Sunday, June 27, 2010

Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin.

"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."

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin
192 pages (Paperback)
Published: First Published in 1968
Publisher: Spectra
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Series: First in a Series
Goodreads Rating: 3.92/5
Amazon Rating: 4.1/5
Shelfari Rating: 4/5

Ged was the greatest sorcerer in all Earthsea, but once he was called Sparrowhawk, a reckless youth, hungry for power and knowledge, who tampered with long-held secrets and loosed a terrible shadow upon the world. This is the tale of his testing, how he mastered the mighty words of power, tamed an ancient dragon, and crossed death's threshold to restore the balance. -from

I never thought that a 144 page story would take me SO LONG TO READ. Yikes. I planned to read the first three books of the Earthsea series for Jawas Read, Too!'s Summer of Series, but once again I fear I will fail at a challenge. Maybe if I'm lucky the Tombs of Atuan review will be up tomorrow. Fingers crossed. There are a few good, sensible excuses for my painfully long reading of A Wizard of Earthsea: I recently got a summer job and my hours have gone up lately, especially weekend hours which is prime reading time for me, and I have taken a few vacations in which reading was impossible. But then there is the fact of this book simply did not want me to read it quickly. It refused to be read for more than 20 minutes at a time. I blame Ged.

I have been wanting to read a Le Guin book for many moons now. I have heard from a couple people that she is a classic, and everyone must read her before they die. I did some scouting around, like I normally do when I hear such a thing, to see what she has written and if they sound like my thing. The Earthsea trilogy definately sounded like my thing, along with a few of her other books I might pick up later. I put the series of my To Be Read list, but since there were no copies available at my local libraries, I forgot about them. Then I heard about Jawas' Summer of Series. And I found an omnibus edition of the series on Paperback Swap. The stars were aligned. In my defense, I did only receive the omnibus in the middle of June and this challenge is only for the month of June. So there.

Ged was born on the island of Gont, an island known for housing powerful and prominent wizards. Not many from Ged's poor village suspected the great things that he would someday come to do. They couldn't foresee that one day songs would be song of the little ruffian running among the goats. One day, a great wizard living on Gont comes and takes Ged away to live with him. There he tries to show Ged what it means to be a wizard, but he is a slow teacher. Ged soon goes bored, and when he is asked to go to a school for wizards on Roke island, he goes. At the school, he learns tought lessons that shape the rest of his life. He learns one lesson too late and unleashes a dark burden on Earthsea that he must vanquish at once or die trying.

A Wizard of Earthsea is told as a folk tale or legend. The reader is told a certain amount at the beginning of the story about how things will end. I really dislike this way of storytelling because I like a certain amount of mystery in my stories. I know that things will more than likely end up happy. And I know that the protagonist will be superfantasticamazing because if there weren't going to end up being a somebody, why write a story about them? No one wants to read a story about a wizard who sits on his couch all day, using magic to change the channels. But I still want to pretend to be surprised when things work out this way. I like the warm and fuzzy feeling I get when the characters defeat the evil and head back home to their family and friends. This didn't happen to me in a Wizard of Earthsea because I had known all along what would happen.

Despite the feeling of being spoiled, I thought the story was original and entertaining to read. Ged begins his real studies as a wizard with a patient and mysterious wizard called Ogion. I loved Ogion, obviously. How could you not? He was the typical kindly old wizard who knows more than he cares to tell, but only for the good of those around him. He is conscious of the great power he could yield, but he also knows the consequences of everything he does. The greatest part of the story for me was the trials Ged had to go through to learn that exact lesson of consequences and being at peace with oneself as Ogion was. I appreciated how it wasn't an easy thing for him to learn, but how in learning it would make it him an great and powerful user of magic. Some parts of the story, especially towards the end, were very profound and philosophical when discussing the lessons Ged had learned. I think these parts showed what a fantastic author Ms. Le Guin is.

I found Ged to be a complex character, but I did not have much attachment to him. My problem with this was the distance that telling the story as a legend put between the reader and the protagonist. Legends are not too concerned with thoughts and feelings. The story is explained as, "Something happens, Ged reacts, reason he reacts is explained." The reasons were more told than shown in my opinion. Not only that, but important building years of Ged's life are simply skipped over. I couldn't feel a connection with Ged even though I did feel he was a great character; it was an odd feeling. I loved how he wasn't an innocent viction when it came to his school boy enemy, Jasper. He was as much to blame, if not more so, in creating an enemy in Jasper. He imagined things that weren't there, or things that could have easily been overlooked, he brought to the forefront of his mind and obsessed over. These obsessions came to a head when the two boys took their growing power too far because they didn't understand the consequences of what they were doing yet.

The worldbuilding of Earthsea is elaborately over-the-top, and I ate it up. When I first heard if the name Earthsea, I scoffed at its absurdity. I found myself thinking, "Could this author be any more unoriginal? Earth and sea, I wonder where she got those two words from?" I now swallow those words. I love that name now. It makes perfect sense when you create a world filled with only with hundreds and thousands of tiny islands. I found myself thinking that an in-depth look at the politics of these islands would be fantastic, and I thoroughly enjoyed the little snippets Le Guin gave us of each island's world. I was also overjoyed with the close up maps that were interspersed within the book; I needed them desperately. The little islands were sometimes hard to find in the big map, and I like to know exactly where I am in the world. Another important part of the Earthsea world are names. Every single thing, from a wave to an insect, has a true name which you must know to control it. Names are sometimes important parts in fantasy novels involving magic; books like Eragon come to mind. A Wizard if Earthsea took this theme to the extreme. A person, if they wanted to control a person, had to work to find out a person's name, because surely a person would guard that secret with everything they had. It was an interesting concept and added another layer to Le Guin's theme that no power comes without working.

Rating: 7 out of 10. I agree that A Wizard of Earthsea is a classic in the fantasy genre. I have heard some say it paved the way for Harry Potter, which I can, loosely, see. I had a few problems with the story, the main one being how slow going it was for me. I could read the whole Harry Potter series in less days than it took me to read this one book. I will definately pick up more Le Guin books, and I can already tell you that I enjoy the Tombs of Atuan much more.

Source for copy: Traded (for the omnibus edition).


  1. Yay! For being able to comment!

    Anyways, I had the EXACT same feeling about this book. It took me FOREVER to read. Like, you I thought I would have in done in no time. Nope, took a whole week and I really could not connect with the characters either.

    I'm glad to know I am not alone in this. :-)

  2. Oops, yeah sorry about that. Forgot I turned it off, haha.

    I felt like no one else had the same problem either. Its good to know someone agrees. I felt like Ged could have been likeable, but he just wasn't.



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