Ursula K. Le Guin

"A Wizard of Earthsea (The Earthsea Cycle, Book 1)"

(Reviewed by Jana L. Perskie DEC 12, 2005)

A Wizard of  Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin

A Wizard of Earthsea
is the first of a trilogy set in the World of Earthsea long ago, during a time when dragons, wizards and magic were not uncommon, nor yet extinct. The island of Gont, located in the stormy Northeast Sea, is a land famous for its wizards. Gont's most famous native son was Ged, called Sparrowhawk, who in his day became both dragonlord and Archmage. His life is told in the "Deed of Ged," in many other stories and songs, and in this book.

Duny, a boy from the village of Ten Alders, was fascinated by his aunt's small "women's" magic. She was the local witch, no dark sorceress, but someone of use to the townspeople with her herbs and simple spells. The boy seemed to have a natural inclination for magic, and his aunt taught him a variety of tricks. His innate skills were put to a test when hordes of vicious Kargs invaded his homeland. His quick thinking allowed him to tap into his limited repertoire and come up with a spell to enshroud the village and its inhabitants in fog. Thus they were invisible to the enemy and almost everyone was saved. Word of the deed spread until Ogion the Silent, the great mage of Re Albi who tamed an earthquake, finally heard of Duny. Ogion comes for the boy on his thirteenth birthday and gives him his "true name," which is Ged. And Ged takes the use-name (nickname) of Sparrowhawk. Very few in this world know a person's true name, "because who knows a man's true name, holds that man's life in his keeping."

Ged travels with Ogion to Re Albi as his apprentice, learning to read and write the Six Hundred Runes of Hardic and proves to be an adept student. He finds he has developed a power which allows him to call animals. However, Ged is tempted by magic clearly forbidden to one so inexperienced, and makes a terrible mistake. From this incident, Ged and Ogion learn that he has become too powerful at too young an age and is not able to control the magic within. The boy decides to leave his beloved mentor and travel to Roke Island and the School (for sorcery). Here he studies under the Archmage Nemmerle, Warder of Roke and the nine Masters of Roke. He finds that a wizard's life is spent learning the true name of things in the old tongue. Power to a mage must be kept in balance. Every action has a reaction. Again, training goes extremely well for Ged until pride and willfulness cause him to step over the line again, and foolishly use power which he not yet mastered. This time the consequences are truly horrific and will have a lasting effect on his life.

Ged must move on, past this trauma to body and spirit, and continue to seek wisdom while he prepares to confront his monsters. He must also serve as sorcerer to the people he made a contract with. His adventures along the way are thrilling, as is the novel's extraordinary climax. This is a phenomenal book.

Although this novel, and the entire trilogy, has been classified as children's books, I don't know whether I totally agree with the label or classification. The plots may well be appreciated by children and adults alike, but the prose, the very language used to form the riveting storylines, is as rich and flavorful as dark Belgian chocolate. I had to stop several times to read descriptive passages aloud, to listen to the music of the narrative. The author paints a universe of landscapes with words, and they're as vivid in the mind's eye as seeing the real thing. The narrative voice is bard-like, as if relating a legend of long ago. Ms. LeGuin's exposure to Native American legends as well as Norse mythology is evident in her writing. She is the daughter of anthropologists and throughout her fiction there seems to be a deep understanding of how societies work, how they are built and evolve. Ursula Le Guin is an artist, pure and simple, as well as a magical writer.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 352 reviews
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"Tales from Earthsea"

(Reviewed by Cindy Lynn Speer JUN 16, 2002)

So these are reports of my explorations and discoveries: tales from Earthsea for those who have liked or think they might like the place, and who are willing to accept these hypotheses:

things change:
authors and wizards are not always to be trusted:
nobody can explain a dragon.

- Ursula LeGuin, from the introduction.

Tales from Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin

I have never read Ursula LeGuin's Earthsea novels. I meant to, my mother has them and has long suggested them to me, but I just never managed to get around to any of them. I will now.

Tales From Earthsea is a set of five short stories and an appendix called "A Description of Earthsea." The stories range from the romantic to the adventurous. "The Finder" tells the story of Otter, who escapes slavery to help start the school of wizardry on Roke island. I found it clever, if sometimes sad, and it does a good job of introducing the readers to the rules of this new world. Hugo nominated "The Bones of the Earth" is a tale of the relationship between apprentice and teacher, and of ultimate sacrifice. I thought this story was wonderful because of the interaction between the talkative Wizard Dulse, who lives a quiet life on the farm, and his graduated apprentice Silence.

The title characters in "Darkrose and Diamond" must decide if their love is strong enough to defy convention. Like all romances, this one has its slightly frustrating moments, balanced by magical ones. "On the High Marsh" is about a mysterious stranger who comes to cure the cattle during a time of plague, and about his quiet, subtle romance with the widow who lets him stay at her house. I enjoyed this one because most romantic stories happen between the young, but the couple here are older, and their relationship is more comfortable, sweeter.

The final story, "Dragonfly" is very well done, but it is almost a prologue for the next book, The Other Wind (which came out in hardcover in September 2001) and therefore I couldn't enjoy it as much. I like my short stories to finish, and it really doesn't. She made me care enough for the characters in the story, especially Dragonfly, a woman who dares to enter the school of wizards at a time where women are not taught wizardry, hoping to find out who she really is. Finding the answer is the end of the short story, and the beginning of another. I will pick up the next book, just to find out what happens to her. The appendix does a wonderful job of explaining the rules of Earthsea, why names are so important, the languages, the kings, and in its own was is just as fulfilling a story.

If you have read the series before, then this book will be a pleasure for you to read, not only for the little back-story fill ins, but because each little adventure is like a trip into different times in Earthsea history. If you are new, like I was, then this book will be a wonderful introduction. You'll get all the color, the magic, the dragons...enough, and more to get a taste of LeGuin's wonderful world and decide if you would like to pursue the other books in the series.

The other books in the series are A Wizard of Earthsea, The Farthest Shore, The Tombs of Atuan and Tehanu (see bibliography below). Ursula LeGuin herself says in the introduction that she thought she was done with Earthsea with Tehanu, in fact, the paperback version bears the legend "The last book of Earthsea." on the cover. When friends suggested she do a short story or two set in the old world, she thought about it, and realized that Earthsea had changed since she last wrote about it, stories that she thought she knew the end of took a totally different turn. Suddenly, she had more things to say about the world she started writing about so many years ago. If The Other Wind is anything like her Tales from Earthsea, then I hope that she continues to find stories that need telling for many years to come.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 43 reviews
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"The Left Hand of Darkness"

(Reviewed by Judi Clark FEB 15, 1998)

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K LeGuin

Imagine no sexual identity neither male nor female.  The Gethenians are not neuters, they are potentials.  During each sexual cycle they may develop in either direction for the duration of the cycle.  No physiological habit is established - the mother of several children may also be the father of several other children.   There is no weaker sex.  Moreover, they live on the planet that the Terrans aptly name Winter.  It is the task of the first Ekumenical landing party of Gethen to document their findings of this interesting planet.

This book and The Dispossessed are two of my favorite all time novels. With each, when I got to the last page, I returned to the beginning just to check out a few details (I often do this) and the next thing I knew, I had completely re-read the book!  No wonder she won both the Hugo and Nebula for each of these books.

  • Amazon.com reader rating: from 90 reviews

Chapter Excerpt from The Dispossed at the HarperCollins

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"The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia"

(Reviewed by Judi Clark FEB 15, 1998)

The Dispossed by Ursula K. LeGuin

Shevek is a brilliant physicist, and as such he must question the unthinkable, and attempt to tear down the walls of hatred that have isolated his planet of anarchists from the rest of the "civilized" universe.  He decides to make the unprecedented journey from his home planet Annarres to the utopian mother planet, Urras, giving up family and possibly his own life. 

Shevek's home world by our standard would be considered a utopian society (or at least a study in anarchy), yet he believes a world more similar to ours (one based on greed and violence with lots of laws) is the utopian world. This twist in the story had me fascinated. It is no wonder that Le Guin's writing is considered "anthropological" science fiction.

  • Amazon.com reader rating: from 146 reviews
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"Searoad: Chronicles of Klatsand"

(Reviewed by Judi Clark MAR 14, 1999)

Searoad: Chronicles of Klatsand by Ursula K LeGuin

I picked up this book expecting another alien world like the previous novels I had read by this author.  To my surprise, Klatsand is a typical beach town in Oregon. LeGuin chronicles four generations of Hernes women.  The story is told like it would be in any small town.  As per her usual, even writing realistic fiction she is meticulous in detailing the location and the people. It is a beautiful read.

If you find a copy of this novel, I highly recommend you pick it up, especially if you are not strictly into reading science fiction. 

  • Amazon.com reader rating: from 146 reviews

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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)

Original Hainish Novels

Earthsea Novels

Annals of the Western Shore:

Short Story Collections:


E-Book Study Guide:


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Book Marks:


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About the Author:

Ursula K. Le GuinUrsula K. Le Guin was born in 1929 in Berkeley, California, where she grew up.  Her parents were anthropologist Alfred Kroeber and writer Theodora Kroeber, author of Ishi.   She went to Radcliffe College and did graduate work at Columbia University.   She married Charles A. Le Guin, a historian, in Paris in 1951. They live in Portland, Oregon, and have three children and two grandchildren.

Le Guin has written poetry and fiction all her life.  She writes in various modes, including realistic fiction, science fiction, fantasy, young children's books, books for young adults, screenplays, essays, verbal texts for musicians, and voicetexts for performance or recording.  She has published over eighty short stories, two collections of essays, ten books for children, several volumes of poetry and sixteen novels.  Among the honors her writing has received are a National Book Award, five Hugo and five Nebula Awards, the Kafka Award, a Pushcart Prize, the Howard Vursell Award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Tales for Earthsea is a 2002 Endeavour Finalist.

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