The Tao of Earthsea

I started reading about Taoism somewhere in my early teens. I don’t remember exactly when, but I do remember the powerful sense of familiarity. I hit it again when reading my first version of the Tao Te Ching: I knew this stuff already, on a deep level, and could not explain it.

Recently I’ve re-read the first four of Ursula Le Guinn’s five Earthsea books. I first read them when much younger – I was in single figures when I started with The Tombs of Atuan, which isn’t the first book in the series. I’d never read anything like it.

On this read, it struck me how much the wizard Ged talks about doing and being, doing nothing, and the duties of the king in regards to his people. I recognised whole speeches as being reflections of the Tao Te Ching. Of course there is an Ursula Le Guinn Tao Te Ching, which I’ve got, and in it she talks about having read, re-read and lived with the core Taoist text for many years.

It was a potent reminder for me of the way in which fiction, things we delve into only to amuse ourselves, can have profound impact. Whether you wonder about the underlying philosophy of a book or not, you still let it in. We are shaped by our environments, and there’s nothing in us that is designed to respond to our psychological and emotional experience of arts and entertainments any differently from lived experience. When we pick what to watch, or read, or play, we pick our environments and those environments have the power to turn our genes on and off.

I stay away from torture porn films. I do my best not to look for too long at images of real life horror offered by the media. I’ve got room in my life for erotica, but not for pornography. I’ve never read any of the Game of Thrones books, nor watched any of it. Often I’m going by age rating and other people’s reviews, and a gut feeling about what I don’t want to have inside my head informing my body about what it needs to deal with the environment I live in.


About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

11 responses to “The Tao of Earthsea

  • Aurora J Stone

    Ursula LeGuin is one of my favourite authors. Have you read any of her essays on writing and creativity? Well worth a look.

  • manonbicycle

    Yes I read those books in the mid 1970s, I loved the quote at the very beginning, something like: ” only in silence the word, only in darkness the light, only in dying life, the bright eagle’s flight.”

    Could have come from The Tao Te Ching.

  • Heedful Moon

    Thanks, Nimue, for reminding us of the very important point that what we watch, read, and listen to can significantly impact (and sometimes malform) our inner world. I can remember being badly traumatized as a young boy by a scene I saw in a courtroom drama on TV. That scene haunted me for years, and I feel a bit unsettled when I think about it even now. The negative stuff really can add up if we’re not careful.

  • michaelforesterauthor

    Thought provoking post Nimue
    Thank you
    Michael Forester

  • Bill Watson

    I, too, discovered the Tao te Ching as a teenager in the 1950s and found myself in sympathy with its philosophy. I didn’t discover Ursula le Guin until a decade later and love her tales. The ‘Earthsea’ screenplay is in my DVD collection. Her reading of the Tao te Ching resides in the CD player of one of my cars to be listened to while driving alone. Others whose works I discovered in the ’60s were Arthur C Clarke, in particular his ‘Childhood’s End’, and Michael Moorcock’s Elric series which continues to intrigue me.

  • Maria Palmeri

    Thanks for the reminder about being mindful of what we feed our brains.❤️

  • Elen Sentier

    Have you read City of Illusions? There, she uses the beginning of the Tao de Ching almost as the basis for the story. I’ve always loved her version – the way that can be gone is not the eternal way. In the book she calls it the Old Cannon. I first read it when it came out in 1967 and it’s been a stalwart of my life ever since, especially when I was in the Transpersonal training when I was able to give it to Barbara Summers with whom it resonated completely. Give the book a whirl if you’ve not yet read it, I think you’ll like it 🙂

  • lornasmithers

    I love the Earthsea books, particularly the first one with Ged and his shadow and the Farthest Shore which seemed to be a continuation of that journey. There’s such a mystical depth in them with the naming and the magic and that portal through which the magic was seeping away. Ged’s such an enchanting and dedicated and powerful character too. I don’t know enough of the Tao Te Ching to understand the analogies. Only that there is way more depth to Le Guin than most fantasy. I’m currently reading a series of books by Robin Hobb that are nearly as deep and magical.

  • The Other Schell

    Your thoughts are mine! Peace to you and those in you care.

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