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The Earthsea Quartet (Puffin Books) by…

The Earthsea Quartet (Puffin Books) (original 1990; edition 2010)

by Ursula K. Le Guin

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1,745295,854 (4.1)46
Title:The Earthsea Quartet (Puffin Books)
Authors:Ursula K. Le Guin
Info:Penguin Books, Limited (UK) (2010), Edition: paperback / softback, Paperback, 704 pages
Collections:Your library

Work details

The Earthsea Quartet by Ursula K. Le Guin (1990)

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Showing 1-5 of 28 (next | show all)
"To light a candle, is to cast a shadow": Ursula K. Le Guin, 1929 – 2018

Who now has the stature and respect to call out poseurs like Atwood and Ishiguru? Who is there who can be relied on to correct the lazy and meretricious? She led lead by example, not just in speeches or reviews. The world is poorer for this but it's going to be decades before we really see how much.

Ursula k. Le Guin is one of my lifelong favourite authors who I return to often. I first read “A Wizard of Earthsea” when I was 8, in between the Hobbit at 7 and The Lord of the Rings at 9 (precocious child…), followed by the rest of the trilogy, and then later books like “The Left Hand of Darkness”, “The Lathe of Heaven”, “The Dispossessed” and on and on.

What a writer - in the six Earthsea books alone, she said more, and with more purpose and clarity, than any other fantasy author, except Tolkien, at least in my opinion. And she wrote extraordinary SF too. Speaking of the devil, as someone who has a pretty encyclopedic knowledge of Tolkien, the greatest tribute I can pay Le Guin is this: every fantasy epic I have ever read has been at best a pale copy of Middle-Earth, because he did such a thorough job of creation over many years. Every epic except one that is - Earthsea. The Archipelago is not Middle-Earth, her dragons are not like Tolkien's dragons, and Ged is not Gandalf, although he is every bit as wise and kind. That is a very great writing achievement in itself. And I was aware of the significance of Ged, Ogion, Vetch, etc., not being white from my very first reading of the books. And that was in 80s. Remember, early on in Earthsea when Ged sneaks a look in Ogion's book, and the shadow begins to appear by the door? A metaphor (all the more powerful for being a genuinely scary piece of writing) for what can happen when we crave power and use knowledge without awareness of the potential consequences, and with no thought for upsetting the balance of the world. Of course it's a thread that runs right the way through the series. The story of how Ged continuously grapples with this issue makes him, for me, one of the great figures in literature. I think, partly because I am a Computer Science graduate, I have always particularly appreciated the fact that magic in Earthsea has rules and structure, whereas in Tolkien it doesn't seem to - although, to be fair, he did address that point in some detail in one of his letters: 'I am afraid I have not been at all consistent in my use of the word "magic"...'

I have also always rather hoped that, should there turn out after all, against all the odds, to be a paradisiac afterlife of some sort, that it might contain elements of Rivendell, Valinor and the Immanent Grove of Roke. Of course, I'm well aware that this is not a notion that someone who is thoroughly familiar with the laws of Thermodynamics (especially the Second Law) should rationally entertain!

I feel like "magic" is not so important in Tolkien, in a way. His books are more a combination of great adventure, exploration of moral principles such as loyalty and sacrifice, and incredibly complete world-building. Le Guin's books probably explore more complex ideas, which doesn't necessarily make them better, just different. I am still absorbing the extension and in some cases revision to Earthsea in the three books she wrote long after the trilogy. But what I like about the "magic" in Earthsea is the deep exploration of the power of language and also the reminders that every action has a consequence.

To consider the Earthsea trilogy as “juvenile” in any pejorative sense would be grotesquely off the mark. They are technically superb examples of the Bildungsroman genre (of which Hamlet and Jungen Werther also deserve honourable mention). They contain passages of Dickensian evocation of sight, sound and smell; are compassionate, urgent and questioning; and they tell a damn good story of quests, chases, shadows, and authentically hot-smelling dragons, which by and large avoid descending into tropes of nobility and Tolkeinesque conservatism/ monarchism, and in the latter 2 installments, actively reposition that discourse. To put my neck out, I’d say there is currently no equivalent writing (i.e., writing of equal intrinsic value) - in any genre. I find it so endlessly re-readable partially because I see different things in it as I move through my own life and as Ged moves through his; “Wizard” being about the potential for arrogance and pride to (literally) cast strange shadows and the need to confront rather than externalise fear, “the farthest shore” being an acute meditation on the fear of death. There’s a lot of wisdom in it - the passage about “what is the use of you, or I, or Gont Mountain” always struck me as something very profound to be in what was ostensibly a children’s book.

Now that I've heard she's gone, I wish that I had written to tell her how much her Earthsea trilogy affected me as a child, the first trilogy (as it was then) of fantasy novels with emotional intelligence, and language that is the closest prose will get to poetry. I rated those works of fiction as the greatest in the fantasy genre ever written, surpassing even Tolkien because her perfectly realised world told a story with a profundity which is rare, and which he perhaps could never aspire to match. The thoughts in them occupy me even today, as I contemplate the inevitability of my own death, the wall of stones "no higher than a man's knee" which we must all cross, and where she has now gone before.

And now, since she abolished the wall of stones in the last book of Earthsea, I hope she is dancing with her dragons on the other wind. RIP.

NB: I didn't care much for Tehanu. Still worth reading for completists. ( )
1 vote antao | Aug 12, 2018 |
The passing of Ursula Le Guin recently reminded me that it was a long time since I'd revisited her early works.
Some critics call her Earthsea series children's books, and I have never really understood why. When I first read the series, I was about thirteen - which was far too young to be able to appreciate her mastery of the written word properly. What captivated me then was the flowing writing, and the beautiful world of Earthsea - but I didn't understand the plot, not really. Nonetheless, they have stayed with me all my life.
As I've grown older, and re-read the books, I discovered depths that the thirteen year old me could never have imagined - let alone understood. Loss, death, powers that lurk, unknown and unknowable, in the darkness, pride, fear - all these things make up the Earthsea series. But other things as well: love, and friendship, self-sacrifice, trust, and above all a kind of joy for the future, despite all the bad things that have occurred along the journey.
LeGuin has written not simply a story but a myth, in the same way that Tolkien did. And like Tolkien, and Susan Cooper, and Patricia McKillip, and Marion Zimmer Bradley, what makes her tales truly great is not what she says, but how she says it.
I heard someone interviewed in one of the tribute programs after her death that said “JK Rowling can type; but Ursula Le Guin can write”. And her writing lasts through the ages. ( )
  Jawin | Mar 26, 2018 |
1. A Wizard of Earthsea

Initially, my re-read of A Wizard of Earthsea went quite slowly. However as I’d hoped, once I passed the defining event, which I remembered, reading went faster as I’d forgotten most of the other details, so the suspense came back and I needed to read on to find out what happened, or rather, how it happened.

The Earthsea Quartet is the first four books of the Cycle of which A Wizard of Earthsea is the first. It begins with Sparrowhawk's childhood, before he undertook great deeds - thus implying more tales to come - when he was known as Duney. It tells of how the great talent for magic that was in him was recognised and nurtured, how he met Ogion the Silent and was given his true name of Ged and how he went to Roke to learn to be a mage.

And it tells of how, half-trained and in his pride, he loosed a great evil on the world and how he had to deal with it afterwards, crossing the known world and being helped or hindered by the different peoples inhabiting it.

I've read this at least once, a long time ago, and it was enjoyable revisiting it for the group read to honour Le Guin's passing.

I had forgotten about the hoeg and even the old dragon of Pendor and I think Yarrow will make a good mage in her turn. There is a good mix of ethnicities in this continent of islands (which, as far as the characters know, comprises their entire world); there are Asian-like, African-like and Scandinavian-like people. It is not something that jumped out at me, being folded naturally into the narrative, until I read other reviews and articles that remarked on it.

A short story, by today’s standards, but so richly and densely written that, even though it spans almost twenty years of Sparrowhawk's life in under 200 pages, it holds up well against current, more lengthy novels. Deservedly a classic.

5 stars *****

Averaging out 5 stars ( )
  humouress | Mar 4, 2018 |
4 books
  stevholt | Nov 19, 2017 |
An interesting world, with interesting characters. The four novels are very quiet, there is often little dialogue, and there are spaces in the conversations that do occur, with things left unsaid. There are long lonely journeys to far flung places where there is evil that must be dealt with. Sitting naturally within the story there is magic, that has its own laws and rules, and there is history and creation myth. Some of the journeys were a bit too long for my liking, but the stories are slow burns, so they do fit. For me the final book was the best. No overly long journeys, not too much darkness, interesting new characters, and a wrapping up for all the major characters. ( )
  devilish2 | Aug 21, 2017 |
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» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ursula K. Le Guinprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bergen, DavidCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Drechsler, ArndtCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Linnert, HildeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Paronis, MargotTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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In the first book-The Wizard of Earthsea, Ged the young wizard goes to the island of Roke to learn his craft at a Wizard school. He is brilliant but flawed and commits a terrible crime. In so doing he put the whole of the world of magic at risk . The magic begins to fade. The rest of the story is about how he finds his own answers. There are a series of other stries which follow this.
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A superb four-part fantasy, comparable with the work of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, the Earthsea books follow the fortunes of the wizard Ged from his childhood to an age where magic is giving way to evil. As a young dragonlord, Ged, whose use-name is Sparrowhawk, is sent to the island of Roke to learn the true way of magic. A natural magician, Ged becomes an Archmage and helps the High Priestess Tenar escape from the labyrinth of darkness. But as the years pass, true magic and ancient ways are forced to submit to the powers of evil and death.… (more)

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Penguin Australia

3 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0140154272, 0140348034, 0241956870

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