A Wizard of Earthsea

by Urusla K. LeGuin
First sentence: “The island of Gont, a single mountain that lifts its peak a mile above the storm-racked Northeast Sea, is a land famous for wizards.”
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Content: There’s nothing objectionable, but it has an “older” feel to it. It’s in the YA sections (grades 6-8) of the bookstore. (I think. It might be in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section…)

I read this a long time ago — not as a kid, but before I started keeping a blog — and was underwhelmed. Since LeGuin recently passed away, I thought I’d give it another try.

And… I was still underwhelmed. The basic plot is the journey of a boy, Ged, becoming a wizard. He goes to school, unleashes a demon, fights a dragon, runs from said unleashed demon for years, until he finally faces his inner darkness and becomes a powerful wizard. Voila!

And that’s the problem with this book. Maybe it was the style of fantasy writing in the 1960s, but now? It just feels all surface and no depth. This happens and then that happens and we never really get to know Ged. We just follow him on his adventures. So when there’s this huge climax at the end where Ged fights the demon and names him and it’s all supposed to be so powerful, it’s just… not. I can see the influence she had on other writers: definitely Gaiman and it felt a little like Dianna Wynne Jones as well.

But, the afterword? The afterword that was written in 2012 was fantastic. LeGuin’s personal voice is smart and sassy and gave insights that I know I missed when I was reading it. So, maybe what I need to do is pick up some of LeGuin’s essays.

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2 thoughts on “A Wizard of Earthsea

  1. Interresting view point. I read it when it first came out and continued to follow the series as it developed. It is my all time favorite series. A writing workshop I went to several years ago mentioned it as a perfect novel.. That was about 10 years ago. I’ve read it at least a couple of times since it came out and I am in love with it each time. I would agree that the style of writing has changed a lot since it was written. It has a lot of narrative that tells instead of showing like writers are instructed to do today. There is a lot to be said for telling, in my opinion. It lets the reader use their imagination more., again my opinion.

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  2. It’s interesting to see how people react to this when they’ve grown up on the vast selection of children’s and YA fantasy available now, books that hearken back to this series even if they don’t know it. When this book came out, it was doing things that had never been done before, so to those of us who read it then, it was a revelation. But I suppose once you’ve read Harry Potter, Ged’s magical school is a little less exciting? Less colourful, anyway.

    I still love the spare, beautiful prose and the inevitable, mythic feel of the narrative. The Hero’s journey before Star Wars turned it into pop culture. I can’t separate my feelings about the book from my memories of reading and rereading it and being completely immersed in Ged’s world, so I’m not unbiased. But I think there’s a lot more going on in it than first meets the eye.

    You might want to try LeGuin’s adult science fiction. She was a brilliant woman and wrote quite brilliant books. Her short stories are great, too.

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