The Word of Unbinding

The Word of Unbinding (1964) is a short story by Ursula K. Le Guin, first published in the January 1964 issue of Fantastic, and reprinted in collections such as The Wind's Twelve Quarters. In this story, the world of Earthsea, which was later made famous by "A Wizard of Earthsea", was first introduced.

At the beginning of the story the protagonist, a wizard named Festin, is apprehensive at the news that the evil Voll is marching from island to island, subduing all in his way, and no one understands or can fight his magic. Suddenly, Voll who has reached Festin's own island and the protagonist is imprisoned.

At first Festin, a strong wizard in his own right, is confident of his power to escape and overcome Voll - but all his attempts are rebuffed more than defeated. Finally, Festin's desperate longing for his beloved countryside makes him transform himself into a fish, swimming in one of the island's cool steams. However, Voll has noticed what happened, and the evil one's servants find and take out of the water the fish Festin - who is trapped by his own spell and cannot change back.

By now, Festin has realized that the source of Voll's power and invulnerability is that he is already dead, and controls his servants from the world of the dead. The only course left to Festin is The Word of Unbinding, uttering which is tantamount to suicide - but which enables Festin to get at his enemy and destroy him.

Festin has forever lost the joys of his beloved island's nature, but his sacrifice has saved others from the evil Voll.

The story anticipates "The Farthest Shore" in which Ged similarly goes into the world of the dead to fight a "dead" enemy threatening the world of the living, and defeats him at the cost of enormous sacrifice (though in that case, of his power rather than his life).

Also the theme that a wizard taking the form of an animal risks becoming trapped in his own spell and not being able to change back. In A Wizard of Earthsea Ged is trapped in the form of hawk, and would have remained a bird but for Ogion having changed him back.

There is also mention of a wizard who like to take a bear's form until not able to change back and finally killing his own child, and of "wise men who became dolphins and forgot their wisdom among the waves of the sea".

This is a specific example of the limitations and risks inherent in the use of magic and the need to keep a balance, which are central to LeGuinn's concept of magic.

External links

* [http://www.iblist.com/book19236.htm Internet Book List entry]


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