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The Wind’s twelve quarters by Ursula K LeGuin

Thewindstwelvequarters Book: The Wind’s twelve quarters (1975)
Author: Ursula K LeGuin
ISBN: 0060125624
Pages: 246

Note: This book is a collection of sci-fi and fantasy-fic stories for adults.

Note about the Author: Ursula LeGuin is an American authoress born in California in 1929. Her style of writing explores mostly psychological themes. The vivid imagery of her language very often spellbinds readers.

I was really lucky to have caught a stage adaptation of a few of her short stories from her book "The wind’s twelve quarters". This is the first story that I’d like to review here. The stories that got me quite glued to Miss LeGuin’s writing style are: April in Paris, The Darkness Box, Vaster than empires and more slow, The ones who walk away from Omelas.

This story, "The word of Unbinding", explores her fictional universe of "Earthsea". This universe is an archipelago, amidst uncharted waters, where magic is a way of life [1]. Technologically "Earthsea" is based in early Iron Age [2].The story also reveals a certain obsession with nature and trees among the people of Earthsea [3].

The story is about a wizard, Festin. A very powerful wizard capable of vanquishing any living enemy or threat to his beloved forest land. Festin lived alone in his forest, conversing with the trees, being one with the brooks that flowed through his land. His home.

But something had happened on this fateful day. He awoke in a foreign enclosure. In darkness. He had been imprisoned and was without his alder-wood wizard’s staff with which he could conjure up terrible magic to flay the perpetrator. But who was the perpetrator? Utilizing his inner magic, he comes to understand that "Voll the Fell", a terrible wizard who is bent on crushing every living creature in his path had him incarcerated in this dungeon.

With all the magic that Festin could muster, he tries to escape from this dungeon of a cell. First as a stream of mist, he attempts his escape, only to be thwarted by a surge of warm air that threatens to throw his misty apparition into irreparable chaos. Next as a stream of air, he efforts his getaway, only to be vanquished by a cold, harsh, fast gust of wind that threatens his permanence. Then he tries to roll away as a gold ring only to be chucked back, unceremoniously, into his dungeon of a cell by a guard Troll.

Oh how is he to escape now?! Then he dawns upon an idea. The nature. The wind. The soil. The water. His beloved land. He becomes it. He is one with it. He seeps away! He is again reunited with his land. His arboreal world. Being overcome with joy mixed with feelings of smugness and hunger can be disastrous to even the sharpest of wizards as he makes the catastrophic mistake of changing himself into a fish, a trout, only to be re-captured and cast into the dungeon of a cell. This time with several broken bones to stymie any further attempts to escape.

Dejected and forlorn, he lies there. Overcome with hunger and sorrow. Close to accepting defeat. Unable to move as much as a finger as a result of his debilitating injuries. Introspection is all he has left to him. And a few sparks of magic.

Meditative introspection reveals to Festin that Voll’s source of power and invulnerability is that he is already dead. He controlled his henchmen from the world of the dead. So how is Festin, who is alive, to defeat an enemy who is dead? …….. What if Festin chose not to live?

So Festin made his choice. He took a last deep breath and spoke "the word of unbinding". One which is uttered only once. In life he had immense power. And here, in the afterlife, the land of dead, he did not forget his power. Through the darkness he moved as a candle flame. With the swiftness that he always possessed, with the infinite power with which he was gifted, he makes Voll enter his own dead body hence returning him to the living world. But Voll was dead in the living world.

Now Festin stood there. He sat. To rest, not sleep for he had to keep guard over Voll’s body until he turns to powder and his powers are scattered far and away by the winds of time.
Festin had lost forever the joys of nature. The seraphic strains of the brook. He had given his life to save everyone who might have found themselves in Voll’s path.


[3] LeGuin,Ursula (1975), "The wind’s twelve quarters", Harper and Row,NY, pp 58-65

0 03 December, 2009 Books December 3, 2009

About the author

The name may sound funny and weird and it spills over his character too. He prefers to keep his identity secret and we respect his choice. Thanks to a moment of “what an idea, sirji” we have him on-board our panel and don’t ask me more about the idea, it is our kitchen secret but his writings are here to enthrall you.

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