Hunting: Ursula K. Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea

Having loosed a monster that he does not understand and which threatens to destroy him, Ged spends much of A Wizard of Earthsea running. The titular wizard’s constant flight eventually leaves him wholly exhausted and on the brink of annihilation, at which point he returns to the mage who was his first master, Ogion. Under Ogion’s care, Ged recovers his strength but, more importantly, he also begins to understand it. At last, he sees that running from his fear will never grant him victory and will, instead, only postpone defeat. If he is to survive, he must turn and face the demon that he has drawn into the world. And so, having abandoned his passivity in favor of action, Ged sets out on his quest before the sun rises, leaving a simple note for Ogion that contains only four words.

I love that moment and as I came upon it during my continued streak of revisiting old favorites, I was once again awed by Le Guin’s ability to inspire me. For years, influenced by the work of Le Guin and Tolkien and countless others, I have had the idea of a fantasy story embedded deep in the back of my mind, within sight but forever out of reach. The handful of attempts that I’ve made to hone in on this idea and turn it into a proper story have all flamed out, some immediately and some in gruelingly long fashion. But over the last few weeks I’ve been pursuing it once more and this time something feels different. It could be that, having by now completed a few long stories (as well as a short one that was published), I’ve become a better writer, capable of managing this particular tale; it could be that, as I keep reading books, I’m constantly becoming more well read, with a deeper understanding of the ebbs and flows of storytelling and how to use those tides for my purposes; or maybe, like Ged, I’ve finally become comfortable in my own skin, ready to leave my passivity behind and take action, no matter whether those actions will bring success or failure.

A common refrain from writers that I admire is that they’re forever indebted to their writing mentors, professors from their MFA programs or maybe an editor that they met through their job in publishing or journalism. But I never went to grad school and my career is a long reach from New York City and the heart of book culture. Hell, despite taking a few English courses in college, that wasn’t even my major. I’m an archaeological anthropology grad. The most important mentor I’ve ever had in my writing has been Le Guin and the volumes of her words that I’ve read and read and read again. So, as I search out the truth of this story, chasing after ideas that have remained elusive for so long, I will think of her and the four brief words that Ged once left for Ogion:

“Master, I go hunting.”

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