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A Wizard of Earthsea by URSULA K. LE GUIN
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A Wizard of Earthsea (original 1968; edition 1994)

by URSULA K. LE GUIN

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9,123184327 (4.01)1 / 612
Member:wagner.sarah35
Title:A Wizard of Earthsea
Authors:URSULA K. LE GUIN
Info:Puffin (1994), Edition: New Ed, Paperback, 256 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:***
Tags:fantasy, young adult, adventure, Earthsea, wizards, magic, dragons, coming of age, 2012

Work details

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin (1968)

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This fantasy novel set in the magical land of Earthsea introduces Ged, a boy whose magical ability shines in a society with numerous witches and practitioners of magic. After saving his village from an attack, Ged is taken as apprentice by a wise wizard and then sent to wizarding school. Despite his talent and proclamations that he may become the greatest wizard, Ged is headstrong and impatient and unleashes an evil shadow that follows him around and tries to possess his body. Ged thus has to face many quests and challenges to learn how to face down the shadow creature and understand himself. It's a good novel, and apparently pretty influential as many of the tropes and ideas are picked up by other fantasy novels. ( )
  Othemts | Jul 28, 2015 |
First book in trilogy.
  BdF | Jul 24, 2015 |
A Wizard of Earthsea
by Ursula K. Le Guin
Bantam, 1975
ISBN 0553021680 (paperback), 183 pp.

Review date: June, 2015

Although a fan of Ursula K. Le Guin's shorter fiction for some time now, I hadn't gotten around to reading much of her longer work until recently, but I find that I enjoy it just as much. I found her classic 1968 novel A Wizard of Earthsea to be fantasy fiction of the highest caliber, definitely on par with Tolkien's work, to which it's often compared. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I was surprised when, shortly before sitting down to write this review, I found out that it's actually marketed as young adult fiction. While I certainly acknowledge that young adults, teens, and even children are quite likely to enjoy the book, I think that older readers are the ones who will get the most out of it, both emotionally and intellectually.

The tale is essentially a bildungsroman, a coming-of-age story, its narrative patterned upon the monomyth, or hero's journey, outlined so famously by Joseph Campbell in 1949. Whether Le Guin consciously chose to model her story upon this pattern, I don't know. Her parents were anthropologists, and she herself a student of the subject, so it's likely she had a familiarity with Campbell; at the very least, she is sure to have had, at the time of writing the novel, a familiarity with various tropes and topics, as well as narrative structures, of mythological tales from around the world—but it seems unlikely that she thought too long and hard about patterning the narrative to fit such a structure perfectly, as such stories tend to fail more often than they succeed; it's more likely that she merely allowed these things to guide her as she wrote, either consciously or subconsciously.

In any case, the story focuses on a young man named Ged. As the first paragraph tells the reader, he is destined for greatness, eventually becoming “the greatest” of mages in the land of Earthsea, assuming the roles of “both dragonlord and Archmage.” But A Wizard of Earthsea, as the introduction continues to tell us, “is a tale of the time before his fame. . . .” It begins when Ged is but a young lad, a part-time goatherd and son of the local bronzesmith in the village of Ten Alders on the large island of Gont, located in the northeast of the vast archipelago of Earthsea, which is for all intents and purposes the extent of the known world.

Given the name Duny at birth, the young protagonist shows a talent for magic early in life, at first learning rudimentary spells from the village witch, who is also his aunt, the sister of his mother, who died when he was an infant. From her, he learns the “true names” of various objects and animals—the names given them by the creator god in the original language of the world—and finds that these names give him power over them. It is from his ability to call birds to him that he is given the name Sparrowhawk, by which he will continue to be known to the outside world. A true inkling of his future greatness, and his Campbellian ‘call to adventure’ comes some years later, on an autumn day not long before his thirteenth birthday, during a raid on his village by pirates and slavers from the Kargad Empire, a powerful and independent group of four large islands just east of Gont. As the raiders begin to wreak havoc in Ten Alders, he calls down a great mist to surround the village, confusing the enemy, so that his village and its population are spared the horrible fate the Kargish pirates had in mind. Word of his feat travels quickly, and he is soon visited by the great mage Ogion the Silent, who comes to bestow upon Sparrowhawk his own true name—Ged—and take him as an apprentice, offering him the ‘supernatural aid’ that is the second stage of the archetypal Hero's Journey.

All this happens within the first chapter of the novel, and serves as mere prologue to the greater story, which begins the following spring. After having spent months as Ogion's apprentice—months that young Ged feels are passing too slowly while he learns next to nothing of magic lore—the boy happens across the local lord's young daughter, who questions him about his abilities: Can he change his shape? Can he summon the dead? In order to bolster his image in her eyes, he secretly consults his master's books, seeking a shapeshifting spell. But while so doing, his eyes are drawn to a summoning spell instead, and reading it, he summons a dark spirit. By chance, Ogion enters at just the right time and saves Ged, dispelling the power. Ogion, fully recognizing Ged's ability, offers the boy a choice: he can continue to study under the elder mage's auspices, or he can travel to the isle of Roke, hundreds of miles distant, where the archipelago's wisest and most powerful mages make their home, and study at the wizarding academy there. Ged chooses the latter option, and with only some small amount of trouble, finds himself safely at Roke not long thereafter.

Once at Roke—after finding himself challenged by the threshold guardian, the doorkeeper of the school's front entrance, and successfully entering the place—Ged becomes a student, and his life proceeds about as one would expect: long hours learning magic, navigating the strange social situations, making a friend or two, and clashing with others. Eventually, these clashes, specifically with a student named Jasper, and Ged's pride lead the young man once again to summon a spirit, almost killing himself once again, and releasing (or perhaps re-releasing) a shadow spirit bent on Ged's own death. Thus he finds himself fleeing the school, not just to escape and perhaps find a means of destroying the spirit, but also to keep the other wizards, students, and island's inhabitants safe. Thus begins Ged's true adventure, his full initiation into the realm of the supernatural, and his embarkation upon the monomythic ‘road of trials’.

Ged's adventures take him far and wide, meeting dragons, evil sorcerers, and various other supernatural creatures, while all the time learning more about himself and his self-inflicted curse and always attempting to allude the shadow that now trails him. The details are unnecessary, but suffice it to say (and this is no surprise, given the introduction that explicitly alludes to Ged's future career) the young wizard successfully completes his quest, defeating—or indeed, integrating—his shadow, in a Jungian sort of way, paving the way for his future legendary deeds . . . and a number of sequels.

There is more to recommend this book, however, than just its plot. The prose is beautiful—in this tale, you can really feel the influence Lord Dunsany had upon Le Guin, possibly more so than in any other of her works—and the narrative structure perfectly brings out the sense of high fantasy, of archetypal myth and legend. Moreover, the world of Earthsea is captivating in many ways, from its geography to its cultures to its magical inhabitants; but perhaps one of the most wonderful things about the world is its inhabitants: the majority of those who dwell in the vast archipelago of Earthsea are dark-skinned, the most notable exception being the ‘bad guys’, the barbaric, pale-skinned Kargish people who threaten Ged's home as pirates and slavers. I won't speculate as to Le Guin's reasons for breaking from the standard high fantasy stereotypes of the light-skinned European-based heroes and dark-skinned Other-type baddies, but not only was it refreshing (perhaps a strange thing to say about a book this old, but certainly a comment on the lack of diversity before and since its publication) but at the time it was written, it may have been unprecedented in the S&S/high-fantasy field—at least in a novel as widely read and acclaimed as this one. (I have to say that in this and some other ways, I was reminded of the hit animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender [which, perhaps coincidentally, but not entirely surprisingly, was also similar to Earthsea in that it was inexcusably whitewashed when adapted into a live-action version], and I wouldn't be surprised to find that Avatar's production team were familiar with, if not outright inspired by, the world of Earthsea.)

Now almost half a century old, Le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea can certainly be considered a classic of fantasy literature, and it certainly deserves the status. Simple, yet in a way complex, and enjoyable by children and adults alike it's a highly recommended work for those who wish to experience a well-written and dramatic bit of fantasy. I give it four stars out of five, rather than a full five, simply because I feel it could have been a bit more complex, somewhat more realistic and in-depth, a little more emotional—even if it was directed towards a younger audience. Nonetheless, it's still a great book, perhaps not as epic as Tolkien's or Lewis's work, with which it is often compared, but certainly as well written, as interesting, as groundbreaking, and as deserving of its status as a classic in the fantasy field.

——————————

Rating:

4 stars: Outstanding. The work displayed a skill beyond the reach of most others. I am likely to add it to my permanent collection and recommend it wholeheartedly to others. This rating may be more subjective than others, as it relies to a slightly greater extent on my tastes in genre and style. Creative writing is more likely to receive four stars than conventional nonfiction. Equivalent to a school grade of 'A'. ( )
  tokidokizenzen | Jun 23, 2015 |
I somehow missed that this series was written for a teenage audience, when I purchased the books. The story and writing are well-crafted, but they're not meeting my current desires. ( )
  bsiemens | Apr 6, 2015 |
Enjoyable coming-of-age fantasy tale. It's kind of an odd length -- a little too short to accommodate all the world-building Le Guin would like to do, and a little too long for the amount of real action (there's more telling than showing). But I appreciated her take on magic and may check out the rest of the trilogy to see how the main character continues to develop. ( )
  bostonian71 | Apr 1, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 178 (next | show all)
The most thrilling, wise and beautiful children's novel ever, it is written in prose as taut and clean as a ship's sail. Every word is perfect, like the spells Ged has to master. It poses the deep questions about life, death, power and responsibility that children need answering.
added by melmore | editThe Guardian, Amanda Craig (Sep 24, 2003)
 

» Add other authors (54 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ursula K. Le Guinprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Ellison, HarlanNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Harman, DominicCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rambelli, RobertaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rambelli, RobertaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rikman, KristiinaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Robbins, RuthIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The island of Gont, a single mountain that lifts its peak a mile above the storm-racked Northeast Sea, is a land famous for wizards.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0553383043, Paperback)

Often compared to Tolkien's Middle-earth or Lewis's Narnia, Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea is a stunning fantasy world that grabs quickly at our hearts, pulling us deeply into its imaginary realms. Four books (A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, The Farthest Shore, and Tehanu) tell the whole Earthsea cycle--a tale about a reckless, awkward boy named Sparrowhawk who becomes a wizard's apprentice after the wizard reveals Sparrowhawk's true name. The boy comes to realize that his fate may be far more important than he ever dreamed possible. Le Guin challenges her readers to think about the power of language, how in the act of naming the world around us we actually create that world. Teens, especially, will be inspired by the way Le Guin allows her characters to evolve and grow into their own powers.

In this first book, A Wizard of Earthsea readers will witness Sparrowhawk's moving rite of passage--when he discovers his true name and becomes a young man. Great challenges await Sparrowhawk, including an almost deadly battle with a sinister creature, a monster that may be his own shadow.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:23 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

A boy grows to manhood while attempting to subdue the evil he unleashed on the world as an apprentice to the Master Wizard.

(summary from another edition)

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