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A Wizard of Earthsea (Earthsea Cycle, #1)
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2014 Reads > WoE: Too fast paced?

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Alexander (technogoth) | 171 comments I've only finished the first three chapters so far but I can't help but feel the pacing in the book seems off. It moves too quickly and there isn't enough detail. I would have like to know more about his time with Ogion and the ugly girl who enjoys spending his days with or something of his first few years in the wizard school.

She seemed to spend as much time on the boat ride to the island as she did on any other part in his life. Is there more detail to follow or is the whole book very brisk?


Jennifer Swerbensky  | 75 comments I think I'm having the same problem with the pacing as well. Just when I start to get interested in something, she picks up and moves on to something else. It's kind of frustrating. Are all the books in this cycle done in the same way? Does she eventually flesh out some of these characters and plots?


message 3: by Louise (last edited Feb 03, 2014 05:18PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Louise (louiseh87) | 352 comments I would say no - in answer to the above. Le Guin is quite a sparse, light writer. There's still a lot there, but it's generally done in fewer words and that's true of everything of hers I've read (not just these books).


Nathan (tenebrous) | 377 comments Books back when these were published seem shorter in general, in my experience.


message 5: by Joe Informatico (last edited Feb 04, 2014 06:37AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Joe Informatico (joeinformatico) | 888 comments Well, this is a children's book. In that great Guardian interview Louise linked to in the "Women in Earthsea" thread, Le Guin said a publisher asked her to write a fantasy book for ages 11+. Very few children's fantasy books of that era are longer than 250 pages. The Narnia books, the Chronicles of Prydain, the Dark is Rising Sequence, A Wrinkle in Time, The Keeper of the Isis Light, Tuck Everlasting, even non-genre stuff like Hatchet and Where the Red Fern Grows are all pretty short.

And a lot of older SF&F was that short as well. Having read some older books recently, I wish more books today would keep it under 300 pages. For Jhereg, in less than 200 pages, Steven Brust fleshes out Vlad Taltos (the main character and first-person narrator), gives all his friends and associates enough characterization to be distinct personalities, sketch out the setting enough to get a handle on it, and have a fast-paced, intriguing plot besides.

I wonder if the main difference is that these shorter works tend to focus on a single character, while the thicker books have 2 or more POV characters that the narrative jumps between?


Jennifer Swerbensky  | 75 comments I'm not sure what it is. I honestly loved The Dark is Rising sequence, the Chronicles of Narnia, A Wrinkle In Time. So I don't think it's about it being too short, at least for me. I kind of just get the feeling that I want her to go into some of the plot points in a little more depth. I want to like Ged as a character a bit more, but as of right now, there's not enough there for me to either like or hate. If that makes sense. Maybe Le Guin just isn't the author for me. I hope no body takes that as a insult to her though, as her actual writing is very good. It's the story that I can't seem to get into.


Bawa Indeed, it may seem as she rushes you forward but I had a blast reading through "A Wizard of Earthsea", mostly because I thought I would like to get to know the world and the characters a lil bit more but at the same time I knew these wouldn't actually move the story forward.
I kinda liked the way the writes and I'll probably read the whole quartet.


P. Aaron Potter (paaronpotter) | 585 comments Jennifer wrote: "I'm not sure what it is. I honestly loved The Dark is Rising sequence, the Chronicles of Narnia, A Wrinkle In Time. So I don't think it's about it being too short, at least for me. I kind of jus..."


I sense a whole discussion here about how much better YA speculative fiction is post-Potter.

Those bothered by the pacing here might prefer the more tightly focused sequel, The Tombs of Atuan. I, who found 'Wizard of Earthsea's mythic pacing to be charming, found that book too episodically One Damn Thing After Another. Perhaps it would speak better to those seeking a more modern pacing.


Zach Chapman | 35 comments To me, A Wizard of Earthsea felt like the sparknotes version of some other, better epic tale. The imagery and character development doesn't cut it for me. It's too thin. And I totally agree with the pacing.


message 10: by Alexander (last edited Feb 07, 2014 09:13AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Alexander (technogoth) | 171 comments I don't think the problem is the length of the book but the lack of substance. There is no meat or detail it just seems to gloss over everything. Making me feel I'm reading some weird abridged or summarized version of the book.

There seems to be lots of exposition and page after page of bland details on uneventful see voyages but the important events in Ged's life seem to get glossed over.

There's half a page describing a magic grove with trees that have ancient wisdom and then it goes but we are not going to talk about the 6 months Ged spent there and then he went back to the school.


message 11: by Duy (new) - rated it 2 stars

Duy Nguyen (amou) Yes for sure! The pace is really quick for most of the book. But I'm just assuming because it was written awhile ago, people just didn't write like do in modern times. But I can be wrong.


Michele | 1154 comments I think you have to take this book like a bedtime story being told to children or a fireside tale that everyone already knows the basics of. A couple to three hours max to tell the whole tale.

Ged, from the first chapter, is already a legend in Earthsea. If you were telling a story about say, Robin Hood (telling, not reading), you would not bother with a bunch of detail about what he wore, how many boring days he spent wandering around the forest, what the complicated backstories were for each of the merry men, etc.

Quick character sketches, basic ideas about the world, maybe one or two scenes of him showing off his arrow shooting abilities. Enough to give listeners something to start with and then the focus would be on your message, the moral behind the story.

Ged has immense power, he abuses it because he lacks wisdom and has only seen its usefulness, not the full consequences. He eventually learns, the hard way, when to use it and for what reasons.

We don't need to know all the mechanics behind the magic, the cultural details of each and every island, the years and years of historical background. Ged isn't even the focus of the story, not really.

This is a tale about power - the different ways to use it or abuse it, how it can corrupt, how it can frighten, how it can be beautiful and amazing and awesome or terrible.


Jonathon Dez-la-lour (jd2607) | 173 comments I think this all comes down to personal preferences and expectations. For me, the book seemed to just skim over pretty much everything of importance. Some people like that, some people don't. In this case, it wasn't for me. But then over the past month I've read Richard Morgan's The Steel Remains, Brandon Sanderson's The Final Empire and Joe Abercrombie's The Heroes, all of which are at least twice the length of A Wizard of Earthsea.

Perhaps the reason this book felt too quick is because I'm used to reading 600+ page fantasy novels that contain a lot of delving into the societal and magical structures that exist within those worlds and that have been published in the last 20 or so years. So, I think I'm coming at it in a completely different mindset to how I'd approach a similar sci-fi book where a lot of my reading has been books from the 50s, 60s and 70s with the likes of Isaac Asimov, Frank Herbert and Robert Heinlein.


message 14: by Tamahome (new)

Tamahome | 6261 comments Sounds like my kind of book.


Sasha | 3 comments I am halfway through the novel. The pacing certainly has to do with LeGuin having written it as a children's book and as the first of a series - don't forget the first Harry Potter novel was equally short by comparison! However, the style of the tale very much reminds me of other literary traditions besides the modern novel: heroic tales of old, fairy tales and sagas wherein the journey, not the characters themselves, is what is important.

It is also interesting to see what LeGuin does focus on with more detail - plant names, descriptions of nature, weather, geography... very much in line with a world in which the individual is less important than the balanced whole and the needs of the group.

All in all I love what I am reading so far.


message 16: by Allie (last edited Feb 09, 2014 08:50AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Allie | 1 comments Michele wrote: "I think you have to take this book like a bedtime story being told to children or a fireside tale that everyone already knows the basics of. A couple to three hours max to tell the whole tale.


I think you hit the nail right on the head! The "worldbuilding" in this book is more about giving us the feeling of a large world with plenty of history and legends, of which we are only hearing a small part in this story. For example, Ged wishes he could have seen Havnor, and people keep referring to how magnificent it is, but it's left almost completely up to our imagination.


message 17: by Rick (last edited Feb 09, 2014 11:23AM) (new)

Rick | 2792 comments Michele wrote: "I think you have to take this book like a bedtime story being told to children or a fireside tale that everyone already knows the basics of. A couple to three hours max to tell the whole tale..."

I disagree that this pacing is childish (not that it's not YA... but that the quick pace is necessarily childish). The fact is that a lot of you came to fantasy at a particular point, when spending thousands of pages on one long story was not only accepted but celebrated. I get the feeling that most epic fantasy fans of the last 20 or 30 years like to feel like they're inside the story and will read through something like WoT happily even though it has volumes where nothing much happens just because you get to visit that world again.

There's nothing wrong with those expectations unless you assume that's the only way to write. Look at Greek myths - they aren't long, but they've inspired people for 2000 years. Same for most foundational myths actually (Norse, Celtic, etc). Look at Shakespeare, possibly the greatest writer in our language. Same thing.

Much of what works like this assume is that the reader will use their imagination to fill in details and that they don't need to be spoon fed (to use Michele's examples) "... a bunch of detail about what [Ged] wore, how many boring days he spent wandering around the forest, what the complicated backstories were for each of the merry men, etc."

I'd just add that adding all of that detail doesn't necessarily make a work better, just longer and more detailed. Neither approach is 'right', each will have its fans. This book feels like a myth more than what modern epic fantasy is at the moment.


Scott | 312 comments It was definitely too fast paced, especially when it covered Ged's youth. It seemed like one minute he had just entered the school and going through his first year, a few minutes later (I was listening the audiobook) , he had break and he was starting his second year. The pace left me unsatisfied- as if I was just getting a summary of Ged's life rather than a story


Isaiah | 74 comments The book feels very fast paced to me, but I haven't read a book geared toward a younger audience in years. I don't think the pacing is a bad thing, maybe just something some of us aren't used to if the majority of the books we read are very long, or part of a long series, or both. In my case I'm reading Deadhouse Gates and just read The Daylight War, so Earthsea definitely feels like it moves rapidly, but I'm still enjoying it for the most part.


AndrewP (andrewca) | 2481 comments I found it fast paced but in a bad way. It wasn't suspenseful and it gave me no great urgency to keep reading and find out what happened next. It does seem more like someone reading a story, but I could have used a change of pace in the exciting parts.


message 21: by Tim (last edited Feb 10, 2014 11:15AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tim Alm | 34 comments To me it seemed to focus on a very small fraction of Ged's existence. The author's notes at the end go into quite a bit more detail.

I, too, would like to delve more deeply into Ged's history but, even though the story zoomed along, it's path is laser straight and the meat of the story, the symbiosis of Ged and the shadow was explored quite nicely.

The subtle race inferences for the 60s were certainly groundbreaking. Only the invaders of Ged's village were light skinned. Ged and many others were copper skinned and Vetch and others were black.

Edgar Rice Burroughs got away with the same type of thing by setting the John Carter series on Mars. It was a safe way to tackle things like the race riots that were going on at the time. The pacing in those books are on par with Earthsea. It's only been the modern era where we have become detail obsessed


message 22: by Will (new) - rated it 4 stars

Will (longklaw) | 261 comments I generally like a good, short book but I think this one may have been too short


Joshua Park (joshuapark) | 21 comments Good point, Tim. I didn't think about it but, yeah, it was 1968. I get a sense that spec fic is generally more inclined to break through status quo ideas than is general fiction. (I'd be hard-pressed to show any evidence though. It's just a sense.)

Anyway, I thought the pacing was fine. It reminded me a lot of A Wrinkle in Time and the Narnia books. It wasn't until about when Ged got to Roke that I thought, "Oh. This isn't a summary flashback. This is the writing style." And I accepted it and moved on.


message 24: by Alan (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alan | 534 comments Rick wrote: "I disagree that this pacing is childish (not that it's not YA... but that the quick pace is necessarily childish). The fact is that a lot of you came to fantasy at a particular point, when spending thousands of pages on one long story was not only accepted but celebrated. ..."

I completely agree with Rick. There's been a generational shift in F&SF writing. For me, many of the longer books these days feel padded and like the authors don't trust my imagination. To me, Zelazny and Le Guin packed more story into 250 pages than Jordan put into 2500. But, it's entirely a style choice and a reading preference/knack.

I've had years to adapt to the "new" style and very much enjoy the better practitioners of it but a book like Earthsea doesn't read to me like Cliff Notes. Instead, it feels like Le Guin opened a door in my mind and allowed it to envision the story she was telling.

For example, on the boat, Le Guin spends just a few sentences on Ged's interactions with the boys his age. It was enough detail for me to envision their back-and-forth but a modern writer would have devoted a full chapter to it. Whether her choice suits you is totally personal preference and I don't think has anything to do with YA or not.

One last thought, it used to be the mark of a good storyteller that you felt like the world, the characters and the story were larger than the confines of the book in your hands. Maybe Le Guin achieved that too well in this book ...


disastercouch | 28 comments I think Le Guin was very inspired by oral storytelling traditions and Homeric myths in crafting this book. To me it was refreshing to read a fantasy that was stylistically different. Almost all fantasy and SF follows in the tradition of the 19th century novel (Austen, Flaubert, Hugo, Tolstoy), spinning off reams and reams of detail and telling the story in a very linear fashion. I love a long, dense book that delves into the genealogy of all of the characters' horses and the particular color and print of someone's ball gown, but that kind of writing is a really modern conceit (in the grand scheme of things) and there are other ways to tell a story. This is one of them.


message 26: by Erik (last edited Feb 15, 2014 10:48PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Erik Redin (erik_redin) | 149 comments I really love the pacing of this book. Of the older/"classic" books we've read in the last year or so, this is the first to really grab me. Maybe it's just that I grew up reading a ton of comic books and so I'm use to compressed storytelling (Spider-man's origin story was told in 11 pages!), but I think Le Guin gives you just the information you need and you can fill in the blanks yourself if you choose/want to.


message 27: by Jack (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jack (wineontheveldt) What Le Guin can do with language, the beauty, with so few words... Every sentence makes me secretly jealous as an aspiring writer.


message 28: by Lisa (new) - rated it 2 stars

Lisa (lisapond) I'm about halfway through the book at this point and reading this thread has been interesting to me. I read a lot of children's lit and YA since I am a teacher but I still had a bit of difficulty getting into the beginning of the story. It was interesting because it flowed beautifully and read quickly but I was having a difficult time feeling invested, I suppose. I am not sure if it was the writing style or the story itself, though I've found as I've kept reading, I'm having an easier time. I do find that the language is very beautiful and I enjoy that.

Generally, though, I find it very different than most of the books I've read recently, both modern and more classic books which I read to my students.

Still haven't decided if I want to read the rest of the series but I still have half a book to finish so we'll see how it grabs me once I get to the end.


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