Everybody’s Doing It, the Jean-Luc Picard

We’re up to the Star Trek films using the cast of The Next Generation, where they drink Romulan Pepsi instead of Klingon Coke, and a British guy playing a French guy is the captain of the Enterprise. I think this is also when they stopped putting the numbers in the titles, which most long-running series eventually do for whatever reason. Well, okay, not Final Fantasy. Maybe that has something to do with the different cast, though. The first movie to incorporate this cast came out the same year TNG ended.

Generations – Instead of moving straight into the twenty-fourth century, we instead do a bit of a crossover. Gene Roddenberry was apparently against this idea, but he was dead by then. Since TNG begins almost a century later, however, Kirk meeting Picard pretty much required some time travel.

The movie starts with Kirk, Scotty, and Chekov (it was originally supposed to be Spock and McCoy with Kirk, but Leonard Nimoy didn’t like the script and DeForest Kelley’s health was bad) as guests on the maiden voyage of the Enterprise-B. It’s originally just supposed to be a flight around the solar system, but they’re the only ship available to answer a distress signal, which seems to happen remarkably often. They manage to save some refugees from El-Auria, a planet inhabited by beings who physically don’t look any different than humans, but live a lot longer and are really good listeners. They don’t sound all that dissimilar from Betazoids, who look pretty much just like humans but have telepathic powers. Kirk apparently dies during the mission, but actually ends up in the Nexus, a ribbon of energy transcending time and space that keeps its inhabitants in perpetual bliss, and from which the rescued El-Aurians had been separated.

Meanwhile, seventy-eight years in the future, Captain Picard’s crew is celebrating Worf’s promotion in a holodeck simulation of an old sailing ship. The holodeck is used a lot in TNG, and there have been plenty of jokes about how far-fetched a fully interactive virtual reality simulator with a multitude of different settings is.

In an episode of Futurama, Kif Kroker writes a program in four million lines of BASIC. Many of the programs do seem to be pre-programmed, and for all we know there were multitudes of programmers working on them. Still a little hard to swallow, though.

The Enterprise rescues a guy in a system where the star had just been destroyed, only to later find out that he blew up the star himself and is planning to do it to another one, and one orbited by an inhabited planet. This is Dr. Tolian Soran, played by Malcolm McDowell, one of the rescued El-Aurian refugees, who is so desperate to get back to the Nexus that he’s destroying entire star systems in order to alter gravity.

Picard tries to stop him, but they both end up in the Nexus, where Picard finds himself married with many children, and his recently deceased nephew still alive as well. He meets up with Kirk, who is living in his old country home with a woman he had wanted to marry. The thing is, while they enjoy these scenarios, they’re quick to dismiss them as not real. So Soran is obsessed with getting back there, while both captains say, “Eh, not really my thing”? I guess it’s supposed to show their devotion to duty, but maybe the Nexus just isn’t as great at providing happiness as it’s made out to be. The two of them use the power of the Nexus to go back in time a bit and stop Soran, which in the process leads to Kirk dying on a collapsing bridge. A noble death, perhaps, but not a particularly grand one for such a significant character. And this was AFTER the ending was rewritten because test audiences hated the original scene, where Soran shoots him in the back. I thought the fight scene in general was pretty anticlimactic for such a team-up anyway.

There’s also a subplot about Data installing an emotion chip and becoming annoying about all the new sensations he feels, and that part is enjoyable. I also appreciated the inclusion of the back story for Whoopi Goldberg’s bartender character Guinan, who was also one of the refugees picked up by the Enterprise-B and had experienced the Nexus.

First Contact – One of the major recurring menaces in TNG and later Trek shows are the Borg, cybernetic organisms who assimilate other life forms into their collective, sharing a hive mind and incorporating the physical and mental abilities of those they assimilate. They also can adapt to weapons after a while.

They even assimilated Picard at one point, but his crew managed to rescue and restore him. This time, the Borg have invaded Earth, and Picard is ordered not to engage them. He does anyway, because you can’t have a Star Trek movie without someone disobeying regulations. The Enterprise manages to destroy the Borg Cube, but they take another ship back in time to 2063 in order to assimilate everyone on Earth. As the Enterprise is caught in the time vortex, it goes back as well. Yeah, it’s another time travel plot. I’d say they do this every four movies, but there was time travel in Generations as well. There’s also another bit of getting the old gang back together, not as pronounced as in the first two films, but still there with Worf temporarily rejoining the crew when he’d left for Deep Space Nine after the last movie. And like the third and fourth films, it’s directed by the guy who plays the first officer, in this case Jonathan Frakes. If the Borg can time travel, shouldn’t they have already assimilated, like, the entire galaxy by the twenty-fourth century? There can’t be someone caught in their vortex EVERY time. Anyway, they’re specifically trying to stop Zefram Cochrane, a character who had already appeared in an episode of the original series, from achieving warp flight. It just so happened that the Vulcans were patrolling the area, and when they detected the warp signature, they made the first officially established contact with humanity (although of course there had been other encounters before). The Borg try to prevent this by attacking the base in Montana where Cochrane is living, but the Enterprise crew intervene and try to help him out. It turns out that this historical personage is a drunk, a womanizer, and only interested in space travel to the extent that it can make him rich; and is very uncomfortable with the hero worship the people from the future are bestowing on him. Back on the Enterprise, the Borg have managed to infiltrate the ship and take over much of it. There’s a holodeck sequence in which Picard, accompanied by Cochrane’s friend Lily, runs a gangster simulation in order to kill Borg with a machine gun.

I understand the programmed story had actually appeared in a TNG episode, although I can’t say I’ve seen it. The reason the bullets work is that some of the material in the holographic simulations is actually replicated matter, and this can kill people when the safety protocols are turned off, or something like that. Lily is the one who points out how vengeful Picard is acting, despite his insistence that people in the twenty-fourth century are above such things. We also meet the Borg Queen, basically the hive mind personified, a rather disturbing woman who tries to seduce Data in order to gain access to the ship’s computers.

Commander Riker and Geordi LaForge accompany Cochrane on his historic flight, which kind of seems like cheating to me, but having to recreate a past event as best as possible in order to save the future is an old time travel tradition.

By the way, Geordi has ocular implants instead of his visor in this film, and I don’t know that it’s ever explained why. Hey, maybe the title is actually referring to him getting HIS first contacts. Okay, that joke doesn’t quite work, does it?

Also, Deanna Troi wears her hair down, but I don’t THINK that’s particularly significant.
The Borg on the ship are defeated as well, and we get some brief but interesting scenes of Cochrane interacting with the Vulcans.

Cochrane is apparently the first character in a Star Trek show or movie to actually use the phrase “star trek,” although I’ve seen it mentioned a few places online that Q had said “trek through the stars” in an episode prior to this. I’d also like to mention the cameo by Robert Picardo, the Emergency Medical Hologram from Voyager, which makes sense as he’s apparently a standard program. He also uses Dr. McCoy’s catchphrase, so it’s sort of a double reference. The Borg’s tactics here seem a bit haphazard for such allegedly logical beings, but it’s a solid plot and a good look at future history. I’d say they’ll have to do a retcon if the show actually lasts until 2063, but are they actually making any new Trek media other than the reboot series? I suppose Cochrane’s flight should have happened in that universe as well, though, as the timelines didn’t diverge until around when Kirk was born.

While I saw these two movies around when they came out (actually in a second-run theater at the student union for First Contact, I haven’t seen the next two at all. So I’ll be boldly going where many people have gone before, but none of those people are me.

Posted in Futurama, Star Trek, Technology, Television, VoVat Goes to the Movies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Start Bitching

I wanted to say something about Bill O’Reilly losing his show at Fox News, because my wife used to hate-watch him fairly often, so I’ve been exposed to way too much of his angry old man shtick. He was an interesting figure in some ways, but also truly despicable in his views and actions. I’d say his firing couldn’t have happened to a nicer person, but he received a really generous severance package, and it’s not like other Fox News anchors don’t have the same basic attitude. Sean Hannity might be worse, and there have been stories coming out recently about his harassing women. It sounds like it’s basically the culture at the network, and O’Reilly being singled out was due to a specific campaign toward his sponsors. Still, he deserved it. Anyway, he released a new book co-written by Bruce Fierstein, Old School: Life in the Sane Lane (because he’s totally a guy who knows what sanity is) not too long ago, and it’s mostly been getting attention because he says in it that no means no and you should treat women with respect. Well, maybe he means that the peons reading the book should be respectful, while he can do whatever he wants because he’s rich and famous.

What’s going on with that cover? Is this some fetish of his? Why is his current head badly pasted onto a child’s body?
Really, though, being a moral scold while acting immorally is kind of his whole thing. Bill Cosby’s too, for that matter. I don’t plan on reading this book; I already read his Culture Warrior, and this one sounds like it has a remarkably similar Us vs. Them mentality, only here it’s Old School (not rap, I assume) against Snowflakes.

According to the blurb, this tiresome and usually hypocritical insult refers to people who are “on cable TV whining about social injustice and income inequality.” So does he think these things aren’t worth complaining about? Maybe not, since he already got his. I’ve already discussed how ridiculous complaints by older generations about younger ones are, although there are trends in raising children that are worth noting. It seems like the current trend is toward positive reinforcement, which can certainly be overdone. But O’Reilly’s talk about how tough his generation was just sounds like looking through rose-colored glasses at what, if he’s at all accurate about it, was a pretty crappy childhood with some lucky breaks that eventually made him rich and obnoxious. I think one thing that’s definitely improved in this respect is that there’s more knowledge now that not all people are motivated in the same way, and that what was once considered simple stubbornness or wimpiness might actually be signs of genuine mental or physical conditions. Besides, while being tough can certainly get you out of certain situations, it seems to me like the consequence is that you’re going to have to keep it up for the rest of your life. Even there, though, it’s tricky. You don’t need to look any farther than our president for someone who puts up a tough-guy facade, but also bitches whenever anyone says anything negative about him. O’Reilly, while a considerably better speaker, is much the same way, often playing the victim and calling out his critics for minor slights. And isn’t it kind of absurd to whine about other people being too whiny? I think there’s an idea that masculinity means hiding your feelings, sort of a Stoic kind of thing. But people who pretend to subscribe to this are often very emotional.

It’s just that they only feel comfortable displaying emotions like anger, jealousy, and contempt; not, say, sorrow or compassion. They’re also very dismissive of fear, considering “coward” to be a major insult, yet make decisions largely BASED on fear, like voting for Donald Trump because they think a Mexican might steal their job otherwise.

Then there’s the whole revenge thing, which I sometimes think O’Reilly combines with his sexual fantasies for some reason. I understand both happened in his book Those Who Trespass, and the Andrea Mackris tapes allegedly included his revenge fantasies toward Al Franken. And we all know how big Trump is on revenge, a method that often guarantees retaliation.

I’ve thought of how the bombing of Syria might qualify, as it didn’t seem to be at all strategic, but merely his attempt at pointless retaliation. How is dropping bombs on an airstrip going to stop Assad from gassing any more people, if that’s indeed what actually motivated Trump? Maybe I’m just against tough-guy posturing because I know I’m not one, but it just strikes me as a way to make sure the world at large never gets out of its current hostile mindset.

Posted in Current Events, Fox News, Health, Philosophy, Politics, Prejudice, Snobbery, Television | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Warping Through Continuity

While there is an official Zelda timelime, there still isn’t one for the Mario series, which makes sense as they don’t really focus on story. Fans certainly have tried to come up with one, however, and have made some clever inferences. This page links to two older attempts that haven’t been updated in a while, UberMario’s and Lemmy Koopa’s. This video from 2015 is pretty thorough, and factors in recurring items and character motivations.

And a video from last October incorporates the theory that there might be two different Marios involved:

I guess I usually go with the idea that the games take place in the order in which they were released, except when they’re obviously not supposed to. The Yoshi sub-series, in which Bowser is a baby, are obviously prequels. The story for Super Mario Land 2 suggests that not only does it take place immediately after the first SML, but that Mario was keeping pretty close watch over his castle before that. If he’d been living in his house in the Mushroom Kingdom or off on another adventure, Wario could have used that as his distraction, and not had to hire Tatanga. This is especially worth noting considering how stingy Wario is, although I guess he didn’t necessarily pay the spaceman in money. And the Game Boy Donkey Kong ’94 came out in the same year as Donkey Kong Country, but the Donkey Kong in the former is presumably Cranky in the latter, so there presumably has to have been a bigger gap between them. The Super Mario Galaxy games are difficult to place due to the universe resetting at the end of the first one and the second taking place during the same festival.

And are the Paper Mario games part of the same universe? I understand that Mario and Luigi: Paper Jam hints they aren’t, with the Paper universe enclosed in a book.

Still, that leaves the possibility of the same basic adventures taking place in different universes (certainly most of the characters are the same aside from the number of dimensions their bodies have, at least from what I’ve gathered; I haven’t played the game yet), or the paper universe being stories based on true events. It might also be worth noting that Yoshi’s Story has Bowser turning Yoshi’s Island into a storybook; and Doki Doki Panic took place inside a book, although Super Mario Bros. 2 doesn’t directly reference this.

Some games do explicitly reference other ones, or appear to show a main character encountering someone or something for the first time.

Mario and Peach don’t know Bowser Jr. prior to meeting him in Super Mario Sunshine, and Luigi’s Mansion is presumably Luigi’s first encounter with Professor E. Gadd.

Oddly, that game has King Boo seeking revenge despite the fact we don’t know him to have fought Mario and Luigi before, although the DS remake of Super Mario 64 retroactively places him in that game. It also brings in the Goomboss, who according to Paper Mario was just an ordinary Goomba before Bowser transformed him with the Star Rod during the events of that game.

While even official Nintendo manuals and strategy guides aren’t always in accordance with the creators’ ideas, and are sometimes changed later on, it does appear that Super Mario Bros. 3 was the heroes’ first encounter with the Koopalings.

And even though they met several Yoshis as babies, they don’t seem to remember them in Super Mario World, but do in later games.

On the other hand, there is some evidence that Mario and Wario knew each other prior to SML2. I do think the idea in both of the video timelines that Super Mario 3D Land takes place before SMB3 because it’s in the former that the Super Leaves are scattered throughout the world is clever.

The Leaves don’t work quite the same way in both games, but they’re pretty similar. There’s also a suggestion in a comment to UberMario that New Super Mario Bros. Wii could take place before SMW due to the hot air balloons (in the Advance version of the latter, that is; it’s not there in the original Super Nintendo game), although that would mean the heroes interacted with Yoshis as adults prior to SMW.

I’m not all that familiar with most of these games, to be honest, but I have researched them online. In a future post, I hope to look at how other Mario-related media can (or can’t) fit into the basic structure of the series.

Posted in Donkey Kong, Mario, Video Games | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mellow Yellow

When you go back far enough, it can be difficult to tell real personages from mythical ones. Lists of kings often include some far-fetched entries toward the beginning, like people who ruled for centuries. One of the most significant quasi-historical figures in China is the Yellow Emperor, who is credited with just about every hallmark of civilization.

He’s generally known as Guangdi, which literally means “Yellow Emperor” (or “Yellow Thearch”); but his personal name is sometimes said to be Xuanyuan, the name of the hill on which he was supposedly born. According to myth, he was conceived when his mother was zapped by the Big Dipper. When exactly he would have ruled isn’t entirely clear, but Jesuit missionary Martino Martini calculated that it began in 2697 BC, which is now commonly used as the beginning of the traditional Chinese calendar, which Guangdi is said to have invented. Prior to the twentieth century, there wasn’t any continuous measure of years, with a new era simply starting when a new emperor took the throne. Mythology claims that he invented the very concepts of civilization and law, as well as the beginnings of agriculture, mathematics, and astronomy. One of his wives was the first to cultivate silkworms, and he convinced his court historian to create a new system of writing. It’s also said that he invented the mirror, and presented twelve of them as a gift to an empress from the west so that she could use a different one every month.

Jorge Luis Borges wrote a story in his Book of Imaginary Beings about Guangdi trapping invaders from the spirit world in mirrors, where they would be forced to imitate the actions of humans, but would eventually escape.

A few pages I found suggest that this was an actual Chinese myth, but I suspect it’s Borges’ own invention. He was known to mix real mythology with his own creations, and include spurious references to add verisimilitude. Also associated with the Emperor is a small chariot with a figure on top that would always point south, an actual Chinese invention, but one that more reliable sources date to the third century BC.

From what I’ve read, the chariot contained no magnets or other means of actually determining direction, but probably had a mechanism that would generally keep the figure pointing the same way even when the chariot itself turned. Guangdi used this chariot to guide his army through the fog produced by an enemy, although I think this story is sometimes told of a different emperor. Another tale has it that the Yellow Emperor visited the Bai Ze, a fantastic beast described as having bovine and leonine features, as well as six horns and as many as nine eyes.

“Hey, I’m watching you! I’ve got eyes in the back of my…back.”
The Bai Ze told him about all 11,520 supernatural animals in the world, and he compiled the information in a book. He tamed bears, tigers, and winged lions; and rode in an ivory chariot pulled by dragons and an elephant. There are mentions of his having four faces so he could look in all cardinal directions at once, but this is probably metaphorical. In his later life, he became a student of Taoism, and achieved enlightenment and immortality. After an earthly life of about one hundred years, he set up a copper sacrificial tripod at the Mountain Bridge, which summoned a dragon that took him and seventy of his officials to Heaven. He dropped his bow and part of his beard, and these along with his clothes and walking stick were buried where his mausoleum would later be built.

He was subsequently worshipped as one of the Five Forms of the Highest Deity, associated with the center of the cosmos, the element of earth, the dragon, and of course the color yellow.

The star Regulus is called Xuanyuan in his honor, which is apparently what led to the ancient alien crowd insisting that he’s originally from that star system. This conspiracy theory also refers to his tripod being able to record information and his chariot traveling so quickly it made riders age at an accelerated rate, but I’ve only seen these references on pages written by UFO enthusiasts, so I’m not sure what the basis is. I’d be interested in knowing if there is some traditional myth that inspired these ideas, or the Borges story for that matter.

Posted in Animals, China, Chinese, Conspiracy Theories, History, Monsters, Mythology, Religion, Taoism | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Room in the Elephant

I’m not entirely sure why, but I’ve had the desire for some time to visit Lucy the Elephant, a building on the shore in Margate, New Jersey.

Beth had gone before, but I was doing something else that day. When my dad visited this past weekend, the three of us all went together. When we first entered, it looked like there were other people in our tour group, but they left after climbing the stairs. I still don’t know what was going on with that. Anyway, we watched a video and then took the steps to the howdah, where you get a good view of the surrounding area.

The main room has several artifacts associated with the elephant, and of course there’s a gift shop. Apparently elephant-shaped buildings were a thing at one point. I’m reminded of the elephant statue where Gavroche lived in Les Miserables, which wasn’t designed as a building, but was hollow. This was a real statue commissioned by Napoleon and built on the former site of the Bastille.

Napoleon’s intention was to have it made of bronze with a stairway to the top in one of its legs, but only a wood and plaster version was made. It quickly fell into disrepair, but was not demolished until 1846.

A replica of it can be seen briefly in the film version of the Les Mis musical.

The Elephant Bazaar, which later came to be known as Lucy, was built by James Lafferty as a tourist attraction in 1881, actually the same year my mom’s house was built. It’s made of cedar covered with tin, and is about sixty-five feet tall. It’s commonly thought to have been a hotel, but I don’t think it ever officially was, although there was a hotel nearby. An English doctor and his family did stay there during the summer of 1902, however, and I believe their bathtub is still inside.

It was also apparently a rooming house for a while, and served on and off as a tavern in the early twentieth century. In addition to its being a roadside attraction, Lafferty originally used the howdah as vantage point to show properties to potential customers. He had a patent to design animal-shaped buildings for seventeen years, and was responsible for two other elephant structures: the Elephantine Colossus on Coney Island and the Light of Asia (also known as Old Jumbo) in Cape May.

The former was 122 feet tall, and the latter around forty.

Both ended up being failures, with the Colossus receiving too much competition and eventually burning down in 1896, and Jumbo never making enough money to cover its cost and falling into disrepair. The Colossus was essentially a brothel for a while after tourists lost interest in the observatory and museum. Lafferty was forced to sell the Bazaar in 1887 to a Prussian immigrant named Anthony Gertzen, and it remained in his family until 1970. The official story is that his daughter-in-law Sophia first called the structure Lucy in 1901, and the name stuck. Only male Asian elephants have tusks like Lucy’s (female African elephants have them, but they also have bigger ears), but presumably due to the name, the building is referred to as female. There’s also a window in the butt, and I’m not entirely sure why, but I guess it was pretty much a necessity.

When a developer purchased the land on which Lucy stood, the Margate Civic Association raised the funds to have her moved a few blocks over and slightly more inland, to the site where she now stands. She now requires constant maintenance, but I have to say I would have liked to have stayed in a place like that back when such a thing would have been feasible.

While Lucy is the only remaining elephant building in the United States, there is one in Bangkok that’s sort of elephant-shaped, although it’s much more abstract than Lafferty’s structures. Completed in 1997, the Chang Building (or the Elephant Building, as it’s nicknamed) consists of three towers with a top floor connecting them. It’s 335 feet tall, and contains both office and residential units.

Posted in Animals, Art, History | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Eggerland’s Best

Continuing with my interest in crossover characters in video games, here are two that I caught immediately. There are recurring bosses in the Kirby series called Lololo and Lalala, basically two brightly colored spheres with eyes, arms, and legs. They push boxes around in order to attack the hero. The thing is, the characters are actually references to another series from the same developer, HAL Laboratory. I remember reading about the Adventures of Lolo games in Nintendo Power, and I think my brother rented one of them once.

They’re action puzzle games, with the plot generally being some variation on Lolo (the blue one) trying to rescue Lala (the pink or red one) from the evil King Egger.

He’s the ruler of Eggerland and Lala the Princess of the neighboring Eden Land, whom the King captures because he’s jealous of her kingdom’s beauty. At some point, Lolo is revealed to be the Prince of Gentry Land. At least, some sources say that, while others give Gentry Land as the name of an amusement park in Eden Land. Regardless, the two of them eventually marry and become king and queen.

They also have a son named Lulu, who is yellow in color.

Officially, I believe they’re called Egg Fairies. Gameplay consists of Lolo having to move boxes around and collect frames in order to obtain a jewel that will let him progress to the next level.

He can temporarily turn enemies into eggs, but can only destroy them permanently by getting the jewels. Both Lolo and Lala are playable in Adventures of Lolo 3.

There were several Japanese games starring Lolo and Lala for the MSX and Famicom, with “Eggerland” in the titles but not “Lolo,” before the series made it to North America and Europe with the 1989 Adventures of Lolo. This game was actually just a combination of puzzle stages from the earlier Japanese games in a different order. Its two sequels had original content, and hence were released in all three markets.

I’m not sure whether the characters in the Kirby series are supposed to be the same ones or just references to them, although I kind of think the former is more fun. But if that’s the case, why are they working for King Dedede? Were the extra syllables added to their names to better fit with that of their employer? And are Eden Land and Eggerland located on the planet Popstar? I’ve recently started watching the anime Kirby: Right Back at Ya!, which gives an alternate back story to Lololo and Lalala, called Fololo and Falala in the English dub for some reason. They were once a single creature called Fofa who couldn’t really do anything but float, so Nightmare had it divided into two so he could make Dedede think he was getting a good deal on them. He found them useless as well, so he fobbed them off on his courtiers Sir Ebrum and Lady Like, the parents of two of the series’ main protagonists. They remain remarkably close, only splitting up when they absolutely have to.

They’re also friends of Kirby’s rather than enemies, but the line tends to be thinner in Kirby games than in other series. Dedede himself is often more of a nuisance than a flat-out villain. Fololo and Falala’s origin story kind of suggests they’re more like siblings than a couple like they are the Eggerland games, but maybe it’s an allusion to Plato’s story about sexuality coming about because Zeus split double-bodied humans in two, so people are looking for their other halves.

Or maybe the anime writers just didn’t know they were husband and wife in the Eggerland series.

Posted in Cartoons, Focus on the Foes, Kirby, Monsters, Relationships, Television, Video Games | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earthsea

Ursula K. LeGuin’s first book in the Earthsea series, A Wizard of Earthsea, is nearly fifty years old at this point. My reading of these books has been a bit sporadic, as I received the original trilogy as a kid and read the first two books in junior high, but didn’t get around to reading the third until eight years ago, by which point I’d forgotten much of the earlier ones. Then a recent display in the local library reminded me that there are now three more books, the first of them having been published around when I first read Wizard. LeGuin does a pretty thorough job at creating a fantasy world that, while it does have plenty of magic and supernatural threats, also feels realistic. I’ll admit that my preference is usually more for whimsical fantasy, but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy the more serious sort. The known world of Earthsea consists entirely of islands, home to multiple cultures that are mostly Iron Age in terms of technology.

The original trilogy focused on Ged, a young wizard from the island of Gont who attends the school of magic on Roke as a young man, and goes on to become Archmage and bring about the return of the High King. Magic can be found everywhere in Earthsea, but it functions within limits. It’s largely based on learning the true names of things in order to manipulate them to beneficial effect. The school will only teach celibate males, but there are also witches and sorcerers on the islands. One of LeGuin’s main focuses in the later books is on how women’s magic, traditionally frowned upon and thought of as lesser and even evil, can actually be just as powerful and useful as what the men practice. And the rule of having wizards concentrate on nothing but magic leaves them unprepared if they lose their powers, as Ged does in The Farthest Shore and has to deal with in Tehanu.

He eventually settles back on Gont with Tenar, the girl he rescued from a solitary life as a religious symbol in The Tombs of Atuan. Although Ged remains a significant character, women tend to be given much larger roles in the more recent volumes.

The fifth book, Tales from Earthsea, is actually a collection of short stories, covering the founding of the school on Roke, the education of Ged’s first teacher Ogion the Silent, and how a woman sees to break the gender barrier for wizards.

Finally, The Other Wind resolves several issues, including the riff between humans and dragons and the enmity between the archipelago and the magic-hating Kargad Empire, as well as the artificial afterlife created by wizards that served as a prison for souls. The last book was published in 2001, and that’s likely all we’ll see of Earthsea, although LeGuin is still alive at eighty-seven.

Posted in Authors, Book Reviews, Gender, Magic, Names, ursula k. leguin | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments