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A Wizard of Earthsea (The Earthsea Cycle, Book 1) Paperback – September 28, 2004
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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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"New and longtime Earthsea fans will be drawn to these impressive new editions."—Horn Book
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Instead of giving in to the readers’ magical fantasies by having her hero use fantastic powers in battle for the purposes of shock and awe, she moves the opposite direction. We see little magic from Ged throughout the book even though one powerful wizard has foreseen that Ged will become the most powerful among them. Unlike Harry Potter where magic is used at every turn for the delight of the reader, Le Guin shows magic sparingly even though her world is full of it. For me that is a refreshing twist.
Ironically Ged, when he learns he has a propensity for magic, dreams like any of us would of all the things he will do with his magic when he learns how to use it. The day comes when a wizard takes him on as an apprentice. Ogion subtly showed great power by easily bringing Ged back from a near-death state that had been brought on by Ged’s overextending what little power he then had to save his village from attackers.
Ged is soon disappointed by this Ogion’s hesitancy to use magic. He won’t even use it to stop the rain so that they can sleep dry while traveling through the forest.
But Ogion let the rain fall where it would. He found a thick fir-tree and lay
down beneath it. Ged crouched among the dripping bushes wet and sullen,
and wondered what was the good of having power if you were too wise to use
it, and wished he had gone as prentice to that old weatherworker of the Vale,
where at least he would have slept dry.
I was impressed by Le Guin’s responsible approach toward magic. I was happy at how she carried out this restraint throughout the book, successfully using the restraint to keep my attention and not boring me.
Ged is unhappy with his tutelage by Ogion as it seems nothing more than learning how to live with nature. He doesn’t understand, or perhaps he just doesn’t have enough patience, to accept that this oneness with nature is the source of Ogion’s great power. Even after seeing a terrifying display of Ogion’s power, once more to save Ged’s life:
The door was flung wide. A man entered with a white light flaming about him, a
great bright figure who spoke aloud, fiercely and suddenly. The darkness and the whispering ceased and were dispelled.
Ged jumps at the chance to leave his apprenticeship under Ogion and go to the great wizarding school on the island of Roke.
But even on Roke, where Ged excels in his studies, the wizards, masters of magic, teach restraint in using it. I found I bought in wholeheartedly to Le Guin’s magical philosophy taught through these wizards.
To change this rock into a jewel, you must change its true name. And to do that, my son,
even to so small a scrap of the world, is to change the world . . . To light a candle is to cast a shadow.
Yes! A world of magic that has teeth. Using magic in this world has consequences.
Ged progresses in magic faster than he is emotionally mature and this, of course, leads to the conflict. Through pride and carelessness he calls something into the world that has no name and thus cannot be controlled by any wizard, let alone the young Ged. The rest of the book is about Ged surviving while learning how to face this dark power he has unleashed.
Ged, a young wizard who gets little respect and who is struggling for his life still lives as a hero. While confronting a dragon, and very possibly death, Ged is given a great temptation. The dragon, in a bid to save itself has a proposition:
“Yet I could help you. You will need help soon, against that which hunts you in the dark.”
Ged stood dumb.
“What is it that hunts you? Name it to me. . . . If you could name it you could master it, maybe, little wizard.
Maybe I could tell you its name, when I see it close by. And it will come close, if you wait about my isle.”
If Ged makes the deal he may save himself, but at the cost of the village who has hired him to save them.
Le Guin’s book reads like most novels you’ve read, but in tone it feels like a story being told around a campfire.
"So bolstering up his pride, he set all his strong will n the work they gave him, the lessons and crafts and histories and skills taught by the grey-cloaked masters of Roke, who were called the Nine."
The world she creates has great detail while at the same time displaying a sparseness that a story of the oral tradition might have. This bothered me a little, falling short of the Tolkien complexity of details, and yet intrigued me as a legitimate, polished style she consciously chose.
If you are a serious fan of fantasy, but haven’t read A Wizard of Earthsea, you ought to. You may not like Le Guin’s style as opposed to how writers are writing today, but it is serious book, very readable, that will give good contrast to the other books of magic you may come across and make your reading experiences more pleasurable.Jacob and Lace
I was reminded of Le Guin recently when I was reading an article about influential women writers and her name was on the list of ten presented by the author. It seemed like a kick in the pants that I needed to stick one of her books into my reading queue and finally make her acquaintance. I decided to start with the Earthsea Cycle, her series of fantasy adventures. A Wizard of Earthsea was the first in the series.
Earthsea is Le Guin's equivalent of Middle Earth or the Seven Kingdoms - a fantastical world where sorcerers, wizards, witches, and dragons hold sway. A Wizard of Earthsea introduces us to young Sparrowhawk, a child who early on shows that he possesses the powers of a wizard. He is sent to apprentice with a master called Ogion, and his true name, Ged, is revealed. But at a certain point, the impatient Ged comes to feel that Ogion is holding him back. He's teaching him foundational stuff but what the youth wants is to learn "real magic."
Ogion offers Ged the opportunity to go to a place called Roke where there is something like an academy of wizardry that has an advanced course of learning. There, Ged makes a friend, Vetch, but he also makes an enemy, Jasper. He and Jasper are consumed by jealousy of each other and they engage in schoolboy dares, each trying to best his opponent.
In response to one of Jasper's dares, Ged summons the spirit of a long dead woman, but when the spirit comes, there also comes a shadow that is loosed on the world. That shadow becomes Ged's nemesis. It hunts him to annihilate him. The rest of the story tells of Ged's quest to master the shadow and destroy it before it destroys him. As he becomes the hunter rather than the hunted, he is joined by his friend, Vetch.
Ged is a flawed character, a stereotypical cocky adolescent who thinks he knows it all. Even though he is a wizard of formidable talent, he screws up time and again and must spend much of his time trying to rectify his mistakes. He seems, in other words, altogether human.
The story reminds the reader of many others that concern the hero's journey. Most obviously, perhaps, is The Lord of the Rings with the perilous journey of Frodo and Sam. But it also has clear connections to the Arthurian legends and the struggles of the Knights of the Round Table against evil in the world. This is a much slimmer volume than those tales and much of it is taken up with exposition of Ged's childhood and adolescence, background material for the rest of the series.
It's interesting that there are no armies, no wars here and not much bloodshed - unless you count the blood of the six dragons that Ged kills. In an afterword to the Kindle edition which I read, the author makes the point that this was deliberate. She set out to write a fantasy featuring the struggle between good and evil that was not drenched in blood. In her telling of that struggle, the key turns out to be to know yourself and to remain true to that self. Another important key is to know the true name of the evil you are wrestling. To know a thing's true name is to know its nature and to be able to gain power over it.
Also, in the afterword, Le Guin makes a point that her heroes in the story are people of color, a refreshing change from most contemporary fantasies or sci-fi of the time this book was published in which the heroes are almost always white guys. Even though she didn't make a big point of the characters' color in telling the story, this was her subtle bit of subversion back in 1968.
I really appreciated the deeper meaning underlying the tale (first in series), which was psychological/New Age in nature, and was personally relevant for me.
The writing was engaging and gentle, with likable characters and delightfully unpredictable.
Good for fastasy-wizard-Middle-Earth -type-fiction -lovers.
This is my third favorite Le Guin, close behind The Tombs of Atuan.
Most recent customer reviews
I'm glad I read this book because it is a touchstone of Fantasy and a classic.Read more