Apatt's Reviews > A Wizard of Earthsea

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin
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Aug 09, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: fantasy-top20, favorites
Read from August 09 to 11, 2012 , read count: 1

I remember reading this book as a child and loving it, and that is all I can remember, the reading and the loving. Anything about the contents has slipped through the old grey cells somehow. As it turned out my brain knew what it was doing when it jettisoned all the details of the book so yesterday I was able to read it as if for the first time. Like A Virgin.

Nowadays any fantasy book that features a school of wizardry can not help but bring up Harry Potter comparisons (I can't help it anyway). A Wizard of Earthsea was published several decades before Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's / Philosopher's Stone, and I wonder how much of it inspired the Rowling books. No disrespect to the deservedly popular Potter series but certainly Earthsea's Roke Island's school of magic seems like a precursor to Hogwarts, and Le Guin's protagonist Duny / Sparrowhawk / Ged starts off as a boy with an unusual degree of natural talent for magic. In all fairness, the similarities dwindle to nothing by about half way point through A Wizard of Earthsea though. OK, got that out of the way, no more pointless HP comparisons henceforth.

Ged by David Lupton

A Wizard of Earthsea is - to some extent - a bildungsroman about a boy name Duny who has an unusually high aptitude for learning and using magic. After saving his village from invaders, he was discovered by a wizard who gave him his true name Ged. After travelling with the wizard for a while and not learning very much magic thanks to the wizard's "Mr. Miyagi" style of teaching he was sent to the Roke Island to enroll in a wizardry school. He learned magic very quickly of course but soon make a huge mistake and accidentally invoked Something Better Left Alone. Much gnashing of teeth and a search for redemption ensues. (I am appallingly bad at synopsizing as you can see).

When Ms. Le Guin wrote this book in the 60s there was not much of a fantasy genre, some Tolkiens here some Lewises there, very little else. This makes A Wizard of Earthsea something of a landmark for the now thriving fantasy genre. Also, in those days, the term "magic system" did not exist but Le Guin knew even then how thoughtless, frivolous use of magic in a book can render the story unbelievable. So she cleverly imposed some logic and limitation to the use of magic and thereby created one of the earliest magic systems.
"Listen, I don't understand: you and my brother both are mighty wizards, you wave your hand and mutter and the thing is done. Why do you get hungry, then? When it comes suppertime at sea, why not say, Meat-pie! and the meat-pie appears, and you eat it?"
"Well, we could do so. But we don't much wish to eat our words, as they say. Meat-pie! is only a word, after all... We can make it odorous, and savorous, and even filling, but it remains a word. It fools the stomach and gives no strength to the hungry man."
See what I mean? Genius! The magic in the Earthsea universe is based on the "words of power" and "true name" idea. "One who knows the true name of an object has power over it." is fairly self-explanatory, this applies to people's names also; giving someone your true name is a little like giving them your Paypal password, not something to be done lightly.

Art by David Lupton

The book is necessarily fast-paced and eventful due to minimal length though the climax is not as spectacular as I thought it would be, it is quite satisfying and leads to an elegant wrap up of the story. The prose is beautifully written as you'd expect from Le Guin, the book was written for children so it is more easily accessible than her adult science fiction books. Don't let the "for children" label put you off, though, there was no YA category at the time, or this book would have been hailed as the best of them. Characterization is very nicely done, Ged starts off as a fairly typical arrogant young whippersnapper and grows into a kindhearted, responsible (and melancholy) adult. If you have kids this would be a great book to read to them. The principle of "with great power comes great responsibility" is much better learned here from Ged's experiences than from Peter Parker's.

Another thing I remember from my first reading of this book in my teens is that I could not get into the second book The Tombs of Atuan due to the switch to a new protagonist, I wanted so much to know what Ged is going to do next. I was a stupid kid. At least now I have more Earthsea books to look forward to.


Art by David Lupton

Notes:
• Margaret Atwood Explains Why A Wizard Of Earthsea Is A Masterpiece
David Mitchell on Earthsea – "a rival to Tolkien and George RR Martin"
• Beautiful new illustrated edition
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Quotes Apatt Liked

Ursula K. Le Guin
“What good is power when you're too wise to use it?”
Ursula K. Le Guin, A Wizard of Earthsea

Ursula K. Le Guin
“It is very hard for evil to take hold of the unconsenting soul.”
Ursula K. Le Guin, A Wizard of Earthsea

Ursula K. Le Guin
“You thought, as a boy, that a mage is one who can do anything. So I thought, once. So did we all. And the truth is that as a man's real power grows and his knowledge widens, ever the way he can follow grows narrower: until at last he chooses nothing, but does only and wholly what he *must *do . . .”
Ursula K. Le Guin, A Wizard of Earthsea

Ursula K. Le Guin
“A man would know the end he goes to, but he cannot know it if he does not turn, and return to his beginning, and hold that beginning in his being. If he would not be a stick whirled and whelmed in the stream, he must be the stream itself, all of it, from its spring to its sinking in the sea.”
Ursula K. Le Guin, A Wizard of Earthsea
tags: ogion

Ursula K. Le Guin
“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 K. Le Guin, A Wizard of Earthsea


Reading Progress

02/22/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-14 of 14) (14 new)

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Richard Derus I still have my Parnassus Press hardcover. Loves me some Earthsea! Thanks for the review.


Apatt Richard wrote: "I still have my Parnassus Press hardcover. Loves me some Earthsea! Thanks for the review."

Many thanks Richard, I only posted it about 5 minutes ago :)


Richard Derus I am a leaf on the wind....


Michael I know what you mean about Tombs of Atuan. I finally took the step of completing Tehanu last year and was glad I did. Often I hold out on finishing a series, sort of like keeping a reserve of pleasure on tap. E.g. I have the 3rd Pullman waiting for me. In the care of Stieg Larsson, who is dead, holding his last in reserve is special, sort of like the last jar of pesto from the garden after winter has beset us.


Apatt Michael wrote: "I know what you mean about Tombs of Atuan. I finally took the step of completing Tehanu last year and was glad I did. Often I hold out on finishing a series, sort of like keeping a reserve of ple..."

I heard that books 4, 5 & 6 were written decades after the original trilogy and some fans feel they don't fit in well and almost ruin the first 3 books. What do you think?


Althea Ann I remember having that same initial disappointment about the Tombs of Atuan (no Ged!?!?!?!) - but that disappointment was soon blown away. Tombs... is my favorite book by LeGuin, who in turn, may very well be my favorite author...


message 7: by Apatt (last edited Aug 14, 2012 06:26PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Apatt Althea wrote: "I remember having that same initial disappointment about the Tombs of Atuan (no Ged!?!?!?!) - but that disappointment was soon blown away. Tombs... is my favorite book by LeGuin, who in turn, may v..."

Your comment makes me want to hurry up and get on with The Tombs of Atuan unfortunately I'm in the middle of a long book. My TBR pile must be the height of the Eiffel Tower or something :)


message 8: by Zantaeus (new)

Zantaeus Glom Lovely review, squire! I think I will bring said wizard-y opus closer to the 'absolutely-must-read-jolly-soon pile.'


Apatt Thanks Zantaeus, that's a cool username.
For me this year I'd like to catch up on all the Foundation books (Foundation's Edge onward) that I haven't read!


message 10: by Cecily (new)

Cecily How come your posting these reviews in reverse chronological order? Have you got your time machine working, or are you trying to confuse us?


message 11: by Apatt (last edited Feb 23, 2016 06:13PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Apatt Cecily wrote: "How come your posting these reviews in reverse chronological order? Have you got your time machine working, or are you trying to confuse us?"

It does say "Read from August 09 to 11, 2012" just above the review. I just tarted it up with Grammar Lee a bit! ᕕ( ᐛ )ᕗ


message 12: by Cecily (last edited Feb 24, 2016 02:01PM) (new)

Cecily Apatt wrote: It does say "Read from August 09 to 11, 2012" "

I know, but you still chose to update and recirculate them in the wrong order!


message 13: by Kavita (new)

Kavita You convinced me! :D Another Harry Potter!


Apatt Kavita wrote: "You convinced me! :D Another Harry Potter!"

Similar yet extremely different! ;)
Thanks, Kavita.


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