Discover more from Other Feminisms
[Earthsea] Strength's Appeal to Despair
When we judge the power of a tool by its danger
This is week seven of our summer Wizard of Earthsea book club. This week’s chapter is “The Hawk’s Flight.”
It’s always funny to reread a book you read as a teen. It’s the pivotal moments that stay with me, so I’m often surprised by the pacing of the book when I return. Which is to say, a fair number of Ged’s chapters end with him losing consciousness!
Each time he succumbs, to the Shadow, to overexerting his power, to cold, to hawk-shape, he seems to have come through a new birth by touching death. LeGuin often explicitly names him as a new creation, with his old self foreign to him now.
I like the way that genre fiction heightens ordinary human experience. I think many of us go through these moments of discontinuity in smaller ways. And I’m very interested in Ogion’s tutoring as a path toward integration.
But before I turn to the end of this chapter, I want to talk about the power Ged is tempted by in the Terrenon Stone. When Serret brings him to see it, the Stone (and the spirit bound within) is safeguarded behind locks like a treasure. The work of approaching it lends it a kind of pomp and majesty. But Ged speaks passionately against the awe Serret displays:
He spoke with a grave boldness: "My lady, that spirit is sealed in a stone, and the stone is locked by binding-spell and blinding-spell and charm of lock and ward and triple fortress-walls in a barren land, not because it is precious, but because it can work great evil. I do not know what they told you of it when you came here. But you who are young and gentle-hearted should never touch the thing, or even look on it. It will not work you well."
Gd encounters a problem that we confront, too. How do you warn someone against a malign power without lending it an air of romance and challenge? Isn’t anything worth guarding worth glimpsing?
It reminded me strongly of one of the proposed warnings to place on long term nuclear storage, which might, due to its large, layered defences, attract curiosity and excavation. (I wrote a short RPG about the passage of time and the attraction of mystery and danger inspired by these warnings). I’ve excerpted the nuclear warning below, the full text is here.
This place is not a place of honor.
No highly esteemed deed is commemorated here. Nothing valued is here.
What is here was dangerous and repulsive to us. This message is a warning about danger.
The danger is still present, in your time, as it was in ours.
The danger is to the body, and it can kill.
I don’t think this message would have dissuaded Serret or her Lord. The greater the warning, the greater the danger, the greater the power to be wielded, if you can master it.
Ged is tempted by that power, since he is already oppressed by one malign-seeming power. If he is already in despair, with no clear way to defend himself, how much harm is there in trying something, anything.
What recollects him to himself is Serret’s urging that only darkness can drive out darkness. He knows that is not true. Only light can rebuke darkness—if he cannot find light, he will still gain nothing from cleaving to deeper darkness.
Outside of the context of our bookclub, I was frustrated by the Ohio Issue 1 ploy to change referendum laws before an anticipated amendment drive to guarantee abortion access.
There’s plenty of room to disagree about the right threshold for lawmaking and Constitutional amendments through direct democracy (personally, I do think it should take more than a bare majority).
But the restrictions went further, with a number of burdensome requirements (requiring a quorum of signatures from every county in the state, which seemed much more transparently about quashing referenda.
I’ve gotten into some arguments with friends, who say you can’t be precious about proceduralism when lives are on the line. But this feels more like the call of the Terrenon to me. It seems like this short-term, pro-life tactic comes from a place of despair, assuming our neighbors are unpersuadable.
Near the end of this week’s chapter, Ogion, who has kept his silence, used his husbanded words to tell Ged this:
A man would know the end he goes to, but he cannot know it if he does not turn, and return to his beginning, and hold that beginning in his being. If he would not be a stick whirled and whelmed in the stream, he must be the stream itself, all of it, from its spring to its sinking in the sea. You returned to Gont, you returned to me, Ged. Now turn clear round, and seek the very source, and that which lies before the source. There lies your hope of strength.
It’s hard to live rightly when we ignore the very beginning and source of human life. But it’s also hard to communicate that truth when we take our present division from neighbor for the whole of our story.
Last week, I asked you about your own experiences of trying to flee from, but without somewhere to run toward, in the same way Ged has been doing. I appreciated all your comments, and Ogion weighed in, too, in this chapter:
If you keep running, wherever you run you will meet danger and evil, for it drives you, it chooses the way you go. You must choose. You must seek what seeks you. You must hunt the hunter.
And Martha shared a story from our own not-as-obviously-enchanted world:
Before I got pregnant with my kiddo I had been trying intermittently to cut down on my drinking. I stocked the fridge with seltzer, drank less when I went out with friends, etc. But I was running *away* from drinking. It felt like a loss to be filled. When I got pregnant with my son - and esp. after he was born - not drinking no longer felt like a loss. I knew that continuing to drink would, for me, mean that I would enjoy our time together less. Running toward him has resulted in me having no interest in drinking since.
This week, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the chapter especially: