“A Wizard of Earthsea” by Ursula Le Guin

Available on Amazon and at your local book store.
Available on Amazon and at your local book store.

Just finished Ursula Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea novel and I am in awe. I decided to buy and read this book because throughout my college years, I kept being reminded of an image from a book I read while in high school: a wizard sailing to the edge of the world. I could not recall what story I imagined that image from but I searched to find it.

I kept hearing of Ursula Le Guin (especially after reading about J.K. Rowling) and decided to look her up. Her named sounded familiar. When I came across A Wizard of Earthsea, it seemed familiar as well. A part of me kept pushing to check it out because it was probably that book that the image that haunted me was from. Still, another part of me doubted it since I could not recall a story by Le Guin.

As I began reading, I got swept up in Le Guin’s storytelling. She is a master storyteller and weaves such a strong spell in her narration that you’re unable to put the book down until you’ve reached its end. It’s not all action and cliff-hangers as the majority of young adult books are today. But still it moves you along. You get caught up in the life of Ged, the protagonist who is destined to become a great wizard, and you become as curious as he is about his destiny and his shadow.

Quick summary:

Ged, a boy who was once called Duny is from a poor village in the mountains of Gont, one of the islands in the archipelago that makes up Earthsea. He bumps into his powers by accident when he overhears his aunt, a local witch, speak a word and he repeats it calling the goats he looks after to him. They come to him but would not leave and his aunt has to unbind him from them. At that moment, his aunt realizes that her nephew has some power and begins to teach him some of what she knows. Soon, he can call animals to him and later gains the nickname Sparrowhawk in his village since he is usually seen with a bird of prey.

When attacked by the Kargs, barbarous men from the island of Kargad to the northeast, Sparrowhawk saves his village by weaving a spell that hides the village in a fog, tricking the invaders. Awed by his power, and using up much of it, he is thrown in a stupor but is saved by the touch of the wizard Ogion, who later takes Duny as his apprentice and gives him his true name, Ged. But finding Ogion’s tutorship boring and uneventful, Ged chooses to sail to Roke Island to learn the high arts of magic at its school.

A map of Earthsea.
A map of Earthsea.

There, he is great but his pride leads him to fall prey to the jeers of Jasper, a fellow scholar, and release an evil into the world. It then becomes Ged’s duty to rid the world of this evil since he is hunted and haunted by it. Along the way, Ged gains wisdom from his experiences and come to terms with what he has done.

Thoughts on the novel:

While reading, I could see how it’s possible that other YA fantasy novels were influenced by Le Guin’s story. Both Rowling’s Harry Potter series and Paolini’s Cycle of Inheritance series have endings that are similar to that in A Wizard of Earthsea where the protagonist defeats his enemy by seeing it/him for what it/him really is and having compassion for and accepting it/him. With the use of light and love, darkness and evil is banished. Despite the fights and battles along the way, at the last standoff, it is compassion, acceptance, and love that defeats the enemy, not a treacherous blow.

Le Guin is now one of my favorites and I’m glad to have rediscovered her, guided by the image of a wizard sailing to the end of the world.

The Tombs of Atuan (book 2) ->

Quotes from the book:

“…the wise man is one who never sets himself apart from other living things, whether they have speech or not…” – Duny/Sparrowhawk/Ged

“War as a moral metaphor is limited, limiting, and dangerous. By reducing the choices of action to “a war against” whatever-it-is, you divide the world into Me or Us (good) and Them or It (bad) and reduce the ethical complexity and moral richness of our life to Yes/No, On/Off.” – Ursula Le Guin (from the afterword)


14 thoughts on ““A Wizard of Earthsea” by Ursula Le Guin

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