"el regalo" by peter s beagle/why I dig earthsea 0

Posted by hyperradix
on Thursday, July 26

Actually, one of my favorite “there are wizards among us” stories is entitled “El Regalo” (The Gift) by Peter S Beagle (of The Last Unicorn fame.) Part of his anthology The Line Between, Beagle chronicles the misadventures of a 15 year old Korean American girl named Angie and her 8½ year old brother named Marvyn, both of whom come to discover that they have magical powers. In this tantalizing tidbit that is just calling to be expanded to a full length novel, they find themselves pitted against an ancient, malevolent sorceror only known as El Viejo, The Old Man.

The multicultural environs necessarily places this novella in a major metropolitan area. Given my Southern California-centrism, I immediately imagine that this is L.A. (Beagle did write a novel entitled Unicorn Sonata that was set in L.A.) But I suppose this could just as easily be NYC, particularly since Beagle grew up there.

Which leads to why, of all the fantasy series that I’ve read, The Earthsea Cycle exercises such a strong hold on my imagination.

Never mind the wonderful elucidation of the system of Magic, the interweavings of Taoist philosophy, and the beauty and the lyricism of Le Guin’s writing. True, these alone make the series worth reading. But as a person-of-color who aspires to be a writer of speculative fiction, the fact that Ged is a brown guy is awesome.

Pam Noles’ essay on how groundbreaking it was to have a non-white major character pretty much encompasses anything I have to say about the subject, and is far more articulate than anything I could write. But suffice it to say that I was eminently saddened by the Sci-Fi Channel’s wanton rape of Le Guin’s material, of which UKL herself has much to write about: (1) A Whitewashed Earthsea: how the Sci Fi Channel wrecked my books (2) Frankenstein’s Earthsea.

But Earthsea resonates with me and my cultural heritage far more than just due to the coincident skin color. I ought to write UKL some day to ask her if certain concepts were deliberate. Like Ged himself, my parents come from an archipelago. My distant ancestors were all seafarers, some of whom braved the open seas, reaching as far as Madagascar to the west and Easter Island to the east, and some even theorize that they might have actually made it to the South American mainland. And in the beginning of certain Filipino creation stories, just like the creation myth of Earthsea, there was only sea and sky.

The Old Powers recall the indigenous animistic beliefs of Southeast Asia. And even the magic system, where to name something is to bind it, resonates.

(Not that this has anything to do with it, but the concept of the Verdunan, the Division, is key to the final book in the cycle. For some reason, I automatically think of the Ati-Atihan, which is a festival on the isle of Aklan which supposedly commemorates the arrival of the Borneans and their agreement to share the land with the indigenous Ati. And these are probably just false cognates, but what if Ati is related to the word “hati”, which means “half” in some Austronesian languages. Given the typically diminuitive stature of the Ati, does this connote “halfling”? OK, I’ve probably read way too much J.R.R. Tolkien. But getting back to the Verdunan, what if the Ati-Atihan is actually hati-hati’an, meaning “division”, which makes sense if the festival commemorates the partition of the island between the Ati and the Borneans. Anyway.)

In summary, The Earthsea Cycle inspired me to find my own authentic voice with regards to speculative fiction, to leverage my unique cultural background in order to build worlds that have not yet been described. I have yet to actually take pen to paper. And while I lament that there have yet to be any Filipino Americans to brave the genre of science-fiction and fantasy, I know that there are writers out there, some of whom are writing such stories. And I can’t really say much unless I’m going to put in some effort, too.