Fantasy Classics of the 60s: “A Wizard of Earthsea” by Ursula K. Le Guin

By Natalia Messmer

Summer is a perfect time to relax and read once in a while what heart desires. A couple of years ago I was recommended A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin. Then I was quite skeptical about fantasy as a genre, but decided to give it a try. Needless to say, I never regretted it.

A Wizard of Earthsea is the first part of theEarthsea Trilogy (The Tombs of Atuan; The Farthest Shore, 1968-1972). It is a story about a young boy Ged, who lives on an island Gont, one of the larger islands of the archipelago of Earthsea. By accident (saving his village from raiders) he discovers that he has a talent for magic and is later sent away to be trained by a famous magician, Ogion the Silent. In the years to come, he learns about the nature of things and sources of power and is confronted with character weaknesses and strengths, which have to be brought into balance. Only the one who can master himself can control the magic forces.

Although Le Guin’s story may remind one of Harry Potter novels (learning magic among the wizards, facing different challenges), her world of Earthsea is quite different from the one of Rowling. Life in Earthsea is hard and dangerous, people’s attitude to magic is not always favorable. Le Guin focuses on psychological problems and inner journeys of Ged (those are often connected to his travels across the islands).

Another interesting feature of the book is the connection to certain oriental philosophies. Critics claim that there is a strong influence of Lao Tzu’s poetic meditation, the Tao-Te-Ching, “The Classic Book of Integrity and the Way” which values silence, non-violence and peace. These balanced forces are the important elements of the Earthsea world.

Words and spells in this imaginary land are very meaningful. There is so-called “Old Speech”, an ancient language, used by dragons and wizards. It contains true names of everything on earth and grants power over objects or people to those who are skilled in this language. However, magic may be dangerous and should not be used lightly. Even the wizard can’t predict the consequences.

The novel is written in simple and exact language, the tone is mostly serious. Nevertheless, the book is difficult to put aside. Although I read the book two years ago, I still remember vividly the descriptions of dark narrow passages in Tombs of Atuan (second book of the trilogy). A memory which gives one goose bumps even on a warm sunny day and may haunt your mind when the darkness falls…

Recommended: for fantasy lovers in search of inner self.

*German Translation: Der Magier der Erdsee

2 thoughts on “Fantasy Classics of the 60s: “A Wizard of Earthsea” by Ursula K. Le Guin

  1. alanmattli

    Sounds interesting! And I just found out that Hayao Miyazaki’s son Goro directed a loose adaptation of these books.

  2. Natalia_M

    Well put with “loose adaptation”! 🙂 You surely mean “Tales from Earthsea” anime (2001). The plot there is somewhat of a patchwork, so I’d recommend to read the novels first in order to understand the background better.

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