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A Wizard of Earthsea (Earthsea Cycle, #1)
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2014 Reads > WoE: Wizard of Earthsea and It's Place in Children's Fantasy

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Sandi (sandikal) | 1212 comments As far as fantasy goes, I find A Wizard of Earthsea to be kind of disappointing and formulaic. I'm trying to look at it from the standpoint of children's fantasy, and I'm finding I have the same reaction.

There's already a conversation going about A Wizard of Earthsea and the Harry Potter series. However, as I'm reading the book, it brings to my mind three other books that were published earlier:

Peter Pan (1904)

The Hobbit (1937)

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (1950)


The only one of these I haven't read is Peter Pan, but I saw the Disney movie that came out in 1953, also before Earthsea.

Tonewise, I'm finding this book to be very similar to The Hobbit. The character development and setting are very bare-boned. I'm having the same hard time with it as I did with The Hobbit.

The whole shadow thing reminds me a lot of Peter Pan. I'm on chapter 8 and it seems to me that (view spoiler).

Now, in my opinion, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is a good example of a modern children's fantasy. The main characters are well developed and believable. It has a good interconnective narrative; it's not just a series of episodic adventures. It seems more imaginative.

For the record, I love the other works I've read by Ursala K. LeGuin.


message 2: by Louise (last edited Feb 12, 2014 01:19PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Louise (louiseh87) | 352 comments I find it nothing like any other children's fantasy at the time or earlier. For example, alongside Narnia, are Alan Garner (Elidor was 1965), the earlier books by E. Nesbit (Five Children and It was 1902) and Tom's Midnight Garden (1992). Also, Enid Blyton's The Magic Faraway Tree (1943). The Worst Witch was a bit later (1974), but probably being written around the same time. I read all of those as a child and in all of these, the protagonists are children. I'm not sure how much character is in any of them (they comply with the more traditional plot-driven narrative of the time).

However, I read The Wizard of Earthsea as a teenager (years after I read any of those, including The Hobbit). Its protagonist is, for a large part of the story, an adult. At the time I'm fairly sure I'd started reading some adult fiction.

I think what I'm trying to say here is that I don't think The Wizard of Earthsea fits with *any* of those. If le Guin is trying to write a "children's" book then I'm not convinced she succeeds. Yes, I know that's what she was asked to do, but not everyone can write children' fiction, however good a writer they are. Young Adult didn't exist at the time but I'm not really sure if it's that either.

All of that said, I don't find it in any way formulaic. What about it makes you say that? What I find most puzzling is that you describe this book as formulaic, but find The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe less so. When the latter basically follows the 'formula' of Christian religion.

Oh dear, I've tried to edit this post but its ended up a bit ramble-y. Sorry about that.


AndrewP (andrewca) | 2479 comments I've read all of them except The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (I will be getting to that one very soon.) Personally, I would put them into an older children category. There are elements in each that I would have found very scary as a child. Likely they would have probably kept me awake at night if I'd read them under age 10.

Then again, the ending of Peter Pan contains some philosophical parts that you can only understand as an adult reflecting back on your childhood.


Louise (louiseh87) | 352 comments AndrewP wrote: "There are elements in each that I would have found very scary as a child. Likely they would have probably kept me awake at night if I'd read them under age 10."

Hmm...I guess this varies. When I was 9 and 10, everyone in my class was reading the Goosebumps books :D I remember being 8 or 9 and writing the most horrific short stories based on them with a friend (the illustrations were awful).

I wish I could definitively pinpoint when I read these books. It makes discussion of this sort of thing really difficult.


AndrewP (andrewca) | 2479 comments Louise wrote: "I wish I could definitively pinpoint when I read these books. It makes discussion of this sort of thing really difficult. "

Exactly. I am taking a bit of a guess saying age 10. There was a definite point in time where my perception of 'scary' changed, but as you point out, it's hard to remember when that was.


Andrew Knighton | 158 comments I'm actually finding it very different in both tone and structure from the earlier children's fantasy examples cited. Those all have more traditional adventure narratives and characters who are, despite The Hobbit's secondary world setting, rather middle class and English. I think the tone of those books also reflects that social setting. Something like Susan Cooper's Dark is Rising books are closer to that than Earthsea.

Earthsea, for me, feels like a bigger imaginative jump because of the tone it sets and the less familiar, harder to define setting. I'm not saying that makes it better or worse - I like it more than Lewis or Tolkien, but that's personal taste - but I do think it brings more innovation in how it approaches the genre.


message 7: by Ben (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ben Rowe (benwickens) Firstly I think it is important to view the Earthsea books not just in the context of fantasy for children or YA but rather in the broader context of fantastic literature.

There is the challenge that if you have read many recent works there will not be as much that reads as fresh with a book published in the late 60s and which has been as influential as Earthsea as many of the ideas in it have been reused in so many different ways so many different times it can be hard to put it in the context of when it was actually published.

Take the works of early innovators such as William Morris or E R Eddison - really innovative in their time but now they both now feel dated rather than fresh.

There are some fantasy novels that are so dazzlingly innovative and influential that they completely shake the field but often the most innovative works of fiction sit not in the mainstream but on the edges of the field. Take for instance The Iron Dragon's Daughter or writers like Kelly Link, Jeff Vandemeer, Jeffrey Ford, Leena Krohn etc. they are not unknown to the field but they dont shift the volumes like the Rowlings, the Sandersons et al and are unlikely to be book club picks. Whilst I do like books to be innovative I do think there is a limit to what should be expected from each work.

I do think that the style of writing that is popular has changed substantially since the book was written. Then books were very lean, often verging on novella length and there was not the space for as much dialogue, character development or world building then. Also the tone of the books were often more stiff and formal than is common with contemporary works. Many modern readers would struggle with The Broken Sword the oft neglected masterpiece that is hugely innovative and influential within the field. Earthsea was very much written to meet the needs of the readership and publishers at the time it was written. Were it to be written today by Le Guin it might have been a very different book but times change. Just as reading something like Bester can feel very different coming from today's values and expectations for non-pulpy writing so the same can be said for earthsea.

Just as there are many people who love the earthsea world and writing there will be others who dont connect with it. But I do think from an innovation point of view Earthsea strikes a balance between being routed in the traditions of Morris, Eddison, Tolkein et al and bringing a decent amount of freshness to the mix but it is not going to be a book that is loved universally by modern readers who are looking for a different type of book with different type of writing. I loved it when I read it in the eighties and nineties and it was one of the more memorable series I read at the time but now with easier access to a wider range of literature through the internet and sites like Amazon it might have not stood out as much against the wide and rich offerings available today.

To me its still a book and a series that I love and reread every decade or so. But I appreciate it will not mesh perfectly for many modern readers of fantasy.


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