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A Wizard of Earthsea (Earthsea Cycle, #1)
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Ursula K LeGuin Collection > A Wizard of Earthsea - SPOILERS

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Melanti | 2384 comments This thread is for a full discussion of our April 2018 New School Group Read selection, A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin.

Discuss any spoilers in this thread


Jehona | 182 comments Just finished it. I think I had too high expectations. I was quite annoyed by the cycle of:
1. Ged learns magic
2. Ged uses magic
3. Ged is almost dead.
Way too many cycles for such a short book.


Michele | 1012 comments Very please we're reading this. The Earthsea books have been favorites of mine for years :)


message 4: by Bob, Short Story Classics (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bob | 4994 comments Mod
As I was ended this story, I was reminded of an old Star Trek episode called “The Enemy Within.” No I’m not a Trekkie I had to look it up, but I wondered if the show’s writers got the idea from this book. Come to find out that the Star Trek episode aired two years before the publishing of A Wizard of Earthsea. I know that the good vs. evil plot is nothing new but I was curious since both were from the late 60’s

One evil is set loose by a wizards malfunctioning magic the other evil was set loose by the technical malfunction of the transporter.


J_BlueFlower (j_from_denmark) | 1759 comments Done! It was fun to read what must be a corner stone in the foundation of Fantasy. The most interesting part for me was the concept of true names (I wonder if there is any relation to True Names by Vernor Vinge).

I will read The Tombs of Atuan as well. It is equally short and has good ratings.


Phil J | 627 comments It's interesting to me that many people on the non-spoilers thread refer to this as a foundational fantasy text. I think it would be better to say it should be more influential than it is. I can tell you that within the Sci Fi/Fantasy community, her work is very divisive.

I love UKL's writing for the craft of her language and the insightfulness of her concepts. Some people complain that her prose is too sparse, and it lacks the lush description that the fantasy genre is known for.

Some people complain that her characters don't breathe, and that they're really just vessels for her themes. I'm okay with that, because I read more for theme than character anyway.


Michele | 1012 comments Phil wrote: "I can tell you that within the Sci Fi/Fantasy community, her work is very divisive."

Hm, that's interesting. I've been reading (and reading about), F and SF for more then forty years and I've never heard it described as divisive. She seems pretty generally to be admired, or at least respected, even by those who don't personally like her style. Could you elaborate?


Phil J | 627 comments When her books come up for discussion, I find that about half the people who read them dislike them. Here's a recent example:

https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/...

I think her books are better received in the sci fi community than in the fantasy community.

Fantasy readers tend to value formula- from the late '70's through the early 2000s, everything that sold was a Tolkien knockoff. Since the early 2000s, there have been a couple new trends (Harry Potter and Game of Thrones) that spawned a lot of imitators. But the genre continues to thrive on imitation, and UKL was not much of an imitator.

I say this with affection; I love fantasy books, but I get frustrated when hacks get more attention than creative thinkers.


Jehona | 182 comments The Kingkiller Chronicle did pretty well. The first book was largely based on A Wizard of Earthsea.


Michele | 1012 comments Jehona wrote: "The Kingkiller Chronicle did pretty well. The first book was largely based on A Wizard of Earthsea."

Eh? I don't see that at all, other than that it's about a kid learning magic.


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Jehona | 182 comments Michele wrote: "Jehona wrote: "The Kingkiller Chronicle did pretty well. The first book was largely based on A Wizard of Earthsea."

Eh? I don't see that at all, other than that it's about a kid learning magic."


1. Kid is orphan
2. Kid is mistreated
3. Kid gets a magic teacher who tells him about magic school
4. Kid studies in magic school
5. The structure of the magic school
6. Master Namer lives away from others and is weird
7. Kid has rich smug enemy who pushes him to break the rules of the school and get in trouble
All The Name of the Wind did was dilute the story and fill the gaps of about the first half of A Wizard of Earthsea. Wizard is less than 200 pages. Name is almost 700.
Also, as far as I know, A Wizard of Earthsea is the oldest book in which naming things in a specific language gives the magician control over them.


J_BlueFlower (j_from_denmark) | 1759 comments Just finished book 2. It liked it better than the first book. I liked following Arha and her almost dual stream of consciousness. I wonder if we will some day hear an explanation of why she acted and thought as she did. Was it her “own true self” speaking or was it something from the outside that pushed her? I will probably start book 3 soon.


Melanti | 2384 comments Jehona wrote: "1. Kid is orphan
2. Kid is mistreated
3. Kid gets a magic teacher who tells him about magic school
4. Kid studies in magic school
5. The structure of the magic school
6. Master Namer lives away from others and is weird
7. Kid has rich smug enemy who pushes him to break the rules of the school and get in trouble ..."


Well, frankly, I've never read KKC, but other than 6 (and possibly 5), those points are all true of Harry Potter, too.

Naming things to control them comes from folklore, though KKC might very well have borrowed the idea from Le Guin. But it wasn't Le Guin's idea originally.


siriusedward (elenaraphael) | 2054 comments well I have not yet started this but 5 6 7 will not apply to HP.5,I don't know as I don't know the structure here.7 as Voldy does not push HP into doing anything.
And the first 2 seems to be kind of universal theme..either one or both .


Melanti | 2384 comments siriusedward wrote: "7 as Voldy does not push HP into doing anything. .."

Draco Malfoy does, a couple of times.


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Jehona | 182 comments Melanti wrote: "siriusedward wrote: "7 as Voldy does not push HP into doing anything. .."

Draco Malfoy does, a couple of times."


HP is also based on it, but much more loosely. It draws from the Wizard and from Narnia.


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Phil J | 627 comments I love Wizard of Earthsea, but I do not see its influence.

I would be surprised if JK Rowling has even read it. HP is a combination of Lord of the Rings, Greek mythology, and classic British school stories like Tom Brown's Schooldays. Mostly the latter. Some people claim it's ripped off of an obscure Jane Yolen novel, but that's really just an example of parallel thinking.

The argument in favor of Kingkiller Chronicles aka the Kvothe series is a bit stronger. The author, Patrick Rothfuss, is a genre aficionado, and has probably read it even if he hasn't added it to the 1362 of books on his read shelf. Still, I don't see the connection.

Thematically, I read Kingkiller as a male wish-fulfillment fantasy about a really tough guy who makes tough decisions and has a tough past. I enjoy it for that in a guilty pleasure kind of way. Spiritually, I see it as an extension of male power fantasies like The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian. Earthsea is thematically about reconciling with your own nature, which is worlds apart from Rothfuss' story.

Stylistically, Kingkiller reads like classic Roger Zelazny, with the arch narration, deliberately pragmatic morality, and hints of sinister backstory. Earthsea, on the other hand, reads like distilled folklore- it is an archetypical story of a person's encounter with himself.

PS: I am disappointed to see the Patrick Rothfuss took the time to give 5 stars to piffle like War for the Oaks, The City of Ember, and Legend, but hasn't gotten around to one single UKL book.


siriusedward (elenaraphael) | 2054 comments Melanti wrote: "siriusedward wrote: "7 as Voldy does not push HP into doing anything. .."

Draco Malfoy does, a couple of times."


oh yes..rich and smug can be applied to Malfoy..he never crossed my mind


Michele | 1012 comments Melanti wrote: "Naming things to control them comes from folklore...it wasn't Le Guin's idea originally. "

This is true. Rumplestiltskin, for example. Or Beetlejuice :) In many cultures it's common for a person to have a "public" name and a private one that's known only to friends/family. Extending the idea a little further, our legal names have more "power" than our nicknames (e.g., your driver's license or your diploma is in your legal name; your legal name is used to bind you on documents like wills and contracts).

That it would work with inanimate objects is kind of curious, though. A rock doesn't know that its true name is tolk, and yet knowing its true name gives Ged control over it. (I think I remembered the word correctly, I don't have the book in front of me.) It implies that there's some sort of underlying reality that can be accessed via a thing's true name.

Can anyone give examples of where else in folklore this turns up? Now I want to explore it further...


J_BlueFlower (j_from_denmark) | 1759 comments Wiki: The true name of the Egyptian sun god Ra was revealed to Isis through an elaborate trick. This gave Isis complete power over Ra and allowed her to put her son Horus on the throne.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/True_name


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Phil J | 627 comments Michele wrote: "Can anyone give examples of where else in folklore this turns up? Now I want to explore it further... ."

With LeGuin, the answer is usually Taoism. Here's a quote from the wiki article on Taoism:

"the universe is seen as being in a constant process of re-creating itself, as everything that exists is a mere aspect of qi, which, "condensed, becomes life; diluted, it is indefinite potential""

Beyond that, it reminds me of the general concept of animism and some of the religious practices of Shinto.


Melanti | 2384 comments Phil wrote: "With LeGuin, the answer is usually Taoism.t..."

Very good point. Pretty much anything by Le Guin eventually leads back to taoism in some way.

Taoism in general has something to do with names, doesn't it? At least they make a distinction between the nameable and unnameable... Isn't it that the essence of Tao is an unnameable thing, whereas the rest of reality is nameable?

Obviously I need to brush up on that. Really, the only book I've read about Taoism is The Tao of Pooh, and I'm under no delusions that it's at all accurate or comprehensive.


J_BlueFlower (j_from_denmark) | 1759 comments Finished book 3 The Farthest Shore.

So far the one I liked the best, probably because it was the most philosophical. What I particularly like about the series is that it is another world – not fantasy but philosophically and mentally another way of thinking.

“Do you see, Arren, how an act is not, as young men think, like a rock that one picks up and throws, and it hits or misses, and that’s the end of it. When that rock is lifted, the earth is lighter; the hand that bears it heavier.“

I wish I had read them as younger. As a younger reader I did not see all those small signs of what direction the story was going to take. I like to be surprised.

I cannot make up my mind if I should read Tehanu (Earthsea Cycle, #4) also.

I am starting Lao Tzu: Taoïsme, Tao Te King - as far as I know the main text of Taoism. I want to some day read all the major religions texts. May as well start here. (Yes, I seconding and voting for The Bhagavad Gita for the next group read).


Melanti | 2384 comments J_BlueFlower wrote: "I am starting Lao Tzu: Taoïsme, Tao Te King - as far as I know the main text of Taoism. I want to some day read all the major religions texts. May as well start here. . ..."

A worthy goal!
I grabbed a copy last week when I was at the store, but sadly, it's not the one translated by Le Guin.


Michele | 1012 comments I liked Tehanu very much -- thought it was a worthy addition to the cycle. Likewise The Other Wind.


Michele | 1012 comments J_BlueFlower wrote: "What I particularly like about the series is that it is another world – not fantasy but philosophically and mentally another way of thinking."

Yes, I agree. It's very difficult to do -- the author has to genuinely get outside the mindset of homo sapiens. I think Le Guin is better than any other author at doing that (The Left Hand of Darkness achieves it too).


Candi (candih) | 788 comments I agree, also. It's like Le Guin's worlds are a place where we can go and allow ourselves to think about ideas in ways that we otherwise might not. She helps to open our minds by painting these vivid worlds first, and then makes us take the next step and learn that there are in fact other ways of thinking about our own worlds and those within them. The Left Hand of Darkness was my first book by Le Guin, and I admit I was hesitant to read it. I am so glad that I did. The Wizard of Earthsea is my second, and I know I will continue to read this author now. A brilliant mind :)


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J_BlueFlower (j_from_denmark) | 1759 comments I have read the first three Earthsea books, The Left Hand of Darkness and the The Dispossessed. For me The Dispossessed was the best by far. The other are good books, but The Dispossessed is one I keep thinking about. Highly recommended. The Dispossessed is on the 1001-books you must read list. The Earthsea book are not.


message 29: by Phil (last edited Apr 11, 2018 02:50AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Phil J | 627 comments Candi wrote: "I agree, also. It's like Le Guin's worlds are a place where we can go and allow ourselves to think about ideas in ways that we otherwise might not. She helps to open our minds by painting these viv..."

This is the best possible description of what I love about her books.


Candi (candih) | 788 comments J_BlueFlower, I am most definitely planning to read The Dispossessed, so I'm pleased to see you highly recommend it!

Phil, I'm glad you agree with my description! I wasn't sure if I was expressing it clearly :)


siriusedward (elenaraphael) | 2054 comments Candi wrote: "I agree, also. It's like Le Guin's worlds are a place where we can go and allow ourselves to think about ideas in ways that we otherwise might not. She helps to open our minds by painting these viv..."

This is a compelling description,Candi and makes me want to start readinv the book right now but thats really not possible. Maybe a week later.


Candi (candih) | 788 comments I hope you can squeeze in this read, siriusedward! It took me perhaps 3 chapters to really settle in, but then I was hooked :)


J_BlueFlower (j_from_denmark) | 1759 comments siriusedward wrote: This is a compelling description,Candi and makes me want to start readinv the book right now but thats really not possible. Maybe a week later."

The first book is really short. The default edition is 183 pages. I read an ebook version and my 4 hours would normally be equivalent to 120 pages.


Tonia (yestonia) | 250 comments It is short, but there is a lot of story packed into those few pages!


Tammy | 393 comments I finished this last week and thought it was a pleasant way to spend my time. Fantasy is not my favorite genre, but this really didn't strike me as being outlandishly fanciful. It is definitely a coming of age book with an emphasis on acknowledging your whole self, good and bad, in order to recognize your full potential (which is super handy if you plan on practicing awesome wizardry).

My husband just ordered the set. He IS into fantasy, so I think he'll enjoy this.


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Suzy (goodreadscomsuzy_hillard) | 64 comments I'm really enjoying reading this discussion! I'm not a big fantasy fan, but fell in love with UKL after reading this New Yorker article from fall 2016. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/20...

I just finished No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters, her book of essays, really a compilation of her blog posts. In it she talks about writing fantasy - utopias vs dystopias. Anyone else read this last published book by her? I'd be interested in what those of you who read a lot of fantasy and SF would think about what she has to say.

I agree with much of what others have said about her philosophical approach to fantasy and am interested in rereading the Tao Te Ching, with fresh eyes. I read it back in my hippie days and remember my eyes being opened to new ways of thinking. Thanks J_Blueflower for the mention of a UKL translation.

I will just add two things to what others have said about the A Wizard. I thought the ending was brilliant. I often complain about authors not knowing how to end a book - not a problem with this one! Based on others' comments, I will go forth with others in this series. Lastly, did anyone else read the 2012 edition of this book with an afterward by UKL? I thought it added much insight to the story and especially enjoyed what she had to say about her reaction to being asked to write a fantasy series for teenagers!


Michele | 1012 comments Tammy wrote: ...acknowledging your whole self, good and bad, in order to recognize your full potential (which is super handy if you plan on practicing awesome wizardry). "

Very true! I can think of a number of magic-workers who have been brought low because they refused to acknowledge their own weaknesses or faults.


siriusedward (elenaraphael) | 2054 comments Candi wrote: "I hope you can squeeze in this read, siriusedward! It took me perhaps 3 chapters to really settle in, but then I was hooked :)"

I started this Candi and so far loving both writing and occasional saying like sentences in it.
Makes me curious about Taoism too.


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siriusedward (elenaraphael) | 2054 comments Michele wrote: "Tammy wrote: ...acknowledging your whole self, good and bad, in order to recognize your full potential (which is super handy if you plan on practicing awesome wizardry). "

Very true! I can think o..."


we can apply it to our daily life too I think.. accepting the whole of blus , both the good and bad parts..knowing our faults and trying to correct and to act in order to minimize these.


siriusedward (elenaraphael) | 2054 comments Suzy wrote: "I'm really enjoying reading this discussion! I'm not a big fantasy fan, but fell in love with UKL after reading this New Yorker article from fall 2016. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/20......"

Thanks for the article, Suzy.


siriusedward (elenaraphael) | 2054 comments I am liking the book so far.
Her writing is good and easy to read.And the story is fast paced.
Initially I found Ged very annoying... he seemed very ambitious, intelligent, talented, skilled but also very immature, impulsive, short-tempered,very quick to take insult, arrogant, proud and what was infuriating was his not paying attention to what all the elderly very skilled and experienced and respectable mages kept telling him about not using magic simply and unwisely.I kept reminding myself that he was young and a teenager at that with too much power within.
But after his incident he did change.He became more cautious and more mature .More respectful of his teachers and fully conscious of his unthinking reckless arrogant stupidity .
I also felt sad that he came to be more hesitant and it became more difficult for him to use his power.
But it was a lesson well learned I think.
He was more humble and wiser too.

I am at the point where he won against the Gebbeth in Osskil.He has just reached the place.


siriusedward (elenaraphael) | 2054 comments Something of it reminds me of LOTR( the names or maybe the creation song of Ea..not able to pinpoint what exactly ) and very superficially it does (not remind exactly) bring to mind HP(the subjects and Ogion reminded me of Dumbledore somewhat,maybe his presence? ,only he isn't there for much time here ).Only the HP series are much detailed and complex and rich.
Here the plot is more superficial I think..its a gem of ideas though...I mean...so many stories buried within..you can get inspiration in many forms here I think.. you just need the right talent :)


Francisca | 368 comments I loved this and will be heading into the sequels 😊

I once heard someone describe this as an adult myth and that makes a lot of sense to me. It has fantasy elements but is also a very stripped down story/world. Even the way the magic works feels very mythlike, with the importance of names and balance, etc. On rereading it I felt like I was reading a quest, where Ged is searching for his wholeness rather than a holy grail (there’s a metaphor in there somewhere). There’s something to the idea of his redemption (if it’s ok to use a fairly Christian word in such a Taoist setting...) being learning to accept his own weakness as his that really resonated with me too.


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Suzy (goodreadscomsuzy_hillard) | 64 comments siriusedward wrote: "Something of it reminds me of LOTR( the names or maybe the creation song of Ea..not able to pinpoint what exactly ) and very superficially it does (not remind exactly) bring to mind HP(the subjects..."

I also was very irritated with Ged with his impatience, taking things as insults and rising to ridiculous challenges (much to his detriment) but also remembered he was a teenager. I think this has a few elements of Harry Potter, but those books are more energetic and Earthsea seems very much more serious to me and philosophical.


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Suzy (goodreadscomsuzy_hillard) | 64 comments Francisca wrote: "I loved this and will be heading into the sequels 😊

I once heard someone describe this as an adult myth and that makes a lot of sense to me. It has fantasy elements but is also a very stripped dow..."


The idea that this is myth really resonates with me. I also felt that this was a "battle" between light and dark and agree that the ultimate quest was Ged's wholeness. Le Guin speaks to that in the afterward of my edition of the book. She does not see this book as a battle between good and evil involving armies, etc. (Like in LOTR) but of a wizard coming into his complete power. Seeing that made the book make more sense for me.


siriusedward (elenaraphael) | 2054 comments It does make more sense. Bookwise.


Michele | 1012 comments Francisca wrote: "On rereading it I felt like I was reading a quest, where Ged is searching for his wholeness rather than a holy grail"

Yes, that's a good description!


Candi (candih) | 788 comments I agree about Ged. At first he infuriated me, but then I stopped to think about his age. A teen as well as one that is learning about his gift and the power he has a result of it. It somehow made him seem more of a 'normal', everyday human when we consider his behavior initially. I loved his development throughout the novel.

A search for his wholeness... yes, I concur on that point as well :)


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Phil J | 627 comments siriusedward wrote: "Only the HP series are much detailed and complex and rich."

In what way? I thought the Taoism/Jungian themes of Earthsea were much richer than the "underdog does good" clichés of Harry Potter. I also thought the worldbuilding was more creative- there are lots of boarding school books, but not a lot of archipelago-based books.

FYI: I've only made it through the first three HP books.


Michele | 1012 comments Phil wrote: "there are lots of boarding school books, but not a lot of archipelago-based books."

Good point :)


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