I first read this book in my early teens and it had a profound impact on me. The character of Sparrowhawk and his trials and tribulations were both inspiring and at that age somewhat terrifying! Not a large book or series of books, it was easy to read and finish these books in a couple of hours of concentrated reading and it was even easier to simply fall into the Earthsea universe and completely lose yourself!
A Wizard of Earthsea is the first book in the Earthsea series and while there are other short stories and books in the sequence the primary novels are:
- A Wizard of Earthsea (1968)
- The Tombs of Atuan (1971)
- The Farthest Shore (1972)
- Tehanu: The Last Book of Earthsea (1990)
Le Guin’s Earthsea Cycle is an adventure tracing Ged Sparrowhawk’s ambitious years, youthful exploits, and confrontation with an undead menace released by his own reckless vanity.
Earthsea is an ocean littered with islands, some of which disappear with the tides. The people are wary of travelers, and what they know of the world consists of their understanding of their land, and the few stories they may have heard about other islands over the years, but even those seem distant dreams. With a distinct magical system at play in the Earthsea universe – the power of “real” names is paramount – Le Guin pulls you in from the first word.
In a Wizard of Earthsea, Ged Sparrowhawk begins his magical journey into power and wisdom. Although just a child, Ged saves his island home (Gont) from rampaging raiders through the use of magic. Realizing the power inherent in the young boy, Ged is apprenticed to the master (hermit) magician Ogion but Ged does not believe he is being properly trained by Ogion and disobeys his direct orders.
Ogion sends Ged to study on the Wizard island of Roke where he meets Vetch and Jasper. Ged as an impoverished wizard is looked down upon by the wealthy wizards on Roke and Ged and Jasper particularly do not get along. Conflict with Jasper escalates until Ged uses magic beyond his control and summons a gebbeth, a creature form beyond the wall of death. Realizing that this creature can kill him if he leaves Roke, Ged stays on the island for many years studying and learning – perhaps the most important lesson he learns is humility!
A fully functioning and extremely powerful Archmage, Ged is eventually sent to the Ninety Isles to serve the people there. Unfortunately his use of magic attracts the gebbeth that he had previously inadvertently released and Ged flees from its arrival. However Ged is no longer the same callow youth that had first arrived on Roke – even though he had to run, he was not going to leave his new charges defenseless. Using his power and knowledge, Ged is able to subdue a nearby dragon that had previously been tormenting the people of the Ninety Isles.
Ged continues his travels from island to island always staying just one step ahead of the gebbeth and eventually arrives back on Gont. Here he reconciles with Ogion and determines that instead of running from the gebbeth he should in fact be hunting it! Turning around and now pursuing the gebbeth, Ged chases the monster from island to island and eventually beyond the known world itself to the wall of death. Here Ged manages to defeat the gebbeth not by magic but by knowledge and acceptance.
As previously mentioned, this is not a heavy read and is suitable for all age groups. While written in the third person and perhaps a bit slower than more more modern epics, A Wizard of Earthsea definitely stands the test of time. As a (1979) Lewis Carroll Shelf Award winner, Le Guin’s works can be ranked among the best in the genre.
Character Growth & Development –
Ged transforms himself from callow youth to all powerful wizard. You can’t really ask for more in one tome in terms of growth and development and while its not all about the magic (he develops as a person too) his magical growth is astounding.
Story Growth & Development –
While the magic system is well defined – its not really new. Ged’s creation of the gebbeth – creating his own villian – was cool, but it didn’t really do anything … it was more the fear of what it could do versus anything else.
Overall Rating –
While it started out a bit slow, A Wizard of Earthsea was a good book and one I’d definitely recommend. It might not have all the umph and impact of a Jordon or Sanderson or for that matter the character death, dismemberment and overall angst of George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy, but for a quick and easy read … its well worth picking up.