Today is the 86th birthday of author Ursula K. Le Guin, without whom I would have never wrote all the words on this blog, or any words in general, because I would have missed out on visiting worlds of wizards, dragons, aliens, Italians, anarchists, and ants. In light of this happy occasion, I’ve compiled the pieces I’ve written about her work over the years on Ekostories. To steal a passage from the introduction she did for James Tiptree Jr.’s Star Songs of an Old Primate: “Here are Some real stories.”
On more than one occasion, I’ve been tempted to write a feature on J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. The trilogy along with The Silmarillion is dear to me, a master feat of world-building and myth-making that remains unrivalled in scope and grandeur. (I remain one of the unfashionable few who enjoys the irreverent songs and lengthy descriptions) Even a cursory glance at the text reveals a host of themes and motifs ripe for an Ekostory exploration: The pastoral Shire threatened by looming machinations; the fading of the Elves giving way to the coming age of Men; the propensity of power to corrupt all with noble and pure intentions; the quiet courage of ordinary folk. And yet, I hesitate. So much already exists in terms of Tolkien scholarship – I don’t feel like I have anything original to contribute. The work speaks for itself. But while I may not be up for analyzing Tolkien’s magnum opus, I can at least express my appreciation for some small portion of it. It’s not quite autumn here yet, …
Ursula K. Le Guin accepts the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters at the 65th National Book Awards on November 19, 2014. “I think hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies, to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries—the realists of a larger reality… …Books, you know, they’re not just commodities. The profit motive often is in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art—the art of words.” – speech excerpt Copyright © 2014 Ursula K. Le Guin
“I would call [A Wizard of Earthsea] a fantasy book for adults. You might call it young adult or fantasy, or one of those categories—which are really just there to help people put things on bookshelves. But because it is really talking about life and mortality and who are we as human beings, and what is the relationship between our darker side and the rest of us, I think it can be profitably read by anybody over the age of 12.” – Margaret Atwood
It may seem excessive to devote an entire write-up to a single character, but I believe Aang, the chief protagonist of Avatar: The Last Airbender, warrants such an exploration. In an age of brooding, melodramatic, and angst-filled heroes, Aang provides a refreshing counterexample to what it means to be an emotionally intelligent, internally resilient, and ethically principled individual. His role as the outsider to a war-torn world, coupled with his unique upbringing and temperament, makes his character growth throughout Avatar fascinating to watch.
One of the most well executed aspects of Avatar: The Last Airbender is its depiction of the four elemental nations of its fictional world. The depth and care taken to create the Water Tribes, Earth Kingdom, Fire Nation, and Air Nomads contributed enormously to the richness of the show, creating a world of diverse cultures and perspectives. This helps to separate Avatar from many contemporary and more derivative works of fantasy. Embedded within the fictional world of Avatar is the idea that each society and its people reflect the tendencies of their element. But after a century-long absence of the Avatar, the nations have become stagnant, unbalanced, dysfunctional, and in need of serious reform. In this entry, I’ll explore how the protagonists of Avatar serve as agents of change in the world by embodying the best qualities of their respective elements.
Just to make it clear, this will not be about James Cameron’s Avatar. Nor is it about The Last Airbender, the terrible live-action adaptation by M. Night Shyamalan. Instead, the next few entries will be devoted to the popular animated television series titled Avatar: The Last Airbender. I’ll simply refer to the show as Avatar in this and other subsequent posts. The series was first brought to my attention by a good friend of mine; I initially paid little heed to his initial sales pitch of “it’s really good!” because we generally have very different tastes. But on one Sunday afternoon, I happened upon an episode (now known to me as the excellent Bitter Work) and was caught off-guard by the show’s blend of Eastern influences, subtle characterizations, sharp dialogue, slapstick humour, layered mythology, and most important of all, excellent storytelling. Intrigued, I decided to catch up on the series from the beginning. It has since grown to become one of my favourite television shows, animated or otherwise, of all time. Like many contemporary works …