Saturday, March 30, 2013

30 Days of Genre - What Is the Most Epic Scene Ever in a Genre Novel?

Ged's Confrontation With Cob in The Farthest Shore

I love Ursula K. Le Guin's writing, and of all her books, but I think I love her Earthsea books the most, especially The Farthest Shore. The book takes place at the end of Ged's career, when he is an aged Archmage with his famous adventures and restore the ring of Erreth-Akbe behind him. Strange things are happening in the world, as people forget how to do the kind of very day magic that gives their lives zest and color. The prince of the Enlades sends his son to Roke to ask the archmage to explain what is going on, and instead, Ged takes Arren and sets out to investigate the mystery.

The novel takes on a dream like quality at times during the quest, which seems almost more like aimless wandering than a purposeful journey. Eventually, Ged and Arren must cross into the land of the dead and confront the architect of the unmaking that has spread throughout the land. Their adversary is a wizard named Cob, who so feared death that he made a hole in the boundary between life and death so that he could return. But, as Ged points out, there is a terrible price to be paid for doing this:

"We meet as equals here. If you are blind, Cob, yet we are in the dark."

There was no answer.

"We cannot hurt you here; we cannot kill you. What is there to fear?"

"I have no fear," said the voice in the darkness. Then slowly glimmering a little as with that light that sometimes clung to Ged's staff, the man appeared, standing some way upstream from Ged and Arren, among the great, dim masses of the boulders. He was tall, broad-shouldered and long-armed, like that figure which had appeared to them on the dune and on the beach of Selidor, but older; the hair was white and thickly matted over the high forehead. So he appeared in the spirit, in the kingdom of death, not burnt by the dragon's fire, not maimed; but not whole. The sockets of his eyes were empty.

"I have no fear," he said. "What should a dead man fear?" He laughed. The sound of laughter rang so false and uncanny, there in that narrow, stony valley under the mountains, that Arren's breath failed him for a moment. But he gripped his sword and listened.

"I do not know what a dead man should fear," Ged answered. "Surely not death? Yet it seems you fear it. Even though you have found a way to escape from it."

"I have. I live: my body lives."

"Not well," the mage said dryly. "Illusion might hide age; but Orm Embar was not gentle with that body."

"I can mend it. I know secrets of healing and of youth, no mere illusions. What do you take me for? Because you are called Archmage, do you take mefor a village sorcerer? I who alone among all mages found the Way of Immortality, which no other ever found!"

"Maybe we did not seek it," said Ged.

"You sought it. All of you. You sought it and could not find it, and so made wise words about acceptance and balance and the equilibrium of life and death. But they were words - lies to cover your failure - to cover your fear of death! What man would not live forever, if he could? And I can. I am immortal. I did what you could not and therefore I am your master; and you know it. Would you know how I did it, Archmage?"

"I would."

Cob came a step closer. Arren noticed that, though the man had no eyes, his manner was not quite that of the stone-blind; he seemed to know exactly where Ged and Arren stood and to be aware of both of them, though he never turned his head to Arren. Some wizardly second-sight he might have, such as that hearing and seeing that sending and presentments had: something that gave him an awareness, though it might not be true sight.

"I was in Paln," he said to Ged, "after you, in your pride, thought you had humbled me and taught me a lesson. Oh, a lesson you taught me, indeed, but not the one you meant to teach! There I said to myself: I have seen death now, and I will not accept it. Let all stupid nature go its stupid course, but I am a man, better than nature, above nature. I will not go that way, I will not cease to be myself! And so determined, I tool the Pelnish Lore again, but found only hints and smatterings of what I needed. So I rewove it and remade it, and made a spell - the greatest spell that has ever been made. The greatest and the last!"

"In working that spell, you died."

"Yes! I died. I had the courage to die, to find what you cowards could never find - the way back from death. I opened the door that had been shut since the beginning of time. And now I come freely to this place and freely return to the world of the living.Alone of all men in all time I am Lord of the TwoLands. And the door I opened is open not only here, but in the minds of the living, in the depths and unknown places of their being, where we are all one in the darkness. They know it, and they come to me. And the dead too must come to me, all of them, for I have not lost the magery of the living: they must climb over the wall of stones when I bid them, all the souls, the lords, the mages, the proud women; back and forth from life to death, at my command. All must come to me, the living and the dead, I who died and live!"

"Where do they come to you, Cob? Where is it that you are?"

"Between the worlds."

"But that is neither life nor death. What is life, Cob?"


"What is love?"

"Power," the blind man repeated heavily, hunching his shoulders.

"What is light?"


"What is your name?"

"I have none."

"All in this land bear their true name."

"Tell me yours, then!"

"I am named Ged. And you?"

The blind man hesitated, and said, "Cob."

"That was your use-name, not your name. Where is your name? Where is the truth of you? Did you leave it in Paln where you died? You have forgotten much, O Lord of the Two Lands. You have forgotten light, love, and your own name."

"I have your name now, and power over you, Ged the Archmage - Ged who was Archmage when he was alive!"

"My name is no use to you," Ged said. "you have no power over me at all. I am a living man; my body lies on the beach of Selidor, under the sun, on the turning earth. And when that body dies, I will be here: but only in name, in name alone, in shadow. Do you not understand? Did you never understand. you who called up so many shadows from the dead, who summoned all the hosts of the perished, even my lord Erreth-Akbe, wisest of us all? Did you not understand that he, even he, is but a shadow and a named? His death did not diminish life. Nor did it diminish him. He is there - there, not here! Here is nothing, dust and shadows. There, he is the earth and sunlight, the leaves of trees, the eagle's flight. He is alive. And all who ever died, live; they are reborn, and have no end, nor will there ever be an end. All, save you. For you would not have death. You lost death, you lost life, in order to save yourself. Yourself! Your immortal self! What is it? Who are you?"

"I am myself. My body will not decay and die-"

"A living body suffers pain, Cob; a living body grows old; it dies. Death is the price we pay for our life and for all life."

"I do not pay it! I can die and in that moment live again! I cannot be killed; I am immortal. I alone am myself forever!"

"Who are you, then?"

"The Immortal One."

"Say your name."

"The King."

"Say my name. I told it to you but a minute since. Say my name!"

"You are not real. You have no name. Only I exist."

"You exist: without name, without form. You cannot see the light of day; you cannot see the dark. You sold the green earth and the sun and stars to save yourself. But you have no self. All that which you sold, that is yourself. You have given everything for nothing. And so now you seek to draw the world to you, all that light and life you lost, to fill up your nothingness. But it cannot be filled. Not all the songs of earth, not all the stars of heaven, could fill your emptiness."

And at this point, although Cob still resists, and Ged and Arren must still struggle, the die is cast. Ged has exposed the hollow emptiness within their adversary, laying bare the meaninglessness of his preening and strutting.For all his assertions of majesty and mastery, Cob has become nothing more than a nameless shadow, desperate to fill itself with something, anything. And the critical element of the confrontation is that Ged reveals this to Cob, who doesn't even know it himself, and further, reveals that because Ged knows it, Cob has lost all power to affect him. It is this battle of ideas that makes this the most epic scene in a genre novel.

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