This winter I got lost in a fantasy world through the writings of Ursula K. Le Guin. That woman knew magic. Not the Harry Potter type of magic — all that shouting and running about — but earth magic.
It’s a simple theory, explained in the first book of the Earthsea series, which she penned in 1968: In the true names of things is where power of magic can be found. In her world, nothing is called by its true name except by wizards. Simply by invoking these names, they are able to stop bad guys and move mountains.
As readers, we get panicky when we don’t know where we are. Abstract information is fine, but soon becomes overwhelming, and we find ourselves needing to sink back into the world of the real. It’s always such a relief when the narrator of a novel comes out of their head to describe the mottled leaves of the orange tree, or pauses to loosen their tie, which has been far too tight since the wife cinched it up this morning.
Our truths are held in the things that surround us, not in the air. Thoughts don’t have names, but objects do. Objects that are important to us are likely to have a second name. Frank, Snowy and Lady are all cars I’ve owned. And everyone’s experienced the unreasonable heat under the collar when a favorite object is mis-named: That’s no bongo, it’s a doumbek!
The concept keeps coming back to me. When I get stuck with writing, I look around. Every object has a story it can tell when its name is revealed. Not coffee cup but a hand-thrown mug. Not cafe noise but light traffic, post-yoga conversation and alt-rock hits of the 90’s.
Not alt-rock hits of the 90’s but Nirvana. No longer wheeling in thought, I’m here, suddenly, at the wood slab table with the flowers, recognizing them as dahlias, remembering, and working magic.