Tuesday, April 24, 2012

People of 'Earthsea' in art and film

There's a maddening article by Ursula LeGuin in the Slate archives about how the SyFy (then Sci Fi) channel manhandled, eviscerated, and perverted her Earthsea books. Initially I was excited to see that they'd even done a series, but now I mourn an opportunity squandered.
When I looked over the script, I realized the producers had no understanding of what the books are about and no interest in finding out. All they intended was to use the name Earthsea, and some of the scenes from the books, in a generic McMagic movie with a meaningless plot based on sex and violence.... My color scheme was conscious and deliberate from the start. I didn't see why everybody in science fiction had to be a honky named Bob or Joe or Bill. I didn't see why everybody in heroic fantasy had to be white (and why all the leading women had "violet eyes"). It didn't even make sense. Whites are a minority on Earth now—why wouldn't they still be either a minority, or just swallowed up in the larger colored gene pool, in the future?....
Instead of a mostly non-white cast that was faithful to the books, the producers hired just two non-white actors, one of them an extra. She also talks about previous issues she had with book covers:
I had endless trouble with cover art. Not on the great cover of the first edition—a strong, red-brown profile of Ged—or with Margaret Chodos Irvine's four fine paintings on the Atheneum hardcover set, but all too often. The first British Wizard was this pallid, droopy, lily-like guy—I screamed at sight of him. Gradually I got a little more clout, a little more say-so about covers. And very, very, very gradually publishers may be beginning to lose their blind fear of putting a nonwhite face on the cover of a book. "Hurts sales, hurts sales" is the mantra. Yeah, so? On my books, Ged with a white face is a lie, a betrayal—a betrayal of the book, and of the potential reader.
[Top: US and UK First Editions; center, subsequent paperbacks.]

"Readers of color told me that the Earthsea books were the only books in the genre that they felt included in—and how much this meant to them, particularly as adolescents, when they'd found nothing to read in fantasy and science fiction except the adventures of white people in white worlds."


  1. Ughhh, I was unfortunate enough to sit through a bit of this series. It could only, if it all, be enjoyed by those with no prior knowledge of the classic books. Such a lazy adaptation of such cutting edge work.

  2. Its a shame what a few hired hands can do to a classic sci-fi series, the creators of this mini-series did a hack job, and completely cut out the author and her vision of making a great authentic adaptation of her Earthsea books!!!!

  3. Wow. It is such a shame and so disrespectful of the SyFy channel to so blatantly disregard LeGuin's vision here. I suppose there is always that risk of the unknown product that authors take when people want to transform their work into something on screen. I would be furious if I were her!

  4. It is very disturbing to read that the reason given for mangling her work is "Hurts sales". That is racism and I thought we had evolved beyond such stupidity. Why don't they try it her way, and find out? They may be surprised.

  5. A good friend let me borrow her copy of "a wizard of earthsea" i can't wait to read it this summer! i am disheartened to hear about scifi messing up her series, but also not surprised. why it is so hard for white people get over only seeing other white people on tv?