Analyzing Fantasy, Part 1: Earthsea

Part 1 of “What makes great fantasy?”

– Unique Style

So here’s the first post as I go through the previous blog list of fantasy titles that don’t have a ‘world is ending’ structure for plot. (And therefore my theory is that they must be awesome authors to achieve such a feat and keep an engaging story).

My first is Earthsea. I’m currently reading A Wizard of Earthsea (The Earthsea Cycle) by Ursula K. Le Guin. This book has won an impressive collection of fantasy writing awards, so let’s learn a thing or two.

I’ve only just begun, I’m in about 50 pages or so. But I want to report my immediate reactions. The first thing that was glaringly obvious is Guin has AMAZING prose, I mean amazing. But it also honestly surprised me. Isn’t this exactly the kind of writing one would call “purple prose”? (Meaning, overly flowery language).

I skipped down few chapters, because I thought perhaps it was just a prologue style. The world is described in such vivid detail, we are tugged along a very fast timeline (Guin goes through about 10 years in two pages!). And at certain points we zoom in to capture an interesting scene, then we are jerked out again. This seems to be the structure for the entire novel, based on my cheating page-flipping.

What I find very interesting is that with this kind of structure, you can skip boring or slow parts. You can entertain the reader with beautiful prose as we are led onwards to the next climactic event. I find this fascinating, but I feel at the same time it must be incredibly hard to execute, much less reproduce.

I will keep this technique in mind, and keep an eye out for other authors that do this as well. But I think for my own writing style I would find it’s not my thing. Guin has it down to a science, and if I tried to mimic it then it just would not come out naturally.

Otherwise, I’m thoroughly enjoying the journey of Earthsea, so far so good!

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