got better as she's gone on, even though I know people have been raving about it forever.

I did love The Telling though, which is adult-marketed sf that she wrote somewhat recently. I like Voices and Gifts best though, they're books 2 and 1 of a lesser-known YA trilogy by her. Voices is this amazing sacred hymn to the power of literacy. Gifts is all about political intrigue and lonely children discovering things. Yeah, total hook for me. The third book, Powers, was odd for me, and I need to reread it at some point.

That trilogy is probably okay to read in any order, actually. There are two characters in common between all the books, but they take place at different times in those characters' lives.
Janni Lee Simner: Spirited Awayjanni on December 31st, 2012 05:29 pm (UTC)
I remember liking Gifts but not loving it, and meaning to get to Voices but not having done so yet. (Or was Voices the first one?)