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[Earthsea] Choosing to Not Take Control
In which Ged chooses not to learn silence and stillness
Week two of our summer A Wizard of Earthsea book club! And a shoutout to the reader who told me he’s reading the novel aloud to two of his sons in concert with Other Feminisms.
In Chapter Two, “The Shadow,” Ged observes forbearance but struggles to learn it.
For when it rained Ogion would not even say the spell that every weatherworker knows, to send the storm aside. In a land where sorcerers come thick, like Gont or the Enlades, you may see a raincloud blundering slowly from side to side and place to place as one spell shunts it on to the next, till at last it is buffeted out over the sea where it can rain in peace. But Ogion let the rain fall where it would. He found a thick fir-tree and lay down beneath it. Ged crouched among the dripping bushes wet and sullen, and wondered what was the good of having power if you were too wise to use it, and wished he had gone as prentice to that old weatherworker of the Vale, where at least he would have slept dry.
I love LeGuin’s writing and her image of “a raincloud blundering slowly from side to side and place to place as one spell shunts it on to the next.” It’s a comic, cartoonish image of what our willfulness can wreak. It reminds me of C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters in the way it pokes fun at our pride in our own power.
I went through a couple titles of this post, trying to gesture pithily to what confuses Ged here. My first attempt was “Choosing to Give Up Control” which I think takes Ged’s position too strongly! It sounds like, by default, Ogion is directing the clouds and chooses to relax that control. When you have the power to order the world to your design, experiencing the world as it is becomes an active choice, too, and sometimes a burdensome one.
The introduction of a choice reshapes the terrain on which we all stand. To opt out of testing is to become someone who chose to opt out. To test and end a pregnancy because of Down syndrome is to become someone who chose not to have a child with a disability. To test and continue the pregnancy after a Down syndrome diagnosis is to become someone who chose to have a child with a disability. Each choice puts you behind one demarcating line or another.
When their child was a choice, for parents to have or abort a child with a disability became part of their expressive identity. If their child had been disabled after birth in an accident, the parents would not feel that everyone who knew them looked at their child’s condition as a choice that the parents had made. It would be simply who their child was.
For those children, there’s no safe place to be buffeted to, in the way the Earthsea rainclouds finally escape a weatherworker’s wishes. For the parents, there’s a world of Geds, asking “How can you choose this when you might choose otherwise?”
Where do you feel the burden of choice, making it hard to welcome what you’d accept unchosen?
What stood out to you from this chapter?
The chapter starts by noting the absence of examples of power Duny could have seen: his older brothers have left home and “there was no one to bring the child up in tenderness.” Not to twist words, but love is power, and therefore the power of tenderness, whether from friendship or familial care is an example of power visibly lacking without his mother or siblings or close peers (he likes to know what they don’t, not share in it) and with a “grim unspeaking” father.
There’s another absence worth noting: the lack of other characters’ names, and his father’s silence. There’s all this talk of naming and Duny learning the names of things but we don’t know the names of his parents, family members, or townsfolk.