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I never know how well known Molly Gloss is. Her work is so unclassifiable, is the thing, you get the explicitly Quaker science fiction of The Dazzle of Day, or else whatever you might call the magnificently indescribable Wild Life (one of those books where nothing I can say will tell you, go read it). Apparently her last two have both been Westerns or something (I have one of them here to read later).

This is her first novel and so far her only children's, and I heard of it because Ursula Le Guin wrote a review of it lo these years ago, which you can read in Dancing at the Edge of the World, and it is a very complimentary review. So I finally found a copy of Outside the Gates.

There are the Gates, and a boy has been put outside them, because he has a Shadow, and the people are frightened of it. His Shadow is not to speak the languages of animals, because animals speak mostly by smell and other things a human cannot duplicate, but to befriend animals, to know them the way they know themselves. In the woods there are other people, who have also been put out, though not many, and one, who works weather, becomes the boy's father, until someone comes whose Shadow truly is a Shadow, truly is dark, and truly has power.

This sounds like many other books, I know. It isn't. This is a book with no word out of its proper place, full of the thing Molly Gloss does better than any writer I can think of, the intensely self-contained, practical silence of the wilderness when it does not have much to do with human people. It is also one of those stories which looks simple, and then twists on you: it is as simple as a stone, or a bone, things like that, if you see what I mean. There is some kinship here to Le Guin, to A Wizard of Earthsea, but this reads as though Gloss took that beautiful book and read it and swallowed it and then took some ideas from it in another direction entirely, honed them down to the pith of themselves, in language so spare it has the internal effect, sometimes, of silence.

And yet I do think I could have read this at the age I first read A Wizard of Earthsea, seven or eight, or younger; there is nothing here that I would not have gotten then, there is nothing here I think would be too subtle for a younger kid.

I recommend it of course to anyone. It will stay with you.


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