On A Wizard of Earthsea

Posted by Jack on 2017-12-02 at 18:00
Tagged: books
TitleA Wizard of Earthsea (Earthsea Cycle, #1)
AuthorUrsula K. Le Guin

I picked this up based on a recommendation of Le Guin despite the fact that I haven't been in much of a fantasy mood lately, and I was a bit put off by it being filed in the Teen section, expecting to find underdeveloped Mary Sue characters that apparently plague teen media these days.

I'm really glad I gave it a chance, because it's so much better than that.

This book moves fast. The main story is only about 200 pages, but it covers about 15-20 years and the titular wizard, Ged, has many adventures. It's much more akin to reading Earthsea mythology than fantasy epics like LOTR or ASOIAF. Ged is like a wizard version of Hercules progressing through a series of trials.

In addition, I really appreciated that this is a more personal tale than most fantasy. Ged is the only main character, and the book never deviates from his story. It's intimated early on that Ged will be a Big Important Wizard some day, but for this book Ged's problems are his own. There is no political level, there are no wars being fought. There isn't an us versus them dynamic that ends the book with an obligatory climactic battle. No, Ged fights some specific evil, but most of his conflict is with himself (albeit made physical in a way that only fantasy can achieve).

The book is written in a very classic, medieval fantasy voice that could be a bit of a stumbling block for a novice reader, but overall Le Guin does a great job of making it feel like this story is ancient and profound without being too dense or overwrought. She also does really well on giving the sense that the world of Earthsea is deep and alive, without necessarily getting on the Tolkien level of mythos.

My version includes a 2012 afterword that is an interesting note on Le Guin's thought process writing the book and puts it's initial 1968 publishing into context, so check it out if it's in your copy as well.

Anyway, I think I'll pass this one on to my daughter and see what she thinks.