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2020 Offseason Review Series Day 26: The New England Patriots

New England Patriots

Division: AFC East 2019: 12-4, Division Win
Before I dive in, I want to give a massive, massive thanks to timnog - who is a national treasure and the resident .gif queen of the Patriots - and arbrown83 - who provides excellent high-quality OC and manages patriotsdynasty.info, a definitive repository for content complete with data and .gifs spanning the past 20 years. Basically everything in this piece that isn't sourced in the click (twitter, youtube etc.) came from one of them and I don't want to imagine what this would look like without them.

Coaching Changes:

  • Joe Judge: After eight seasons with the team, five as our Special Teams coordinator, Joe Judge has left New England to take on a head coaching job with the New York Giants. New England's special teams units have been consistently good to great during Judge's tenure with the team and particularly played a massive part in the 2018 Super Bowl victory against the LA Rams. With Judge's departure the team faces special teams uncertainty for the first time in nearly a decade
  • Dante Scarnecchia: One of the few dedicated position coaches in the NFL with broad name recognition among many fans, Dante Scarnecchia has been one of the best position coaches in the league and a franchise legend. Scar has survived 5 General Manager transitions, 4 different head coaches, 3 decades of coaching, 2 sales of the franchise and a partridge in a pear tree return to work after a two year hiatus in retirement. Scar has been pivotal in the franchise's ability to continually identify and develop raw physical talent into serviceable or better starting linemen over the past 20 years. He heads off into retirement (part 2) and will be sorely missed
  • Bret Bielema: After two years with the team as a consultant and defensive line coach, Bret Bielema has departed with Judge to take on a defensive advisory role with the Giants
  • Jedd Fisch: Added to the offensive staff as the Quarterback's coach, Jedd Fisch has spent the better part of 20 years bouncing around between college and the NFL with the Texans, Ravens, Broncos, Seahawks and Jaguars before landing most recently with the LA Rams as a senior offensive assistant and assistant offensive coordinator in 2018/2019. Fisch brings a broad scope of experience to the table as an offensive mind. The linked article goes into some schematic possibilities that his addition may foretell, but we'll look closer at that in a later section
  • Troy Brown: After stepping in last August to try his hand coaching, team Hall of Famer, fan favorite, RecevieReturneCornerback Troy Brown has been officially added to the coaching staff. While he spent much of last season working with the receivers, recent news says Brown will be working with the running backs as we go into camp. Whatever the case, if the man can impart even a fraction of his work ethic and selfless attitude onto the players he will be a welcome addition to the staff
After last year's mass coaching exodus there are relatively few losses among the coaching staff this season, but two of them are major losses that will certainly be felt. The team has remained true to form this year in handling coaching turnover - losses have been addressed by promotions from within and the team has brought in one mid-priority, experienced outsider to supplement.

Free Agency

Players lost/cut
Player Position New Team Contract
Tom Brady QB 2 yrs, $50M
Kyle Van Noy Edge 4 yrs, $51M
Jamie Collins LB 3 yrs, $30M
Danny Shelton IDL 2 yrs, $8M
Ted Karras C 1 yr, $3M
Nate Ebner ST 1 yr, $2M
Elandon Roberts LB 1 yr, $2M
Phillip Dorsett WR 1 yr, $1M
  • Tom Brady gets his own dedicated posts. It's simply impossible to talk about Tom Brady's Patriot tenure and legacy or what he has meant to the team, fan base and the sport of football inside a larger body post like this. The reddit limit for text posts is 40k characters and I could easily eclipse that talking about Brady and his career. I wouldn't be doing anybody justice by trying to shoehorn that commentary in here next to comments about Kyle Van Noy and Danny Shelton. It's simply a different universe of impact and significance from both objective and emotional angles. Suffice it to say in this section that he leaves a Lovecraftian void in his wake
  • Kyle Van Noy received a well-deserved payday after delivering above and beyond expectation on his opportunity in New England. Acquired in a trade-deadline deal in 2016, Van Noy worked his way through backup duties into a significant role as a hybrid edge defender. In 2017 after Dont'a Hightower went down for the season injured, Van Noy stepped into the #1 LB role, playing starter's snap share as a valuable run stuffer and pass rusher, from the interior or from the edge, standup or hand in the dirt, even in coverage or blowing up screens, sometimes doing multiple in the same play. KVN became Mr. Utility in the front 7 and spent the past few years making plays in any way a front 7 player can. Van Noy leverages a well rounded skill set to impact games in any manner possible, and he's helped the team to three super bowl appearances and two wins doing it while being one of the best players on the field in SB53. He leaves for Miami to rejoin the man who helped unlock that skill set and I will not be happy seeing him on the other side of the field twice a year in the immediate future
  • Jamie Collins leaves the Patriots for a second time after an excellent 2019 and a major bounce back from his poor showing in Cleveland. Initially drafted by New England in 2013, Collins rose quickly to become a key defensive force early on, capitalizing on explosive athleticism and a well rounded skill set (I know it's repetitive but it's the truth. I suggest you get used to the terms "well-rounded" and "versatile" now) to create a major impact in the 2014 playoffs, to earn 2nd team All Pro honors in 2015, and to get himself traded away to the gulag Cleveland in a surprise move in the middle of 2016. Collins came back home on a one-year deal in 2019 to try and show the world he deserved one more big pay day. He delivered with gusto. Through the first half of the season Collins was performing at an all pro level for a nightmarish New England Linebacking corps, primarily contributing exceptional coverage and explosive pass rushing skills but also playing a key role against the run. Contrasting with Van Noy, who is much more of a by-the-book type player without any outstanding athletic traits for the position, Collins has made his career largely on his absurd athletic potential and instincts, which were still on full display at age 30 this season. He leaves for Detroit to rejoin the man who helped unlock his skill set and it's nice that the Patriots won't need to see him across the field twice a season
  • Danny Shelton heads to Detroit as a big man who delivered in a big way on his 2019 one-year prove-it deal. Shelton is not the kind of name that turns heads, but he brought a significant physical presence to the interior of a defense that had been fairly vulnerable to the ground game when opponents could lean into it. He wasn't much of a pass rusher - though he did have his moments - but he was a stout run-stuffer and anchor in the middle of the D, playing the second most snaps of all of Patriot DL on the season. He leaves some large shoes to fill and his loss significantly weakens the Patriot hair game
  • Ted Karras also heads to Miami after taking on a starter's role at Center with less than one month's notice on the heels of David Andrews' season-ending blood clot situation. Karras, a 6th round pick in 2016, played just 430 snaps over three seasons as a reserve OL before responsibility was thrust upon him this season. Karras played admirably on over 1000 snaps and while he wasn't blowing any doors off the center position - particularly early on when he was still hammering out some snap-issues that had also flared up in 2017 - the fact that he was able to play 90% of New England's offensive snaps from a reserve role without creating glaring issues was nothing short of a godsend. Karras took home the 2nd highest paycheck league-wide from the NFL's Performance Based Pay program for his efforts, and frankly the $3M contract he received from Miami was surprisingly low given how hard it is for some teams to find a competent starting center
  • Nate Ebner follows Special Teams coordinator Joe Judge to New York after carving out an 8 year career as a dedicated special-teamer. Did you know he also played rugby?
  • Elandon Roberts wraps up an impressive Patriot tenure that was largely spent wanting to run through mother fuckers' faces. I've given Roberts some shit in the past for being the one player I've seen with a unique ability to fill the right hole at the right time but manage to not even touch the ball carrier, but the guy is an awesome locker room presence, willing special teamer, named team captain and just all around up for anything. Recently seen filling a need at receiver, Roberts heads out to join Patriots south where he'll go do whatever the hell they need him to
  • Phillip Dorsett heads to Seattle on a minimal 1-year deal. He leaves New England much the same way he came, as a former 1st round pick with a ton of speed and not much production. He has flashed for the team at times in a 3rd/4th/5th target role but struggled when asked to do more. He'll haul in a few long bombs when things go just right though, and that's always a treat
Players signed
Player Position Old Team Contract
Beau Allen IDL 2 yrs, $7M
Adrian Phillips S 2 yrs, $6M
Damiere Byrd WR 1 yr, $1.6M
Dan Vitale FB 1 yr, $1.3M
Brian Hoyer QB 1 yr, $1M
Marquise Lee WR 1 yr, $1M
Brandon Copeland LB 1 yr, $1M
New England entered the 2020 Free Agency period without much cap space to speak of. After placing a franchise tag on Left Guard Joe Thuney and re-signing Free Safety Devin McCourty, the team was left without much of anything to work with. Trading away Duron Harmon turned out to be a necessary move solely for the cap ramifications.
  • Beau Allen is a very large man who plays in the middle of defensive lines. He's worked as a depth IDL for the Eagles and Bucs, and would seemingly be the replacement for Shelton. Certainly not a disruptive pass rusher with just 2.5 sacks to his name across 6 seasons, he's done some good work against the run in limited snaps and appears to have an open path to a more significant role. He'll even attempt to replace Shelton in the hair game, just with his face
  • Adrian Phillips has been a depth/rotational safety for the Chargers for 6 years while contributing on special teams at an all-pro level. He's the exact kind of guy Belichick loves to pick up for versatility and depth purposes, but he's also done enough on the field as a true safety to believe he can function in that capacity as well. Phillips is my favorite addition this season and given the age of the other safeties on the roster he'll have an opportunity to break into the lineup with significant snaps
  • Damiere Byrd is a very fast receiver. He hasn't been able to really break out in the pros, but he's shown up with brief flashes as a returner and deep threat. He'll have an open opportunity to seize that role without many major challenges in his way
  • Dan Vitale is a Fullback who has opted out of the 2020 season to put in even more work on his biceps due to conerns over COVID-19
  • Brian Hoyer is the muthafuckin' destroyer
  • Marquise Lee was brought in as a veteran option to compete for a receiver role. He's a talented player who has struggled significantly with injuries in recent years. He has recently opted out of the season due to concerns over COVID-19
  • Brandon Copeland is a versatile linebacker who has performed mainly in a rotational role for the Jets over the past few years. He's shown an ability to play the deep hole zone coverage, which was a Jamie Collins special, and to put a hand on the ground and rush a passer or run a stunt. He's an unheralded name but those qualities might allow him to step into the giant chasm of opportunity left at linebacker in the wake of Collins and Van Noy's departures
Not much in the way of splashy names. Those signings left New England without even enough money to sign a draft class. Without even enough cap space to fit a veteran minimum contract, the team couldn't have possibly added any more players..... Wait. What?
Player Position Old Team Contract
Cam Newton QB 1 yr, $1.75M
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Round Pick Player Position School
2 37 Kyle Dugger Safety Lenoir-Rhyne
2 60 Josh Uche LB Michigan
3 87 Anfernee Jennings LB Alabama
3 91 Devin Asiasi TE UCLA
3 101 Dalton Keene TE Virginia Tech
5 159 Justin Rohrwasser K Marshall
6 182 Michael Onwenu G Michigan
6 195 Justin Herron OT Wake Forest
6 204 Cassh Maluia LB Wyoming
7 230 Dustin Woodard C Memphis
  • Kyle Dugger became the 6th defensive back in a decade to be taken by the Patriots in round 2 of the NFL draft. I'm going to take a minute to address this elephant in the room because the track record there is, frankly, abysmal. The most successful second round DB taken by the Patriots in the last decade is Tavon Wilson, and the gap between Wilson and the second best DB the team has taken in round 2 is incomprehensibly large considering Wilson started a grand total of 4 games in New England. Ras-I Dowling was healthy for 9 games in 3 years. Jordan Richards stuck around as a special teamer while inducing panic any time he played in an actual safety role. Cyrus Jones muffed approximately one million 4 punts and fumbled another on just 14 return opportunities before being sent to Baltimore as a sleeper agent. Duke Dawson was traded for a 6th/7th round swap 1 year after being drafted, having played exactly 0 snaps. Joejuan Williams murdered twelve puppies can't be faulted for not breaking into the starting lineup in a ridiculously strong cornerback room in year 1 and isn't a lost cause yet, thankfully. This is what comes to mind when Patriot fans think about drafting DBs in the second round. It's not any player's fault that the Patriots draft them when they do, but it's such a well-known string of failures that it became a talking point when the team traded a 2nd round pick for Mo Sanu. Enter Kyle Dugger. Dugger played for Lenoir-Rhyne, a D-II school with a sports-reference page that looks like this, boasting 6 whole names of NFL players who combined to produce 16 AV. Dugger is the highest draft pick to come out of Lenoir-Rhyne by over 100 slots, and for good reason. He arguably only ended up playing D-II because of a very late growth spurt, and by the time he had it his combination of explosive athleticism and pro-size physique left him looking a man among boys. Film on Dugger is scant, and much of what exists looks like the Zapruder tape, but even in the blurry mess you simply can't miss the guy being disruptive in coverage, flying around like a missile, decleating ball carriers and running circles around - or straight through - punt coverage. Dugger is pretty raw. A few seasons flexing on physically outmatched competition in D-II is not the best way to prepare for sophisticated NFL defenses and opponents with more similar athletic profiles. That said, the physical tools are elite even when measured by NFL standards. He's a 99th percentile SPARQ athlete who reportedly smothered TEs and receivers in senior bowl week. It's hard to say too much about Dugger until we see more but he seems to have every tool he needs to become an impact safety, a box roamer, even play some nickel/dime slot coverage in the NFL. I specifically see a Tight End eraser and eventual Pat Chung replacement if he develops well. I'm more optimistic about him than I've been about any of the other 2nd round DBs since Dowling. The age in the safety group, Chung's opt out and Harmon being traded away have opened things up for someone to take over a large chunk of the snaps and whether it happens sooner or later Dugger looks like he can be the one to break a series of sadness a decade old. I'm ready to either get hurt again or watch him become the next Brian Dawkins. At least he wasn't a projected 6th rounder
  • Josh Uche became the second Michigan defender drafted to New England in two years. While he played primarily on the edge he was deployed in off-ball alignment and crowding A gaps over guards, displaying the versatility New England loves in its front 7. An excellent quick-twitch athlete, Uche produced a pressure on over 22% of his pass rush snaps in 2018 and 2019, 1st in the nation per PFF and displays explosive ability as a pass rusher off the ball to blow past OTs and as a run defender with a blazing fast closing speed. The major knocks against Uche in the draft process were a general lack of reps - as he did not break out until his junior year and was still ceding snaps to Rashan Gary and Chase Winovich - a slightly undersized frame and a lack of drill numbers owing to a hamstring tweak suffered in the senior bowl then a canceled pro day due to COVID-19. He's shown great bend and reasonably polished hand fighting technique to complement the athletic gifts, and whether he ends up primarily in a pass rushing role or moving around the front, he's a welcome addition to a severely depleted front-7. Find an excellent OC film breakdown by Memokerobi in this thread
  • Anfernee Jennings Anfernee Jennings mainly filled an edge role in Alabama's hybrid defense. In contrast the quick-twitch and bend we saw in Uche, Jennings provided a stout, strong, physical presence for one of the country's best defenses. Jennings was a productive pass rusher and a particularly dominant run stuffer, at times manhandling some of the best blocking TEs in college to get there. Despite playing a majority of his snaps at the edge last season, Jennings has the physical tools to line up off-ball as a downhill thumper as well. He has experience lining up everywhere from the 4-tech to wide 9, stand-up or hand in the dirt, and he's displayed a sophisticated game IQ in play diagnosis. While his game is markedly different from Uche's, he finds himself facing the same opportunity to make an immediate mark in the linebacking corps. To this point if you think I've been repetitive while talking about the draft picks, it's because I have been. The first three picks in the 2020 draft have all been versatile defensive pieces that should be able to move around the formation fluidly. As the league evolves and offenses adapt to answer the recently-popularized "big nickel" personnel grouping, the need for defenders who can fill a variety of needs has only increased. That factor and the loss of versatile defenders Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins creates a pretty clear picture of what the Patriots were working towards early in the draft
  • Devin Asiasi became the first TE drafted by the Patriots inside the top 200 picks since 2010. Asiasi is a well-rounded player who has shown the ability to play in-line or split wide, albeit in limited time as he's only had one season of significant usage and production. In that year, he displayed very reliable hands and solid route-running ability while making impacts at all three levels of the passing game. He was also a competent, if raw, blocker with the frame to match many edge defenders. He's a tough runner with the ball in his hands, though he's not going to outrun most defenders and with a bit of development he should be able to fill the all-around TE role the Patriots desperately need filled
  • Dalton Keene became the second TE drafted by the Patriots inside the top 200 picks since 2010. Keene is a versatile guy, the proverbial H-back type who spent a significant amount of time moving all around the formation at Virginia Tech last year. He's a tenacious blocker and is described by basically everybody as having relentless effort. The main drawbacks with Keene are his production - with just 748 yards receiving across 3 college seasons - and the fact that his route tree is more a shrub. He's a player who has predominantly gotten open by leaking out of a blocking assignment or against motion on play action. That said, George Kittle makes a significant amount of his hay running leak or counter motion routes too so it's not as if that role doesn't have value. Keene is extremely unpolished, but he's shown the skills necessary to become an impactful TE if he can prove himself with a major increase in responsibilities, volume and overall refinement
  • Justin Rohrwasser's name means "pipe water" in German
  • Michael Onwenu (#50) is a strong, stocky interior lineman who simply bullies people in tight spaces, but he doesn't move very well and can be stiff in his stances and footwork. New England has had success in the past with coaching up stiff or awkward movers into useful offensive linemen - Marcus Cannon is a prime example - and Onwenu should have time to work on his weaknesses as he was drafted into a very strong IOL group with established starters. With some coaching up he could end up a great value for a 6th round investment
  • Justin Herron is a long Tackle with decent hands and mobility who's main criticisms are a lack of any particular strength or control in the run game. After bouncing back nicely from an ACL tear in 2018, Herron played well enough at Wake Forest to earn a late round draft selection. With the uncertainty around New England's Tackle situation, he could have a good chance to stick as a depth piece for future development
  • Cassh Maluia was a solid three year starter for Wyoming with good athleticism for the position and notable closing speed. Physically he's similar in build to Elandon Roberts. The gaping void that opened up at linebacker this offseason and the loss of a few dedicated special teamers should give him a chance to make the roster and leave his mark
  • Dustin Woodard was a long-time starter at Memphis. He moves pretty well but he's on the small, stocky side and will need to add strength and refine his technique if he's going to contribute in the NFL. He'll have some stiff competition for a depth role as an interior lineman
It's never easy to talk about Patriots drafts. In 2020 the team clearly wanted to add versatility on multiple levels, and they did something we've seen them do multiple times before and double dipped at positions of significant need. A number of pundits have panned the Pats 2020 draft class because it didn't include a Quarterback or receiver, while others have praised it because the team moved around a number of picks and that must be a good sign. If forced to give a grade I'd throw out a B/B-. Dugger has a ridiculous potential ceiling but his rawness is scary. I absolutely love the Uche pick. He was a favorite of mine through the process with nice tape who seemed generally undervalued due to lack of volume. He could return major upside. Jennings is a classic Patriots prototype pick who could be great for the team, and he was selected at about "expected" range. Asiasi is someone I liked in the scouting process as a competent receiver but I would have preferred Adam Trautman as the more complete package. I liked Dalton Keene for fit but I didn't expect him before the middle of day 3. Trading 2 4ths to the Jets to move up for Keene there just doesn't sit right. The Rohrwasser pick is another Belichick staple on the current rookie wage scale. Once the 5th round rolls around he starts taking his "reach" shots on special teamers or long-shot projects e.g. Punter Jake Bailey, Long Snapper Joe Cardona, Punter Zoltan Mesko or reclamation projects Byron Cowart and Marcus Cannon. Most of those picks have turned out pretty good for the team. Given that track record and the need, I expected and don't hate taking the kicker there. I know nothing about Rohrwasser except he apparently went 100% from 50+ yards and had a handful of impressive kicks in bad weather, but Belichick has been on point with specialists and the team hasn't brought in any competition so I believe in his ability. The rest of the selections are just prospective depth, which is hard to get excited about but is also something the team desperately needed. I'm glad the team didn't try to take a QB and instead focused on addressing a lack of roster depth, an aging safety group, an eviscerated LB corps and the worst TE room in the league. For the oldest roster in the NFL and for how many contributing bodies the team lost in free agency, this draft class isn't exactly sexy, but it is a necessity and very on-brand for the Patriots.

Projected Depth Chart

Position Groups

Camp Battles to Watch


Schedule Prediction

Other Offseason News that has Affected the Team

  • James Develin, long time fullback, has retired from the NFL and will be sorely missed. That .gif is basically his Patriot tenure and his personality in a nutshell. He gives a relentless effort, displaying hard-nosed tenacity, and you can feel the sheer joy emanating from Legarrette Blount. Develin was a positive personality in the locker room, a versatile utility knife on the field and an all around great guy.
  • The world is in the middle of a pandemic. This is very obviously affecting every team and the league as a whole. Specific to New England, the Patriots have had eight players opt out of the 2020 season. In order of 2019 snap count, the team has lost RT Marcus Cannon, LB Dont'a Hightower, safety Patrick Chung, RB Brandon Bolden and TE Matt LaCosse. On top of this, Free Agent signings Marquise Lee and Danny Vitale have opted out, as well as Guard Najee Toran, who was signed to a futures contract this past December. This is the highest number of opt-outs in the NFL. When combined with the free agent losses and the trade of Duron Harmon, the New England defense has lost 4,141 high-quality snaps and another 598 role-player snaps from 2019. That represents an absolutely staggering 45% of all defensive snaps lost from year to year. The important takeaway here isn't about football though.
Thanks for reading if indeed you have. If not, thanks for at least scrolling to the bottom. I hope it's been enjoyable and informative. Stay safe and be good to each other.
E: Of course within hours of posting this the Patriots finalized multiple roster moves. Lamar Miller was signed to a 1 year deal. While the terms are unknown at the moment, he'll be a strong candidate to come in and carry a significant workload. The signing suggests that the team is unsure of Sony Michel's availability after the foot surgery that currently has him on the PUP list and does not feel comfortable leaning on Burkhead or Harris in the event that Sony misses time. Jordan Leggett has also been signed and could push Ryan Izzo for a roster spot.
submitted by O_the_Scientist to nfl


Earthsea Reread: The Farthest Shore Chapter 3, "Hort Town"

Hello everyone. Welcome back to the /ursulakleguin Earthsea Reread. We are currently reading the third book, The Farthest Shore, and this post is for the third chapter, "Hort Town." If you're wondering what this is all about, check out the introduction post, which also contains links to every post in the series so far.
Previously: Chapter Two, "The Masters of Roke."

Chapter Three: Hort Town

At 31 pages, "Hort Town" is, by far, the longest chapter in the entire series so far. (The previous books' longest chapters topped out at sixteen pages.) I thought about splitting the write-up into two parts, but. . . nah. We're just going to do it. I imagine I'll eventually need to change things up (there are only five chapters in The Other Wind and they're all super long) but for now I'm going to stubbornly stick to one chapter, one post. So strap in.
On the morning of the spring equinox, Sparrowhawk and Arren set sail for Hort Town. They are aboard Ged's famous ship Lookfar, which he has had since the end of A Wizard of Earthsea. I imagine it didn't see much use in the last five years while Sparrowhawk was Archmag. Indeed he is openly enthusiastic about getting to go somewhere and do something. He tells Arren they will be going incognito as Uncle Hawk and his nephew, and practices his Enlad accent. He sails Lookfar by hand, without magic or magewind.
The second night out it rained, the rough, cold rain of March, but he said no spell to keep it off them. . . Arren thought about this, and reflected that in the short time he had known him, the Archmage had done no magic at all.
This is an echo (Earthsea is full of echoes, repeats, cycles) of Ged's first few days apprenticed under Ogion, in A Wizard of Earthsea. Ogion would not turn the rain aside either, or cast spells to satisfy young Ged's impatience. Now Ged is the master, and keeps the Balance and the Equilibrium just as Ogion taught him, though he has not Ogion's quiet heart. But Arren is a more faithful, patient student than Ged was as a boy. He doesn't seem bothered by the lack of magic. Besides, Sparrowhawk has been teaching him sailing.
He was a peerless sailor. . . Arren had learned more in three days' sailing with him than in ten years of boating and racing on Berila Bay. And mage and sailor are not so far apart; both work with the powers of sky and sea, and bend great winds to the uses of their hands, bringing near what was remote. Archmage or Hawk the sea-trader, it came to much the same thing.
On the second night, Sparrowhawk confesses to Arren that he's been pretending to be free from his responsibilities ("That I'm not Archmage, not even sorcerer") and that he doesn't want their peaceful journey to end.
"Try to choose carefully, Arren, when the great choices must be made. When I was young, I had to choose between the life of being and the life of doing. And I leapt at the latter like a trout to a fly. But each deed you do, each act, binds you to itself and its consequences, and makes you act again and yet again. Then very seldom do you come upon a space, a time like this, between act and act, when you may stop and simply be. Or wonder who, after all, you are."
How could such a man, thought Arren, be in doubt as to who and what he was? He had believed such doubts were reserved for the young, who had not done anything yet.
This distinction that he draws here between the life of doing and the life of being, and the alluded-to moment of choice between Ogion and Roke, is a key concept for me in understanding Ged's character. I've already alluded to it before in this series and I probably will again.
They discuss also what it is they are searching for. Arren asks if it might be a plague or pestilence, of a sort that can affect the spirit as well as the body. No, says Sparrowhawk:
"A pestilence is a motion of the great Balance, of the Equilibrium itself; this is different. There is the stink of evil in it. We may suffer for it when the balance of things rights itself, but we do not lose hope and forego art and forget the words of the Making. Nature is not unnatural."
And I have to say that as much as I have found Le Guin's writing to be relevant for our times (see this thread about "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas"), this passage is not relevant or useful for us, in my opinion. There is very little comfort or sense to be found in thinking of the suffering and death of our current pandemic as "natural," or as a restoration of a great Balance. A virus may be a thing of nature, but I know now that a plague is not simply natural. Partly it is biological, but at least as much it is political; it is social; it is cultural. There is the stink of evil in it. And not just our current pandemic: a hundred years ago the influenza of 1918 was just as man-made as is the coronavirus of 2020. So to me Le Guin very much misses the mark here.
Sparrowhawk says that he expects to find a man at the root of this ill. Only men can do evil, just as only men can fight evil. So a man, and a mage. Arren protests that he had been taught (as has the reader) that wizardry depended on the Balance and Equilibrium, so how can a mage do evil?
"That," said Sparrowhawk somewhat wryly, "is a debatable point. 'Infinite are the arguments of mages'. . . The Firelord, who sought to undo the darkness and stop the sun at noon, was a great mage; even Erreth-Akbe could scarcely defeat him. The Enemy of Morred was another such. Where he came, whole cities knelt to him; armies fought for him. The spell he wove against Morred was so mighty that even when he was slain it could not be halted, and the island of Soléa was overwhelmed by the sea, and all on it perished. Those were men in whom great strength and knowledge served the will to evil and fed upon it. Whether the wizardry that serves a better end may always prove the stronger, we do not know. We hope."
I could not resist quoting this in full. First, it's another instance of Infinite are the arguments of mages, which is a saying repeated throughout the six books (Vetch quoted it to Ged, when they were discussing whether or not Ged's shadow had a name.) Second, it's got that mythology. Sounds like the two greatest heroes of Earthsea each had their own fitting, mighty enemy. This was the Enemy whose name Morred saw written in the rain. I think the Firelord's plot to "undo the darkness" bears some resemblance to the short-sighted death-denial which we will begin to discover in Hort Town.
The pattern of great heroes having great enemies is also a bad sign for Ged. In the first two books, the servants of evil were not defeated but reconciled, embraced. What had been broken was made whole. Now, though...Ged is perhaps as great a wizard as were Morred and Erreth-Akbe; does he know it? Does he see the danger of at last finding his own fitting enemy; and though he may triumph, does he yet fear what he may lose as dear to him, as world-altering, as the island swallowed by the pitiless sea?
So nature is incapable of evil. It is a capability unique to men. This is a statement the reader might nod along with. But then Arren asks, "What of dragons?" And now the reader says, hang on, yeah, we're in Earthsea! What about dragons?" It's a deft shift from direct commentary on our world, back to the world of Earthsea (a type of trick that the fantasy genre is uniquely suited for; Susanna Clarke is also very good at this), and Sparrowhawk's answer is fascinating:
"The dragons! The dragons are avaricious, insatiable, treacherous; without pity, without remorse. But are they evil? Who am I, to judge the acts of dragons?. . . They are wiser than men are. It is with them as with dreams, Arren. We men dream dreams, we work magic, we do good, we do evil. The dragons do not dream. They are dreams. They do not work magic: it is their substance, their being. They do not do; they are."
This, I feel, must have some philosophical or mystical correspondence in the real world, that Le Guin is describing for us, but I'm not sure what it is. The dragons are a manifestation, a literalization of. . . something. Maybe dreams. Maybe a certain state or spiritual attainment that humans can strive for. Any Daoists in the audience with thoughts on this?
God, we're only seven pages into the chapter. That conversation was too good. Moving on: Ged and Arren reach Hort Town on the third day. Nervously eyeing a slave galley moored nearby, Arren reaches for his sword, but decides not to take it with him. ("It makes me feel a fool. It is too much older than I.") He takes his knife instead Sparrowhawk dons a magical glamor, the persona of the sea-trader Hawk, and they set off through the busy marketplace.
It's creepy, in Hort Town. Unsettling. Sparrowhawk seems to be searching for any sign of magic, but what they mostly find are signs of widespread drug addiction. This is a drug called hazia which seems to bear some similarities to heroin:
"It soothes and numbs, letting the body be free of the mind. And the mind roams free. But when it returns to the body it needs more hazia. . . And the craving grows and the life is short, for it is poison."
Groups of lethargic hazia addicts are laying openly in the street, ignored by everyone except the flies that congregate over their mouths. Sparrowhawk, who has been to Hort Town before, is shocked that there are so many.
Finally in one of the market squares they find a stall run by a woman who, unlike everyone else they've seen so far, still has some verve and vim in her. Yet her friendly banter turns to defensiveness when Sparrowhawk, who recognizes her, recalls that years ago she used to perform showy magical illusions for her living:
"We don't do those tricks anymore. People don't want 'em. They've seen through 'em. . . Those who want lies and visions chew hazia," she said. "Talk to them if you like!"
Sparrowhawk persists, asking if every sorcerer in Hort Town has turned to other trades. The woman loses her temper:
"There's a sorcerer if you want one, a great one, a wizard with a staff and all—see him there? He sailed with Egre himself, making winds and finding fat galleys, so he said, but it was all lies, and Captain Egre gave him his just reward at last; he cut his right hand off. And there he sits now, see him, with his mouth full of hazia and his belly full of air. Air and lies! Air and lies! That's all there is to your magic, Seacaptain Goat!"
This was incredibly disturbing to me the first time I read it. The magic just. . . doesn't work anymore? Imagine how frightening that would be if that happened and you didn't know why. But worse yet is that part of the evil seems to be that people are apathetic, they ignore it, they pretend there is no problem.
The man pointed out by the stall-keeper, the former wizard, is someone Sparrowhawk thinks he might have heard of, a man called Hare. They tail Hare down a series of streets (Arren's "senses were all alert, as they were during a stag-hunt in the forests of Enlad.")
At last Sparrowhawk catches up with the lethargic, apathetic Hare. But Hare's attention is roused when Sparrowhawk speaks some words of the Language of the Making.
"You can still speak—speak—Come with me, come—"
And he brings them to where he lives, a bare room with only a sack stuffed with straw for a mattress. (Sparrowhawk seats himself on the floor "with the simplicity of one whose childhood had been totally without furnishings." I love how Le Guin never stops pointed out that Ged came from some of the poorest folk on Earthsea.)
Hare cannot speak the Language of the Making. Literally cannot. He cannot even say the word wizard. He has to say dragon instead. He weeps when Sparrowhawk speaks the words he's lost.
Sparrowhawk asks Hare how he lost his power.
"Yes. I remember being alive," the man said in a soft, hoarse voice. "And I knew the words and the names. . ."
"Are you dead now?"
"No. Alive. Alive. Only once I was a dragon. . . I'm not dead. I sleep sometimes. Sleep comes very close to death, everyone knows that. The dead walk in dreams, everyone knows that. They come to you alive, and they say things. They walk out of death into the dreams. There's a way. And if you go on far enough there's a way back all the way. You can find it if you know where to look. And if you're willing to pay the price."
"What price is that?" Sparrowhawk's voice floated on the dim air like the shadow of a falling leaf.
"Life—what else? What can you buy life with, but life?"
It's erratic and obscure, a free-association ramble, but there is something in there. He's talking about people coming back from death, somehow. Sparrowhawk also thinks Hare is saying that he did not lose his power, but traded it away.
Hare urges Sparrowhawk to come back again that night, if he wants to see the way ("I'll take you. I'll show you.") Sparrowhawk hedges and says that he might. Later to Arren, he says Hare is likely to set an ambush for them, but they also might not find any better leads. Arren asks if the Archmage isn't defended from thieves. ("What do you mean? D'you think I go about wrapped up in spells like an old woman afraid of the rheumatism?")
They go back into town. Arren feels uneasy, on edge. There is something deeply wrong in Hort Town.
The squares and streets bustled with activity and business, but there was neither order nor prosperity. Goods were poor, prices high, and the markets were unsafe for vendors and buyers alike, being full of thieves and roaming gangs. Not many women were on the streets, and the few there were appeared mostly in groups. . .
There was no center left in the city. The people, for all their restless activity, seemed purposeless. Craftsmen seemed to lack the will to work well; even the robbers robbed because it was all they knew how to do. All the brawl and brightness of a great port-city was there, on the surface, but all about the edges of it sat the hazia-eaters, motionless. And under the surface, things did not seem entirely real, not even the faces, the sounds, the smells. They would fade from time to time during that long, warm afternoon while Sparrowhawk and Arren walked the streets and talked with this person and that. They would fade quite away. The striped awnings, the dirty cobbles, the colored walls, and all the vividness of being would be gone, leaving the city a dream city, empty and dreary in the hazy light.
Again, I had a huge anxiety spike the first time I read this. Pulls some particular knotted fear-cord inside me. That frantic activity papered over a universal hopeless dread. . . the unstoppable slide into unreality...it gets to me. You win this round, Le Guin.
It is scarcely to be wondered that Sparrowhawk and Arren have no luck finding more information. So at dusk, they return to Hare's room. (In a gesture I find rather endearing, Hare has gotten a second straw-sack for his guests to sit on—though Arren chooses to stand guard in the doorway instead.)
Hare urges Sparrowhawk to take hazia, insisting that it's the only way to follow him. ("We've got to go the same way.") Of course Sparrowhawk refuses.
Hare, who has already taken hazia, rambles worse than ever as he tries to argue the point.
". . . I'm going to be going pretty soon now; if you want to find out where, you ought to do what I say. I say as he does. You must be a lord of men to be a lord of life. You have to find the secret..."
What's this—"I say as he does"? This is the first time Hare has mentioned any he. And then he says this:
"No death. No death—no! No sweaty bed and rotting coffin, no more, never. The blood dries up like the dry river and it's gone. No fear. No death. The names are gone and the words and the fear, gone. Show me where I get lost, show me, lord..."
A lord, then. There is a he, a lord, who has shown Hare how to deny death, how to be a "lord of life."
And though the reader will not fear for Ged, who embraced his death long ago, Arren proves susceptible to Hare's erratic rapture.
Arren listened, listened, striving to understand. If only he could understand! Sparrowhawk should do as he said and take the drug, this once, so that he could find out what Hare was talking about, the mystery that he would not or could not speak. Why else were they here?
Arren has not taken hazia, nor even spoken to Hare, but something is wrong. Arren feels drowsy and like he's missing chunks of time. His thoughts suddenly seem to ramble almost as disjointedly as Hare speaks. He knows he is supposed to guard the door.
But it was hard, hard to keep watching those two faces, the little pearl of the lamp-flame between them on the floor, both silent now, both still, their eyes open but not seeing the light or the dusty room, not seeing the world, but some other world of dream and death . . . to watch them and not try to follow them . . . .
There, in the vast, dry darkness, there one stood beckoning. Come, he said, the tall lord of shadows. In his hand he held a tiny flame no larger than a pearl, held it out to Arren, offering life. Slowly Arren took one step toward him, following.
And no sooner is the lord hinted at, then he (or rather a vision of him) appears, right there in the room. And that's where the chapter (finally) ends. God, there aren't a lot of cliffhangers in Earthsea, but this one's incredibly tense. We will have to wait until next time to see how it is resolved.
Next: Chapter Four, "Magelight."
Thank you for reading along with me. Please share your thoughts in the comments.
submitted by takvertheseawitch to UrsulaKLeGuin