A Wizard of Earthsea is the first book in what started out as the Earthsea trilogy and has since been expanded to include six books. It was published in 1968 and is considered to be one of the best high fantasy books… ever. I can’t help but agree.
Duny, later Sparrowhawk, later Ged, starts off in the town of Gont. He discovers that he has an affinity for magic and sets out to learn as many spells as he can. He starts with the local witch, before Ogion, a traveling wizard, takes him under his wing. Soon Ged finds himself at the Wizard School on Roke where he is fueled by jealousy and a need for greatness. His shortcomings lead to the release of an evil power that Ged must face in order to truly live again. But will Ged have the courage and strength to face a faceless, shapeless evil?
I absolutely loved this book. This was my second time reading it and yet I felt like I was reading it for the first time. There were several things I didn’t remember, which turned out to be a good thing!
One aspect of this book that I found fascinating was the concept of “true names.” When a character learns the true name of something, they gain a small power over that being. People hold their true names (Ged) secret and only reveal it to certain people. Others refer to them by their common names, which for Ged was Sparrowhawk. I think this is interesting because it made me consider that we all have a hidden name, or a hidden piece of ourselves, that we don’t allow the general public to see. Once a few trusted individuals know that part of ourselves, they have gained your trust and some of your power.
Ogion has to be one of my favorite characters throughout the book. He leads with a quiet, patient wisdom that Ged finds very frustrating. But, he is able to teach so much in no, or very few, words. This is a skill and a lesson more people could benefit from learning.
The story moves at a quick pace, spanning many years but fills in everything that you need to know to follow along. LeGuin writes in a very beautiful way that allows the reader to read a stand alone story, while hearing hints and tales of other stories. This really made me want to continue the series as I knew these tales would delve deeper and reveal more about The Archipelago.
I would definitely recommend this book to high school students. It does have dark themes and deals a lot with jealousy and a desire for power, but in a way that is approachable for all readers. This book would be especially enjoyable for students who already enjoy fantasy and want to dive deeper into the roots of the genre. This book also allows for a stand alone read or the continuation of a journey through the rest of the series.
Have you read any of Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea series?