A Wizard of Earthsea

I first read this… I don’t remember when. I think I was at primary school. And I’m not sure whether I’ve read it since, but it had a very big impact on me. I could still remember a lot of the little details, and my fierce appreciation, fear, and sympathy for Ged.

UnknownA friend who read this as an adult just couldn’t cope with Le Guin. It made me think that perhaps Le Guin is like a really amazing pencil sketch, where someone like Martin or other such epic writers are oil painters. Le Guin doesn’t waste words; she doesn’t give lush, page-long descriptions. But this isn’t a detraction; she’s evocative and masterful in her language, and she tells a grand tale in (in my copy) well under 200 pages. That’s not something to be frowned upon! … but it could be something that people with tastes shaped by more modern fantasy writers find hard to cope with. And that’s fine; it’s just a different tastes thing.

I love that Le Guin starts with Ged as a wild young thing. I read somewhere that when she was commissioned to write a children’s book she looked at the wizards she knew and they were all old men (she’s a big LOTR fan), and she thought: how did they get there? So forty years before Rowling, she wrote of a wizard school. And Ged is nothing like Harry.

The friendships are wonderfully understated but nonetheless feel real; the dangers are never dwelt on in horrific detail but are nevertheless palpable. Ged’s efforts, his fears, his determination – all come through. Perhaps this is why I appreciate Rosaleen Love: her sparse language is a lot like Le Guin’s, and they both manage to capture a great deal in few words.

I also love that the only white-skinned people in this story are the invading barbarians, who only occupy a few pages.

6 responses

  1. Thanks; this has been on my re-read pile for a while and I will get to it soon!

  2. […] up to date with Saga (in trade); The Chimes, Anna Smaill; A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, The Farthest Shore, Ursula le Guin; Etiquette and Espionage, and Curtsies and […]

  3. […] ones. Don’t get me wrong – I adore Ged, and I love the quests and the excitement of A Wizard and The Farthest Shore. But there’s something wonderful about Tenar as a character, and […]

  4. I love the old school covers of these books. A Wizard of Earthsea was my first encounter with a non-white main character in a fantasy world which was both a revelation and comfort for me to see as a young reader.

    1. I don’t honestly remember noticing that Ged wasn’t white. I presume I just saw the comments about dark skin and said “uhuh” and kept reading; it wasn’t significant to young me but it wasn’t off-putting either. Now, of course – whole ‘nother thing.

      1. It was definitely a subtle inclusion. The cover of my school library copy had the most accurate illustration of what Ged looked like (art by David Bergen) which probably helped me picture him.

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