I decided it was time to revisit my childhood. Recently, the world lost one of its greatest writers in the incomparable Ursula K. Le Guin. This book transports me back to my younger days of playing Dungeons and Dragons, reading fantasy and science fiction, and just being an insecure nerd all around. Back then, I thought the types of fiction that I loved could only be written by men. I would quickly discover just how wrong I was. Before Earthsea, I had previously become aware of Le Guin in high school with her fantastic short story “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.”A friend had loaned me copies of the Earthsea stories, and I remember being completely awestruck. Those books transported me to a world of wizards and dragons that helped me escape my mundane existence. Would the first volume of this trilogy still hold the same magic after all these years?
This is the story of Ged who starts out as a budding sorcerer learning from his aunt. Recognizing his abilities, he is trained under the tutelage of a legendary wizard before entering into a famous school of magic. My description probably sounds similar to another young wizard of particular fame, but please let me stress that this book does not resemble that story in the slightest. Despite showing significant prowess at the magical arts and even saving a village from destruction, Ged’s impatience and arrogance seek to be his undoing. While under the apprenticeship of Ogion, Ged quickly tires of his rather slow approach. His ambition takes him to the wizard academy on Roke where he hopes to finally show off his skills. However, things only get worse from there. During a challenge from another student, Ged attempts to release a spirit from the underworld. Instead, Ged unleashes a dark shadow creature who will now hunt him down for the rest of his life until he is destroyed.
A Wizard of Earthsea is your typical coming-of-age story. Throughout the novel, Ged starts to develop from an arrogant child into the mature man who will one day become the source of legends. Despite being a short book, Le Guin manages to give the novel a very epic feel with lots of traveling and introducing several characters who enter and leave the tale. This book definitely falls into the category of high fantasy, where it can often seem as though large spans of time go by where nothing significant happens. It definitely has a feel of Tolkien about it as Le Guin’s writing is very sophisticated yet easy to follow. The creation of this world is very detailed with lots of maps spread throughout the book.
This story could be considered just as much a philosophy text as a fantasy story. Le Guin studied the Taoist religion during her lifetime, and many of these concepts appear during the lessons Ged must learn. This is not to say that the book is without peril as there are some significant action scenes. The battle with the dragons is one of my favorites. Eventually, Ged learns to not run away from his problems and instead face them directly. I won’t spoil the ending here, but let’s just say you should be able to figure out the shadow’s secret before Ged does.
It was a pleasure to travel to Earthsea again. Like its protagonist, I too have changed a lot over the years. Hopefully in good ways. I plan to return to Earthsea again in the near future. Until then, it was nice to revisit this book that had so much bearing on my love of dreaming.
“But need alone is not enough to set power free: there must be knowledge.”
Have you read this book or are you planning to? I’d love to know your thoughts!