A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin and The Road by Cormack McCarthy, despite appearing complete dissimilar at first glance, have a like patterning that quickly emerges: the themes, point of view, and each author’s subdued writing style all used for a similar narrative purpose.
In The Road, Cormack McCarthy paints a bleak tale about a man and his son and there survival in a world afflicted by a non-specific apocalypse. The trees are dead, there are no signs of life other than human life, and the remaining humans have alternatively turned cannibalistic or militaristic survivalist in an attempt to continue living in the anarchy that has ensued. Cormack’s description of a shattered world is simplistic, short and rhythmic.
He walked out in the gray light and stood and he saw for a brief moment the absolute truth of the world. The cold relentless circling of the intestate earth. Darkness implacable. The blind dogs of the sun in their running. The crushing black vacuum of the universe.
And somewhere two hunted animals trembling like ground-foxes in their cover. Borrowed time and borrowed world and borrowed eyes with which to sorrow it. (Mccarthy 2007, p. 76)
He also uses a lot of interesting and unusual descriptive words, such as slutlamp (p. 16), pumporgan (p. 20), meconium (p. 39), and canebrake (p. 68). This is a characteristic common to McCarthy’s writing.
In direct contrast, A Wizard Of Earthsea has an archaic, more plainly descriptive setting, although still subdued in it’s own right. The main character, Ged, lives in a world of small islands, large oceans, and antipodeans; Ged himself is a red-skinned man but the invading Kargads who raid his village are pale-skinned, much like the Vikings in our world. Her narration is that of a storyteller weaving a grand story to their audience, omniscient, in the style of all great fantasy:
Red sank to ashes in the west, and ash-grey sank to black. All the sea and sky were wholly dark. Ged stretched out in the bottom of the boat to sleep, wrapped in his cloak of wool and fur. Vetch, holding the sale-rope, sang softly from the Deed of Enlad, where the songs tell how the mage Morred the White left Havnor in his oarless longship, and coming to the island Solea saw Elfarran in the orchards of the spring. (Le Guin 1971, p.187)
McCarthy’s style of narration is different, with the reader never being told the man or boy’s names, and the world is seen only through the eyes of the man and boy. This increases the emotions a reader feels, as we sympathise with the plight of the two characters, especially as the man questions his motives for continuing existence and finds his son as the only answer – the only meaning left in such a bleak existence. The narration involves a few, key flashbacks to a time pre-apocalypse, mainly to do with the man’s wife and her depressed mindset after the son is birthed into a world seemingly devoid of hope.
From daydreams on the road there was no waking. He plodded on. He could remember everything of her save her scent. Seated in a theatre with her beside him leaning forward listening to the music. Gold scrollwork and sconces and the tall columnar folds of the drapes at either side of the stage. She held his hand in her lap and he could feel the tops of her stockings through the thin stuff of her summer dress. Freeze this frame. Now call down your dark and your cold and be damned. (Mccarthy 2007, p. 18)
The themes presented in A Wizard of Earthsea are not entirely dissimilar to that of The Road. We have the sense of isolation, which is all pervading in The Road as the man and boy cannot trust those around them, whether through fear of cannibalisation or being robbed of their trolley-load of possessions. They must rely on each other in a bleak landscape with only their own wits to rely on.
In Le Guin’s book, the character is attacked by a shadow-creature when rashly trying to communicate with the dead maiden Elfarran, and is scarred and near death afterwards. Throughout the remainder of the novel Ged is chased by the shadow creature, a gebbeth, who can assume any form, leaving him with little recourse and with few to help him. He is forced to leave situation after situation due to danger caused by the gebbeth or fear of hurting good people by bringing the creature near them.
Conversely, in both of the books the relationships each of the main characters engenders in other characters are extremely important, due to this isolation. Ged’s saving grace are his friendships forged with Ogion the Silent, his earlier teacher who loves him like a son, and Estarriol, a friend from his time learning magic at the school of wizard on Roke Island. Ogion gives Ged wise council, to turn around and chase the shadow chasing him. Estarriol goes with Ged to search for the creature, and aids him in his final confrontation.
‘Pride was ever your mind’s master’, his friend said smiling, as if they talked of a matter of small concern to either. ‘Now think: it is your quest, assuredly, but if the quest fail, should there not be another there who might bear warning to the Archipelago? For the shadow would be a fearful power then. (Le Guin 1971, p.175-176)
The man and boy from McCormack’s tale have a bond greater than a purely father/son relationship. The father’s wife had committed the equivalent of suicide, walking off in the dark on a moonless night. As there is no electricity, and they are on uncertain terrain, there is no trace of her in the morning. The only thing the father has left, the only thing that keeps him going when the surrounding world is dying, is his son. He will do anything for him, including leaving a man naked and for dead, and forcing himself to search again and in detail through houses, stores and a small ship they find lying off the coast for food and items they can use to keep on travelling. In turn, the father has to keep the son’s hope alive, even when he has none himself.
There could be people alive someplace else.
I dont know. Anywhere.
You mean besides on earth?
I dont think so. They couldnt live anyplace else.
Not even if they could get there?
The boy looked away.
What? the man said.
He shook his head. I dont know what we’re doing, he said.
The man started to answer. But he didnt. After a while he said: There are people. There are people and we’ll find them. You’ll see.(Mccarthy 2007, p. 136)
McCarty and Le Guin both employ unique styles that are wholly and distinctly their own. As dissimilar as their genre and subject matter might be, parallels exist between the two: if not in their means, but in their end.