Published in 1972, The Farthest Shore is the third book in Ursula K. Le Guin’s beloved Earthsea trilogy. It tells the tale of the Archmage Ged’s final quest and his efforts to restore balance, order, and magic to a breaking world. I still remember to this day reading the last pages of this novel on a cold winter night in Upstate New York, and like with any great book feeling a sense of sadness that the story had ended and the characters I was so invested in would begin to retreat into the mists of time and memory.
Ursula Le Guin died this week at the age of 88, leaving behind a legacy as one of the most beloved and respected fantasy and science fiction authors of all time. In her clear but haunting prose she pushed the boundaries of our minds, challenging us to reimagine ideas like the power of language and gender identity, and to rethink what defines a hero, what constitutes courage, and what it means to seek balance in life and the world.
Le Guin lived a long and full life. She was a feminist and a mother and wife, a learned scholar and an author of children’s books, a lover of myth and fantasy who knew intuitively that the greatest quests are those in which we seek our true selves. She created worlds that were at the same time exotic and eerily familiar and characters that were filled with hope and courage and doubt and fear, characters who often failed, but who continued to fight for what they believed in. She reminded us that truth is often illusive and ambiguous but that we must seek it nonetheless.
The old saying is that you read the newspaper to find out what happened yesterday but you read great fiction to find out what always happens. I would add that great fiction also reminds us of what should happen, of who we should strive to be and of what role we should hope to play in the world. We are all, each of us in our own way, on a quest to the farthest shore. For a time Ursula K. Le Guin was one of our great guides, helping us to find the way through darkness and to perceive the great light that is in the world.