From Annals of the Western Shore,
Gifts is all about power. Le Guin explores both mental and physical aspects of it. People born with power, the illusion of power and creating the illusion of power where none existed before. She probes how people use power, abuse it and are distracted by it. How people enslave others with it, fool themselves by it and accept or reject power whether in themselves or others.
Le Guin accentuates the effects of powers on society by creating a world where magical powers inherited through one’s blood lines range from killing people to turning rocks to dust.
The powers depicted in Gifts include: ‘wasting people’ so they die within the year; twisting limbs; blinding or making people deaf; taking people’s will; making people follow you or become subservient to you; rendering people brainless idiots and being able to talk to animals. Her main character, Orrec’s, power is ‘undoing’ things or dissolving them. It’s considered one of the most odious powers. Odious enough for Orrec’s father to persuade him to blind himself.
The powers Le Guin portrays in Gifts can apply to power in all societies. Power of influence over others, revenge, holding people in line, submission to power or fear of one’s own power.
Both Sides of the Coin
Relief comes from an outsider who questions everything Orrec believes about the powers that bind his world. The outsider explains incidents that occur as natural, but Orrec can’t see the truth. He remains blind, because he believes the lore he was raised within.
Orrec’s girlfriend, Gry, realizes that power works for good and evil. She refuses to use her gift for the family business of calling wild bore, bear and deer to the hunt. Instead she uses her power to talk to animals,to heal them and to train dogs and horses. She questions whether all powers have good and evil possibilities. She asks Orrec to consider the positive use of his power to ‘undo’ things and suggests the power’s original purpose may have been to heal rather than kill.
Le Guin foreshadows the end early in the story, but it comes with a certain satisfaction as the protagonist finally comes to terms with issues of power in his society, family and in himself.
Le Guin: Master Story Teller
I find myself returning to Ursula Le Guin’s books for a thought-provoking-science-fiction story that doesn’t rely on mega battles. She incorporates humane themes within unusual circumstances and environments. The combination equates to a good read.
For those interested in writing: Ursula Le Guin writes Gifts in 1st person POV. Notice how carefully she uses the pronoun ‘I’, so it isn’t overused. A master storyteller with many awards, Le Guin balances backstory, action scenes and dialogue with the narrators thoughts, emotions and telling of the story.
You may find more information about Ursula Le Guin at the Nebula Awards website.
Gifts (Annals of the Western Shore, #1) by Ursula K. Le Guin
Series: Annals of the Western Shore #1
Published by Harcourt on April 1st 2006
Genres: Fantasy, Magical Realism, Science Fiction, Young Adult
Scattered among poor, desolate farms, the clans of the Uplands possess gifts. Wondrous gifts: the ability--with a glance, a gesture, a word--to summon animals, bring forth fire, move the land. Fearsome gifts: They can twist a limb, chain a mind, inflict a wasting illness. The Uplanders live in constant fear that one family might unleash its gift against another. Two young people, friends since childhood, decide not to use their gifts. One, a girl, refuses to bring animals to their death in the hunt. The other, a boy, wears a blindfold lest his eyes and his anger kill.
In this beautifully crafted story, Ursula K. Le Guin writes of the proud cruelty of power, of how hard it is to grow up, and of how much harder still it is to find, in the world's darkness, gifts of light.
Includes a reader's guide and a sample chapter from the companion title Voices.