The Earth is beautiful, and bright, and kindly, but that is not all. The Earth is also terrible, and dark, and cruel. The rabbit shrieks dying in the green meadows. The mountains clench their great hands full of hidden fire. There are sharks in the sea, and there is cruelty in men’s eyes. And where men worship these things and abase themselves before them, there evil breeds; there are places made in the world where darkness gathers, places given over wholly to the Ones whom we call Nameless, the ancient and holy Powers of the Earth before the Light, the powers of the dark, of ruin, of madness….
-Sparrowhawk/Ged to Arha/Tenar, in The Tombs of Atuan, by Ursula K. Le Guin.
Ursula K. Le Guin is one of my all-time favourite writers, and in many ways I think she (and Ray Bradbury) have influenced my own writing style more than any other writers I can think of (except perhaps J.R.R. Tolkien, who blew my mind when I first read The Lord of the Rings as a teen).
She has such a restrained and powerful way of writing: her stories are lean and trim without unnecessary chatter or extraneous explanations. Her prose is poetic and straightforward at the same time, and she is able to express so much with very little. The quote above from The Tombs of Atuan (part of the Earthsea cycle) is a prime example: Ged’s way of speaking is so evocative and expressive that it feels like a kind of magic in itself, and since he is a wizard that is just as it should be.
Reading her books, I often re-read passages several times just because the language is so sparse and beautiful – there’s a power in it that goes beyond the story itself.
Le Guin writes primarily fantasy and science fiction, and also what’s often called (dismissively by some) Young Adult literature, so she doesn’t always get the respect she so richly deserves. But if I were handing out Nobel prizes in literature, she would be at the top of my winner’s list.
Photo © 2012 Laura Anglin
Ursula K. Le Guin’s website.