‘The more I thought about these two books the more I saw how unique they were in their approach to storytelling. Rather than a typical quest arc, or bildungsroman, or boarding school tale, or even picaresque, what struck me about both books is that they center trauma and grief as their true subjects. Each novel mines the inner life of an introvert who has been forced into a terrible situation, and then each protagonist is given the page space to quietly, honestly, process their trauma and begin to recover.
In much the same way, Among Others uses its structure to tell a shadow story of Mori’s recovery. Walton’s story unfolds as a series of dated diary entries, so we know that the book’s prologue shows us a healthy and comparatively happy pair of twins in 1975, before skipping up to 1976 and reintroducing us to an older, shattered Mori, alone and furious. The entries cover the first three years of Mori’s new life, from 1976 until 1980, and the thing that comes through constantly is pain.
Among Others could have been a book about a girl fighting her evil mother with magic, and it could have been a standard, “nerdy girl finds unlikely friendships at boarding school”-type story. Instead, it’s about pain. It’s about what constant physical pain does to the human mind, and how to build up defenses against it.
…A book that could have just been a boarding school story has become a true bildungsroman, as Mori has to decide who she is, and who she wants to become.
These two novels show a different path for fantasy writing than the usual quest or heist tale. Instead they focus on tiny, quiet pockets of time—moments spent with a book, or in meditation—and look at how those moments can ripple out into a personality. They give us two very different characters who are, in the end, defined by their desire for quiet and stillness, defined by their own choices rather than the violence that was done to them. Rather than following their expected paths to become Vengeful Emperor or Murderous Witch, they draw on their inner lives to grow into real complex adults, and use their experience of trauma to embrace lives of empathy.
“Le Guin believes in the ‘necessity of myth for culture’ – for our culture – yet she recognized that traditional myth and traditional definitions of myth, such as Jung’s and Campbell’s, have excluded women as speaking subjects, as heroes, as active – and that this exclusion has failed us. Her ow ‘poetic fabulations’ she offers as ‘part of the process of developing a new mythology for the future.’…Le Guin says myth uses her to reveal its truth, and through her own revisioning and reimagining she revitalizes myth to contain its essential truths and the contemporary reinterpretations of such truths. Her use of myth becomes rhetorical as she argues for an alternative way of seeing, thinking and being that connects rather than separates, includes rather than excludes, gives voice rather than silences.
It is worth noting here that the language used by both Jung and Campbell indicates the universality of the myth and its psychological parallel. Gender is not mentioned, but as Le Guin notes in Earthsea Revisioned, the hero-tale, a human universal, is male-gendered: ‘The hero is a man.’ After all, until farily recently, when a writer wrote of anything that was meant to be a human universal, the gender pronoun used to include everyone was male. And as the hero’s quest is typically a public event and on a large scale, little attention, if any, was paid to the small and the personal and the feminine.” …As an ideal, the quest becomes an assumed truth about the human experience of coming of age. Le Guin questions this assumption in her examination of the myth and expands its paradigm to include other kinds of quests, other ways to come of age, particularly female ways.
And it is the language of fantasy and myth – expressed in the monomyth – that gives us the exterior shape to these journeys. But Le Guin is not simply retelling – she is reimagining the monomyth: by asserting that gender is a force in the quest, by making the personal and the public connect, by giving value to the small, the private, the feminine. The essential elements are all there, the journey, the quest and the hero, but as her reimagining subverts and inverts these elements, the monomyth becomes rhetorical. Or, in other words, to regender the myth, to leave it open-ended and to give value to both personal and private deeds as well as public ones, is to argue what has been changed is a s much of worth as what has been taken out.”
Communities of the Heart: The Rhetoric of Myth in the Fiction of Ursula K. Le Guin by Warren G. Rochelle
“I think women are held to the impossible standard of having to be perfect, not being allowed to make mistakes,” Miller said of her giving more voice to the inner life of Circe. “The ancient Greek heroes made horrendous mistakes all the time — Odysseus and Achilles are full of flaws, as much as they’re full of virtues and strengths. So I wanted Circe to make mistakes, and be flawed, and to not have the answers. Women should be allowed to be just as messy and complicated as the male heroes have been by right for centuries.”