The Finder • 2001 • Earthsea novella by Ursula K. Le Guin

★★★★★

Synopsis: We follow Otter/Medra from his family of boatwrights to a courageous wizard and founding father of the wizardry school on Roke Island, 300 years before the original Earthsea trilogy with Ged, Tehanu, and Arren. Otter’s talent is what became later a lesser wizardry art – he is the eponymous Finder, identifying potential talents for the wizard school all other the world.

But before he comes to that mysterious island, he has to survive the hardships of Havnor, where a warlord is ruling, magic is suppressed at the small folk while wizards enslave people. Despite the best efforts of his parents, Otter’s gift didn’t go away, and he learned from wise people a few magic tricks and in addition the art to change into animals.

He’s taken captive, forced into practicing his art to find lodes of mercury for the master wizard Gelluk. Only with the help of mysterious woman Anieb, he is able to kill the wizard, and escape.

This is of course only the beginning of Otter’s life, his adventures to find the Roke Island, overcome evil wizards, save his people, and achieve highest esteem from his peers.

Review: I’ve considered for quite a while, what I’d review to celebrate my 500th blog entry. Between Tolkien, Zelazny, herbert, Ellison, Chiang, and all the other great names, I always come back to my favorite author Ursula K. Le Guin.

Her distinctive writing style is the reason to re-read her work. With the Dispossessed and Left Hand of Darkness from her Hainish cycle, she wrote great SF works and at the same time she gifted me with her Earthsea cycle. It is not the mediaeval Western European but a different approach to Fantasy that makes her work outstanding at a time when queer was not a work and main protagonists weren’t colored, philosophy wasn’t influenced by taoism. Her social, emotional, and human topics strike a perfect balance of wisdom and imagery.

Le Guin’s prose in this story is certainly one of the most beautiful writing that I have ever come across. I find more soothing than tension in her stories, and some sentences linger around far longer than the reading in my notes and in my heart.

Nobody can be free alone. Not even a mage.

In this story, the secret symbol of the Women of the Open Hand as a sign of trust instead of open sword fights and the search for freedom which doesn’t mean anything if it is only for a single person stayed with me. It is a story of humbleness ending with Otter’s dedication as the first Master Dookeeper:

“I’ll keep the door,” Medra said. “Being lame, I won’t go far from it. Being old, I’ll know what to say to those who come. Being a finder, I’ll find out if they belong here.”

“That would spare us much trouble and some danger,” said the young Finder.

“How will you do it?” the Summoner asked.

“I’ll ask them their name,” Medra said. He smiled. “If they’ll tell me, they can come in. And when they think they’ve learned everything, they can go out again. If they can tell me my name.”

Meta: isfdb. This novella won the Locus award.

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