Ursula K. Le Guin is an author I’ve always wanted to read, but she has SO MUCH out there. I have had a hard time deciding where to start. When these two gigantic books, both compilations of her work, arrived on my doorstep I was thrilled. This was where I was going to start. I am taking my sweet time working through both of these anthologies. They are rich and vivid and superbly written, and they are something to be savored, not devoured. They are also proving to me that Le Guin deserves every last bit of the honors she has earned as an author. Wow. Just wow.
When I was approached about putting an excerpt on my website, i jumped on it. Yes, by all means, I’d love to put an excerpt from this wordsmith on my website! Please, hook me up! I want to share how amazing Le Guin’s work is with as many people as possible! The author kindly chose the following snippet to share with my readers. I hope you love it as much as I do.
Now, onto the excerpt.
“ “Why can’t I give myself my own true name?” Dragonfly asked, while Rose washed the knife and her hands in the salt water.
“Can’t be done.”
“Why not? Why does it have to be a witch or a sorcerer? What do you do?”
“Well,” Rose said, and dumped out the salt water on the bare dirt of the small front yard of her house, which, like most witches’ houses, stood somewhat apart from the village. “Well,” she said, straightening up and looking about vaguely as if for an answer, or a ewe, or a towel. “You have to know something about the power, see,” she said at last, and looked at Dragonfly with one eye. Her other eye looked a little off to the side. Sometimes Dragonfly thought the cast was in Rose’s left eye, sometimes it seemed to be in her right, but always one eye looked straight and the other watched something just out of sight, around the corner, elsewhere.
“The one,” Rose said. As suddenly as the ewe had walked off, she went into her house. Dragonfly followed her, but only to the door. Nobody entered a witch’s house uninvited.
“You said I had it,” the girl said into the reeking gloom of the one-roomed hut.
“I said you have a strength in you, a great one,” the witch said from the darkness. “And you know it too. What you are to do I don’t know, not do you. That’s to find. But there’s no such power as to name yourself.”
“Why not? What’s more yourself than your own true name?”
A long silence.
The witch emerged with a soapstone drop spindle and a ball of greasy wool. She sat down on the bench beside her door and set the spindle turning. She had spun a yard of grey-brown yarn before she answered.
“My name’s myself. True. But what’s a name, then? It’s what another calls me. If there was no other, only me, what would I want a name for?”
“But,” said Dragonfly and stopped, caught by the argument. After a while she said, “So a name has to be a gift?”
“Give me my name, Rose,” the girl said.
“Your dad says not.”
“I say to.”
“He’s the master here.”
“He can keep me poor and stupid and worthless, but he can’t keep me nameless!”
The witch sighed, like the ewe, uneasy and constrained.
“Tonight,” Dragonfly said. “At our spring, under Iria Hill. What he doesn’t know won’t hurt him.” Her voice was half coaxing, half savage.
“You ought to have your proper nameday, your feast and dancing, like any young’un,” the witch said. “It’s at daybreak a name should be given. And then there ought to be music and feasting and all. A party. Not sneaking about at night and no one knowing…”
“I’ll know. How do you know what name to say, Rose? Does the water tell you?”
The witch shook her iron-grey head once. “I can’t tell you.” Her “can’t” did not mean “won’t.” Dragonfly waited. “It’s the power, like I said. It comes just so.” Rose stopped her spinning and looked up with one eye at a cloud in the west; the other looked a little northward of the sky. “You’re there in the water, together, you and the child. You take away the child-name. People may go on using that name for a use-name, but it’s not her name, nor ever was. So now she’s not a child, and she has no name. So then you wait. In the water there. You open your mind up, like. Like opening the doors of a house to the wind. So it comes. Your tongue speaks it, the name. Your breath makes it. You give it to that child, the breath, the name. You can’t think of it. You let it come to you. It must come through you and the water to her it belongs to. That’s the power, the way it works. It’s all like that. It’s not a thing you do. You have to know how to let it do. That’s all the mastery.”
“Mages can do more than that,” the girl said after a while.
“Nobody can do more than that,” said Rose.
Dragonfly rolled her head round on her neck, stretching till the vertebrae cracked, restlessly stretching out her long arms and legs. “Will you?” she said.
After some time, Rose nodded once.
They never met in the lane under Iria Hill in the dark of the night, long after sunset, long before dawn. Rose made a dim glow of werelight so that they could find their way through the marshy ground around the spring without falling in a sinkhole among the reeds. In the cold darkness under a few stars and the black curve of the hill, they stripped and waded into the shallow water, their feet sinking deep in velvet mud. The witch touched the girl’s hand, saying, “I take your name, child. You are no child. You have no name.”
It was utterly still.
In a whisper the witch said, “Woman, be named. You are Irian.”
For a moment longer they held still; then the night wind blew across their naked shoulders, and shivering, they waded out, dried themselves as well as they could, struggled barefoot and wretched through the sharp-edged reeds and tangling roots, and found their way back to the lane. And there Dragonfly spoke in a ragged, raging whisper: “How could you name me that!”
The witch said nothing.
“It isn’t right. It isn’t my true name! I thought my name would make me be me. But this makes it worse. You got it wrong. You’re only a witch. You did it wrong. It’s his name. He can have it. He’s so proud of it, his stupid domain, his stupid grandfather. I don’t want it. I won’t have it. It isn’t me. I still don’t know who I am, I’m not Irian!” She fell silent abruptly, having spoken the name.
The witch still said nothing. They walked along in the darkness side by side. At last, in a placating, frightened voice, Rose said, “It came so…”
“If you ever tell it to anyone I’ll kill you,” Dragonfly said.
At that, the witch stopped walking. She hissed in her throat like a cat. “Tell anyone?”
Dragonfly stopped too. She said after a moment, “I’m sorry. But I feel like—I feel like you betrayed me.”
“I spoke your true name. It’s not what I thought it would be. And I don’t feel easy about it. As if I’d left something unfinished. But it is your name. If it betrays you, then that’s the truth of it.” Rose hesitated and then spoke less angrily, more coldly: “If you want the power to betray me, Irian, I’ll give you that. My name is Etaudis.”
The wind had come up again. They were both shivering, their teeth chattering. They stood face to face in the black lane, hardly able to see where the other was. Dragonfly put out her groping hand and met the witch’s hand. They put their arms round each other in a fierce, long embrace. Then they hurried on, the witch to her hut near the village, the heiress of Iria up the hill to her ruinous house, where all the dogs, who had let her go without much fuss, received her back with a clamor and racket of barking that woke everybody for a half mile round except the master, sodden drunk by his cold hearth.” –Pages 626-630