Monday, March 5, 2018

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

Reviewed by Jeanne

Duny, soon to be Ged, was born on the island of  Gont, in a small village.  His mother died when he was still a toddler, leaving him to grow up as he would.  It soon becomes apparent that the boy has a talent for being a mage, and so he goes to Roke, where promising young people learn about the use of power.  When he is taunted by some of the other students, he responds with a terrible demonstration of his power. He releases a darkness into the world—a darkness that will follow him until the end of his days, unless he can find a way to overcome it.

A mere plot description does a disservice to this marvelous book, because there’s no way to convey the beautiful and imaginative writing style.  Le Guin was asked to write a book for teenagers, but she found she couldn’t write to a specific group; she simply had to tell the story she wanted to tell.  While she doesn’t waste a lot of words on flowery descriptions, she does create a vivid world.  Earthsea is composed of multiple islands, each with its own culture and people.  Mages help make life easier for folk, such as charming boats to help them get home through storms or curing those ills that can be cured, but they aren’t all powerful.  It’s not a world of sumptuous robes or delectable feasts, but a place where ordinary people eke out an existence.

It's also told in such a way as to make the story seem both ancient and timeless.  It resonates the way a classic story does, creating a personal meaning for each reader.

Ged is not a stereotypical hero.  He’s a prickly child, proud and willful. He has a quick temper and can be sullen.  He’s also intelligent, clever, and very, very gifted.  Watching Ged come to terms with what he has done and how he will live with that makes for compelling reading.  His path to knowledge and redemption has many obstacles, including a dragon, but it’s mainly an inner path and intellectual battles rather than swordplay or pyrotechnics.  It’s less about conquest and more about balance.

My only regret is that I took so long to read this book, and I look forward to reading the others in the series.  It’s a book to be savored.  It’s no wonder that authors such as Neil Gaiman, Margaret Atwood, and David Mitchell credit the Earthsea series as strong influences.

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