2. A Wizard of Earthsea

Weeheey! The second book on my reading challenge is done! This is something I wouldn’t have usually read. I literally have no idea where this book has come from, I’m pretty sure my book collection has gotten up to some hanky panky and this is the result. So here we are Ursula Le Guin’s, A Wizard of Earthsea. But before we go any further, I’ve never read any Le Guin before and had no idea who she was beyond a name that I’ve heard of. So I did a little reading:

Le Guin exploits the creative flexibility of the science fiction and fantasy genres to undertake thorough explorations both of dimensions of social and psychological identity and of broader cultural and social structures. In doing so, she draws on sociology, anthropology, and psychology, leading some critics to categorize her work as soft science fiction. She has objected to this classification of her writing, arguing the term is divisive and implies a narrow view of what constitutes valid science fiction. There are also the underlying ideas of anarchism and environmentalism that make repeated appearances throughout Le Guin’s work. – Wikipedia

She was influenced by Tolkien and allegedly was in the same high school class as Philip K Dick but they did not know each other. My reliable source, Wikipedia, has told me this. This is the point now where I realise that its notable gap that Le Guin hasn’t appeared on my reading list before. Particularly as the themes she handles listed above are things I’m really interested in. Damn.


A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin

Yes, this is an old copy, I’m not sure if its ever been read before, the pages are tea-stained and its got a distinct old charity bookshop smell. As I was reading it, I broke the spine and some of the pages foxed and are now threatening to fall out. Yes I am a monster. I love breaking the spines of my books.

I’ve been having a good couple of weeks, I’ve been generally a little productive (yes I am still procrastinating from that writing challenge that I still have not sorted) and I’ve had adventures even if they’ve been small. I’ve been walking and looking after myself better than I maybe have done for a while and this is literally the best moment to rediscover just how much I adore pure fantasy. I read a lot of fantasy when I was growing up, I have a soft spot for dragons and this novel was a little nostalgic ride. I’d have loved this book at fourteen. There’s magic and dragons and travelling, it’s a coming of age story that’s easily read and is fast paced. But it’s not without its twists and turns and conflicts.

The novel follows the young mage Ged through his life, his learning and then his struggle with a Shadow. The Shadow pursues him across the entire of Earthsea threatening to swallow his power and himself. The Shadow acts as the mirror of Ged himself, at first he fears it and runs from it. Ultimately running from the nameless Shadow fails he is led into traps or tricked into exhaustion. This mirror of himself, or I suppose part of himself, runs from him as Ged begins to chase it across Earthsea flipping the tables. This Shadow remains nameless and uncertain through the majority of the novel. How to defeat it is never clear until the ending.

However, this is the main line of the narrative Ged encounters a variety of people – not all of them wishing him well. As storytelling goes, Le Guin crafts a story very well and this would read very well verbally. Magic is a rich part of the narrative, many have access to it and slightly different belief systems exist depending on region. Magic that relies on a particular equilibrium prevails through the novel, a give and take, very much echoing the alchemy in the anime/manga Full Metal Alchemist.

In fact, the central theme of this novel seems to be finding an equilibrium in life and the tasks that you encounter, that there cannot be an action without a reaction. Which is rather moralistic wouldn’t you say?

Overall, I enjoyed this novel, however I’m not sure if I would read it again. I dare say I would revisit Ursula Le Guin’s writing. I’ve had a quick look, A Wizard of Earthsea was named for the Lewis Caroll Shelf Award list in 1979 and its not the only of her works that have been recognised. There are a few National Book awards, Nebula Awards, Hugo Awards, Locus Fantasy Awards all attributed to her work.

I would certainly read another of Le Guin’s works and I enjoyed A Wizard of Earthsea even if it was partly because of a nostalgic love of fantasy and dragons.


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