Written by: Ursula K. Le Guin
Publication Info: 196,8 by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, this paperback edition with afterward published by Graphia, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing, in 2012.
One Line: In the islands of Earthsea, prideful wizard-in-training Ged makes a choice that will change the course of his destiny, and could change the destiny of Earthsea itself.
Brief Summary: The story begins with Ged, then unnamed, growing up in a small village in an island of northern Earthsea. His father is no friend to him, his mother is dead, and his aunt barely pays attention to him, until it is discovered that he has magical powers, just as she does. She is the village witch, and she teaches him all she knows, but he hungers for
Thoughts: A high fantasy novel, the first in a series of Earthsea novels, A Wizard of Earthsea is a good entrée into the genre, as its language is uncomplicated and Le Guin keeps the pace moving quickly. This makes it appropriate for younger teens, but is also something older teens and fantasy fans will enjoy. Not necessarily a typical quest novel, the story is somewhat episodic, up until Ged realizes he must deal with this shadow. Le Guin also subtly subverts some of the expectations of the genre – at least, as it was in 1968 – as none of the main characters are white, although it takes many chapters to realize that. The themes, like many fantasy novels, are good and evil, but here there is not a clear enemy, and “good” and “evil” are not necessarily black and white. Ged must battle something that he himself set free in the world, and in many ways it is part of him. Another theme is the idea of getting to know your true self: in Earthsea, everything has a true “name,” and it is only when you know the true name of something that you can have magical power over it. That is why people go by nicknames, instead of their true names, which are known only to a few. This seems to emphasize the need to truly get to the heart of someone – only when a person is completely trusted do you reveal your name, and Ged’s use of his own name at the end of the book shows a new understanding of himself. Another appealing thing about this fantasy, as opposed to many others, is the lack of battle and war, something in the afterward that Le Guin says was a very conscious decision, because she does not like that kind of black and white thinking.
The book succeeds not only in terms of good pacing, solid story, and a compelling character in Ged – a lesson to teens, of course, about excess pride – but in its respect for land and all living creatures. The elements of land all have names, as well, and the wizards get their power from the land. The proper treatment of animals is stressed throughout, as Ged, for much of the story, has a small creature called an otic living with him. This is a creature that rarely is friendly to humans, but when Ged is ill, the creature’s tender licking bring him back to life, and Ged vows not to underestimate the innate knowledge of animals and their connections to humans, a strong message in this age when we often take for granted the land we live on and the animals that live with us.
Author Information: From the author’s website http://www.ursulakleguin.com/Biography-70Word.html:” Ursula Kroeber Le Guin was born in 1929 in Berkeley, and lives in Portland, Oregon. As of 2013, she has published twenty-one novels, eleven volumes of short stories, four collections of essays, twelve books for children, six volumes of poetry and four of translation, and has received many honors and awards including Hugo, Nebula, National Book Award, PEN-Malamud. Her most recent publications are Finding My Elegy (New and Selected Poems, 1960-2010) and The Unreal and the Real (Selected Short Stories), 2012.”