by Ursula K. Le Guin
Continued from “The Big Book of Earthsea,” July 18, 2016.
Here are a few more of Charles Vess’ preliminary sketches for the illustrations for the one-volume Earthsea next year, along with excerpts from our correspondence about the pictures and their subjects.
As you see, the dragons of Earthsea are now very splendid creatures. The people, the islands, the towns, the houses and ships and forests and goats of Earthsea are all coming to visible life. The pages of the book will be thronged and vivid with them.
These are first-draft, rough-draft sketches in pencil, alterable in every detail. Charles will not finish them in ink until we have got every roofbeam and wine glass right. But I love the freedom of the pencil sketches, the energetic lines and vigorous composition that give the sense of motion in open space.
Collaboration between two arts is an exciting business!
I. Inside An Imaginary House
(March 17, 2017)
. . . I also discovered that the Mage’s home in Re Albi had a wooden floor. Good to know, perhaps?
The wooden floor also came as a surprise to me when young Ogion insisted on laying it for Dulse (and I hope there is nothing in the earlier books that contradicts it).
How do you see the roof of the house? The Overfell is a windy place much exposed to weather, and I think I vaguely imagined slate or tile rather than thatch; but all I am sure of is that it’s not ceiled, inside the house one sees the beams and rafters.
I’d been doodling a floor plan (which I don’t know if I’ll ever use . . .) and had a stone floor in mind. But wooden planks makes much more sense.
Roof: It would certainly be shingled with either wood or slate because in that high place thatch would just blow away in the wind.
Also, I discovered after carefully reading through the first 4 books that the one, small window is facing west and in the alcove. Good to know.
I will doodle the floor plan in my head and try to scan and send it. I realized that the way I describe the interior of the house in A Wizard is a bit different from the way I later worked it out, and I want to see if I can make it consistent.
That’s what I thought about thatch.
The conformation of Gont Mountain/Island certainly suggests volcanic; therefore probably not much slate around. But lots of forest. Therefore wood shingles?
I sent Charles this floor plan of the house, with the following note:
Very scrawly, sorry.
Proportions not to be taken as accurate! I was just trying to work out roughly where things are in relation to each other.
The alcove is more or less opposite the fireplace, and only large enough for a pallet bed (young Ged’s, later Therru’s)
I think the other bed (Ogion’s, later Tenar’s, then Ged and Tenar’s) is described in Wizard as being “at the back” of the house, but by now I know it’s in the back room but more in the middle of the house. Its head is against the room-divider, which is all that is left of what was the inner dividing wall between the hearthplace and the barn or byre part of the house.
Dulse’s teacher Ard (Bones of the Earth) exiled all animals from the house, built a goat house as a lean-to against the East wall, and took out much of the original divider wall (which was 4 or 5 feet high — did not reach to roof).
So the house is spoken of in Wizard as “one large room,” but it is semi-divided, with the old byre serving as bedroom-workshop-storage closets or shelves. The back door, a sliding door as in a barn, is now unused except in emergency.
I think when Ogion reintroduced goats, he moved the goat house farther from the house and took down the lean-to, so I did not draw it.
The goat house, chicken house, cow-barn (I am sure Tenar had a cow) etc. can be anywhere you please in relation to the house.
I hope this is helpful. If you see anything missing or anomalous please let me know.
March 20, 2017
I take back what I said about Tenar keeping a cow. If she did it would be mentioned in the books. She made goat cheese, but bought her cow’s milk and butter from a farm just outside Re Albi.
(It was just because I have always wanted to keep a cow, a Jersey.)
II. Outside An Imaginary House
(April 11, 2017)
Now, don’t panic, I haven’t sketched out any of the other planned drawings for this book yet. I just thought that I’d do the last one first so that it wouldn’t be quite so sad when I got to it. That is, sad for me, not Ged & Tenar who are well content to spend their remaining lives peaceably & together but conceptually, I’ll be almost done with this lovely project.
Anyway . . .
Here are Ged and Tenar sitting in front of their home, glasses of wine in hand, attended by a goat (or goats ?) with the sunset bathing them in its color (I wish that this was to be in color but alas, it is not . . .). I wanted to run this by you in this very rough stage just to make sure that I have all the elements orientated in the correct manner, ie: what’s facing west is supposed to be there.
This is lovely. Mood perfect. Compass orientation correct. Old Mage’s House perhaps a little more imposing than I had imagined it: perhaps the stones would be less perfectly faced? the general impression a little messier & humbler? — but all in all, I am simply glad to see it realized.
I had no idea there was a tree at the NW corner! What kind of tree is it?
I can’t make out the wine glasses. I was just worried that they might be stemmed. They wouldn’t be. In fact, would they be glass? I guess so. Everybody who can put their wine in a glass does so, don’t they.
A couple of hens maybe? I do think hens are good company.
The tree would be a Peach Tree, growing there in the protective corner of the house wall.
They would be holding simple crockery to drink their wine out of wouldn’t they?
Certainly, I’ll put some hens pecking about their feet. That will be fun.
And, I’ll make the house a bit more humble.
(April 12, 2017)
Here’s that drawing put onto paper a bit more carefully.
Also, it’s summer? I say that because Ged has just been watering the cabbages. So are there then peaches on the Peach Tree?
If so I must laden those branches . . .
A few peaches, not ripe yet . . . ?
The house is perfect.
I don’t know if expressions come into it at this stage? Tenar looks a bit timid or downcast to me — it’s partly her posture, which suggests to me that she is looking to him for reassurance (but not vice versa). Tenar is a strong woman with a courageous, independent, and (by now) essentially serene spirit. I just don’t want to see her looking the least bit weak!
The chickens are a joy.
III. A Foolish Consistency is the Hobgoblin of Little Minds
(April 24, 2017)
Charles and I both detest discrepancies or contradictions between text and illustration and strive very hard for consistency. Nobody might ever have noticed the problem we discuss here. But I feel like confessing it, because in this case, deciding that consistency would be foolish, we called on magic to bail us out.
I have a question. When I was rereading this section with Alder walking up from the Gont Port I came to a short sentence that gave me pause, especially after having drawn the house at Re Albi twice and worked out its floor plan with you. Right on page #5 you describe the small house as “wooden”. Yikes! I don’t remember it ever being described that way before. Is it? Maybe I’m just catching that aspect now. Please let me know, because if it is I’ll need to redraw those other two images.
Arghh! Gont Mountain is all forested, plenty of timber, & so I saw the house as wood.
But I was so convinced by the house you drew that I never gave it a thought.
Now I wish I could go back and take the word “wooden” out of the text!
I hate to think of you having to take that handsome stone cottage down and rebuild it all with a pencil.
We could just ignore the discrepancy for once?
After all a wizard’s house might be capable of unexpected transformations….
The floor plan is unchanged.
Double bubble, toil and trouble. By the magic that is invested in these fingers and this pencil I transform thee, wood into stone.
(April 2017, 2017
This sketch is still just roughed out in many respects, but I wanted to post it here so you can see how our dragons have developed, and also see Charles drawing a physical transformation as it happens, which is not really possible.
Such transformations are so easy faked visually on film that we may cease to realise how truly strange it would be to see a dragon descend and become a woman in flesh and blood. The unmoving picture, defying possibility, saves that radical strangeness from the banality of the filmic anything-is-possible.
And look at the movement in the unmoving pencil lines — the dragon towering like a great hawk among the castle towers, the girl startled and amused to find herself again diminished — grounded — standing on only two feet…
1 May 2017