Originally published in 1968, Ursula K. Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea marks the first of the six now beloved Earthsea titles. Ged was the greatest sorcerer in Earthsea, but in his youth he was the reckless Sparrowhawk. In his hunger for power and knowledge, he tampered with long-held secrets and loosed a terrible shadow upon the world. This is the tumultuous tale of his testing, how he mastered the mighty words of power, tamed an ancient dragon, and crossed death's threshold to restore the balance. This ebook includes a sample chapter of THE TOMBS OF ATUAN.
First book finished in 2014! And what a great book to start the new year with. I’ve read other Ursula K. Le Guin books (see here), but none of them blew me away like A Wizard of Earthsea did.
I loved the world of Earthsea, which is kind of like a medieval-ish magical ocean-based society. I loved the characters, though they weren’t as fleshed-out as they might have been had the story been less focused on Ged. (I also wish there were more female characters who weren’t trying to trick Ged into something. Maybe they show up in other books.)1 And I loved the whole coming of age story, especially since it doesn’t (entirely) rely on an evil external force to drag the protagonist towards his heroic conclusion.
See, the central conflict is NOT “defeat the horrible evil bad army and save the world.” That can be a good story, but it’s been done a LOT I’m kinda bored with it nowadays, tbh. A Wizard of Earthsea goes in a different direction– the conflict is ultimately internal rather than external. Huzzah!
Not to say that the plot is lots of sitting around navel-gazing. No way! It’s got plenty of movement and action and exciting stuff. There’s running away, and running towards, and fighting and scary stuff and friendship and HIGH SEAS ADVENTURES (I love high seas adventures).
The writing did take me a while to get used to. The narrative’s presented as a story being told by someone about Ged, some time in the future when he’s a hero/legend/myth. Great framing device! But when you add the pseudo-Ye Olde Time kinda voice it’s a bit of an adjustment. (I’m not sure if that voice is a stylistic choice or if it’s a 1960s fantasy thing.) Example:
Later, when Ged thought back upon that night, he knew that had none touched him when he lay thus spirit-lost, had none called him back in some way, he might have been lost for good. It was only the dumb instinctive wisdom of the beast who licks his hurt companion to comfort him, and yet in that wisdom Ged saw something akin to his own power, something that went as deep as wizardry. From that time forth he believed that the wise man is one who never sets himself apart from other living things, whether they have speech or not, and in later years he strove long to learn what can be learned, in silence, from the eyes of animals, the flight of birds, the great slow gestures of trees.
The narrative voice of a book does a lot to set the tone of the story, and I think the style of writing in Wizard matches the story perfectly. It’s a bit old fashioned, but it sucked me into the story more than a fully modern voice might have.
I am definitely going to read the rest of the Earthsea cycle! I loved A Wizard of Earthsea and I want to read more about Ged and his friends and the world they live in.
Read: December 30, 2013-January 01, 2014
There’s an afterward by the author that talks about her decision to make (almost) everyone in Wizard non-white, and how lots of people didn’t even notice and continued to think Ged was a white kid. She mentioned too how publishers refused to put a non-white Ged on the covers! Kind of disappointing that we’re still dealing with that nonsense almost 50 years later. (Don’t even talk to me about the TV miniseries from a little while back. HOLY CRAP.)
- Actually now that I think about it, I don’t think there were any women in the wizard school. Were there women wizards? I can’t remember– certainly there were none who made a lasting impression/friendship on Ged. ↩