To see that your life is a story while you’re in the middle of living it may be a help to living it well.
The natural abilities and ‘special talents,’ as it were, are not particularly “gifts” in this LeGuin novel.
Gifts stay within families, if you can manage a marriage within the line. It is the only way to keep the gift strong. It is the only way to protect your family, your land, your people. Without the gift, and without a proper understanding of the gift, the settlement your family has long-since established is left with curtains. The end. Bye bye. See you later.
But, when you gift is one of undoing, like Orrec’s, taking on that heavy responsibility isn’t the easiest. As if hormonal teenagers don’t have enough to worry about. The task to first have the gift, then harness it after years of learning from his father leaves Orrec in a state of stress. When will he have the gift? What will he do with it? Does he even want it?
When it first happens, in defense, and he sees the shriveled remains of that of the undone, Orrec is sick with fear. Not only does he feel ill about the death, he is also terrified because doing the undoing was not any different. He didn’t feel anything special. How could he control it if he didn’t know it was happening?
His crush and longtime friend, Gry, from a neighboring ally, has her gift and is using it well, though not as her mother would have her do it. She wants to find a way to use her gift of trust and communication with animals in a way that doesn’t harm them. Her mother uses her gift as if it were her work. Bring animals to the hunters, get paid. There has to be another way.
Each family has a different speciality, and this gifts have separated those with natural talents from Lowlanders. The Lowlanders want nothing to do with the danger, and the Uplanders live in constant fear of a battle between families.
Though their pasts have crossed before, and will in the future, the lack of understanding between those with gifts and those without leaves those wanting to try something different than the life they know unsure. In this way, this tale is much a coming-of-age story.
It isn’t an easy road for youth that are absconding from the traditional uses of their gifts, and it is even worse for Orrec, who is said to have the Wild Eye. Without controlling his gift, anything that meets his gaze could be undone to nothingness. It is because of this that he gives up his sight for years, and the thing he held dear the most … sharing tales with his mother.
But the ears can’t choose where to listen.
Because she was a lowlander, she could read and write, and she taught Orrec and Gry to do it as well. But, Orrec couldn’t take the chance of taking off his blindfold once his father fastened it on. Not only did he fear hurting those he loved, but his father was also using him against a long-time enemy (who has been thieving, lying, and blatantly disrespecting Orrec’s family.)
By seeing goodwill where there was none, often enough she created it.
Orrec blames his father for all of the misfortunes of their lives, but none of them could see past their decisions, especially not Orrec, as he couldn’t see at all.
Only in this bondage could I have any freedom.
He didn’t understand until much later that giving up his sight meant so much more than he could ever imagine. He thought he was protecting others. He thought it was the best way to contribute to his family, but there was something more important than that, and now it was gone.
To try to tell it is like trying to tell the passage of a sleepless night. Nothing happens. One thinks, and dreams briefly, and wages again; fears loom and pass, and ideas won’t come clear, and meaningless words haunt the mind, and the shudder of nightmare brushes by, and time seems not to move, and it’s dark, and nothing happens.
Orrec and Gry are bound to responsibility, but they want to find another way to live.
I think, to some extent, that is life for a lot of us. We want to break free from tradition; instead of doing what we are told to do, we want to see the world for ourselves. When following tireless responsibility set forth by generations past, there is this sense of heavy duty that lays across the shoulders like an unfitting armor. Maybe this isn’t the case for everyone, but surely for a sound few.
I understand Orrec, and I also understand Gry. They are two peas of the same pod, maybe because they have shared their lives together. The reasons some are alike is neither here nor there, for the moment, though perhaps it is a generational study for a later article.
At some point, you have to wonder if the way the world has been laid out for you is really the best way to live it, the best way to see it, the best way to do things. If you always tend to your life as others would have it, a resentment can grow and fester like moldy boils. One day they will pop, and then you have an open wound and a mess that oozes over. If the wound isn’t healed, it oozes. Then, everything changes. You can’t turn back. Best not to let it get to that point. Best to tend to the infection as soon as you notice it. Don’t wait to see what happens. An infection leads to nastiness, and sometimes death. Better let that road be.
Orrec and Gry were gifted with something that was helpful for their families, but detrimental to the soul. They felt a connection with the world around them, and it was as if they were doing more harm than good. Sure their families benefited, and that may have been the main concern, but when you are young, understanding the needs of the self, in many cases, comes first. For some, that never changes. Some never fully understand the self and so go on seeking it all of their lives. Others feel fulfilled with their duties needing nothing further.
There is no one way to go. Orrec understands that. Gry understands that. They know what they should do. But, it doesn’t line up with the way they see the world, or hear the world, for that matter.
I have been wanting to read LeGuin for years. I even bought one of her books years back- The Left Hand of Darkness, I think it was. I started it once. Started it again. Tried once more. Set it back in the shelf. I still ponder over it sometimes. I came across this book by happenstance at the library, and I am glad to have grabbed it. It has lessons of growing within the pages, of which we can all use a reminder.