I was pleased this summer to be the second reader for an exciting project by one of Signum University’s bright MA students. Beginning with curiosity about “Old Speech” in Ursula K. Le Guin‘s Earthsea series, Maximilian Hart has pulled together a paper that draws on linguistic theory, Platonism, and Taoism in a conversation between Le Guin and the theories of language and story of the Inklings—C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the oft-forgotten but ever-present Owen Barfield. And, best of all, there are dragons–and the question about whether dragons can deceive in Old Speech. If you enjoy Le Guin’s work, or if you are curious to see the Inklings as thinkers in writers in dialogue with a later speculative fiction writer, I would encourage you to join this free, one-hour, online event. And in case you missed it, there may be a spot or two open in the brand new Le Guin course that I am precepting for, with lectures by Kris Swank (Max’s supervisor).
Signum master’s student Maximilian Hart will present his thesis “Draconic Diction: Truth and Lies in Le Guin’s Old Speech” and respond to questions from the audience in an interactive Thesis Theater. The discussion will be facilitated by Maximilian’s thesis supervisor, Kris Swank.
Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea series enters an ongoing dialogue about the nature of language; in it, she proposes a language spoken by dragons and wizards, “the Old Speech,” a language fundamentally unlike our human languages. It is a language in which it is impossible to lie, a language which is simultaneously descriptive and generative: to say the name of a thing is to have the thing come to be. This Old Speech is what the ancient poetic unity of language—to use Owen Barfield’s terms—might look like: a language in which the Tao, the underlying reality of a thing, is named in every word, a language in which every word is a narrative and true. However, dragons, not the titular, and ostensibly central, wizards, are the true poets of Earthsea; the dragons are the ones who see with a poet’s eye and who are actually capable of wielding the Old Speech in its ancient, unified, fully poetic sense, a sense which encompasses all shades of meaning and existence and narrative in one word. Le Guin’s Old Speech, then, can best be understood as a true language of Barfieldian ancient unity, and the dragons are not liars but poets practicing their art.
About the Presenter
Maximilian Hart is a high school English teacher and has been a student at Signum University since 2016. His academic focus is currently on studying the works of Ursula K. Le Guin and her approaches to language. When he’s not reading books for class or his own high school students’ papers, he’s spending time with his wife and children or pretending to improve at chess or woodworking.
About Signum Thesis Theaters
Each of our master’s students writes a thesis at the end of their degree program, exploring a topic of their choice. The Thesis Theater is their opportunity to present their research to a general audience, and answer questions. All are welcome to attend!
Click Here to sign up for this free, online event.