The Beginning Place by Ursula K. Le Guin. The Beginning Place is about finding home and the people who make it. It’s about leaving behind the things that don’t work. It’s about growing up. The Beginning Place is about confusing the hell out of me so I spend the last quarter of the book with my face scrunched up in bewilderment.
Hugh Rogers is a twenty-year-old who lives with a very needy mother. Feeling particularly trapped by his life one evening, he runs away. He has no plans or agenda but when he stumbles across a grove with a creek which is amazingly still and peaceful, he feels like this is what he was looking for on his mad dash to nowhere. Calmed by the stillness and refreshed beyond belief by the water of the creek, Hugh resolves to return to this place out of time, spending hours there while minutes pass in the “real” world.
Irena has been going to the beginning place since she was thirteen. When she finds Hugh there she’s angry, confused, and afraid. She has always thought of it as “my ain country” and doesn’t know why Hugh is there or what to do about it.
I don’t know how to do the rest of this without getting super spoilery so, fair warning.
I am a huge Ursula K. Le Guin fan. HUGE. She writes wonderful characters and can build a world in an amazingly short amount of time (she’s the mother fucking QUEEN* of short stories, guys. It’s ridiculous how good she is). So I have to assume that the world building in The Beginning Place is incredibly shallow on purpose. Instead of being able to see the whole world of the beginning place, you can only see the specific portions that Ms. Le Guin writes about. The portions that Hugh and Irena encounter. And even those places bring more questions than answers.
Why is the way into the beginning place sometimes closed to Irena? Why is the way out sometimes closed to Hugh? Why is it always twilight? Why are there no animals or flowers? Why can the people of Mountain Town not travel the roads or have people come to them? Why can Irena not save the people of Mountain Town, who she has loved for years? Why is Hugh compelled (in the true sense of the word) to save the the people of Mountain Town? Are Irena and Hugh really being knowingly sent to their deaths because they’re outsiders? Lord Horn seems like a good man, why would he do that?
And then, after they’ve slain the dragon (but we don’t find out if that made a difference or is actually what needed doing) and are trying to find the way home, Irena and Hugh fall in love. While I like the characters and was happy they were happy, it left me going, “Why?” It seemed to come out of nowhere, with not much to back it up.
On the whole, it wasn’t a bad book but I don’t know that I can say it was good either. It definitely should not be the first Ursula K. Le Guin book you read. The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed are considered classics for a reason, start with those and branch out into the rest of the Hainish cycle and go on from there. Only read The Beginning Place if you become a big enough fan of Ms. Le Guin to want to read ALL of her things. And even then, you can probably skip it.
*Peter S. Beagle is with king, by the way.