A Wizard Of Earthsea, by Ursula Le Guin

Series: Earthsea Cycle, #1

First published: 1968

Publisher: Parnassus Press

This edition, published: 2012

Publisher: Penguin

Format: Paperback (omnibus)


Ged, the greatest sorcerer in all Earthsea, was called Sparrowhawk in his reckless youth. 

Hungry for power and knowledge, Sparrowhawk tampered with long-held secrets and loosed a terrible shadow upon the world. This is the tale of his testing, how he mastered the mighty words of power, tamed an ancient dragon, and crossed death’s threshold to restore the balance.

A Wizard Of Earthsea is one of those books for me that comes with the Shiny Patina of Classicness, one of the ones that you know a lot of people of have read and hold dear. Like The Lord Of The Rings. Now I may pick up a lot of flak for saying this (bring it on, fanpeople), but … I didn’t like the LOTR books. I pulled a geek muscle enjoying the movies. Not so with the books. Don’t get me wrong – I love worldbuilding, and Tolkien’s world is a wonderful one. But the narrative let me down. I got the sense that there was an epic, fantastic story in there. But good grief, it was dry. So, I struggled with it.

A Wizard Of Earthsea was a lot easier to read. I’ll say that for it. It’s a short book, and so the story is short.

Fleeting, even. And therein lies the problem, for me. I wanted more than I got.

Oh, it definitely had its moments – and, as with my first Le Guin encounter via The Left Hand Of Darkness, her talent for atmosphere and striking prose is exceptional. I just … wanted … more. I wanted more character exploration, and more time spent at various points along Ged’s journey in this book. Now, I’m willing to put some of the narrative style here down to this book maybe being a product of its time, which I am not at all complaining about. I kind of liked that ‘bard recounting a famous tale’ feel to it. It was a nice touch, and for reading this book to kids I imagine it would make it all kinds of fun for them. But I spent as much time thinking “no, wait, go back for a minute!” as I did going “Oooo…”

As I generally prefer to remain in Camp Positive about these things, I will say that I absolutely loved the scene where Ged confronts a dragon on its own island – well, sort of. Outsmarting a dragon while standing in a dinky boat on the water, while said dragon is practically the size of the island, takes a lot of steel-plated guts. I just loved it. It was almost Gandalf-esque. Le Guin’s style made the mental images I got throughout this book ones that I don’t mind recalling, and that one definitely stands out.

Now, I bought the Quartet edition of this book, so I have the remaining three Earthsea Cycle books there if I want to read them. The downside to the sort of done-by-halves end result I got from the first, however, is that I’m not entirely sure I want to jump back into it… On the flip side of the kind of response I described above is the kind where I felt more like yelling “WTF” – and in all honesty, the ending left me that way inclined. Again, it was just too brief. With an ending such as that one you want to feel like you’re there, that you’re hooked and can’t put it down … Here, it was over before I was ready, and if I’m being completely honest I almost threw the book across the room when I realised That Was That. 

Now, to be fair (there’s that Camp Positive membership showing again) Le Guin takes a more psychological than physical approach to Ged’s conflict with his demon, and that holds true to the end. But maybe that’s where the narrative style she takes gets in the way. In such a scenario, I want to really feel connected to the protagonist (not to mention the demon in question). I don’t feel like I got that connection, here. A first-person point of view would have gone a much longer way in that respect. So, again, I’m almost but not quite all the way in the Land Of Pulled Geek Muscles.

I liked this book. I did. I just didn’t love it – and I’m not certain if I want to spend all the time it would take to read the other books, when I could be moving on and reading something much better. The memory of how LOTR burned me that way still stings a bit, I suppose …

So, there it is. Do you agree? Disagree? Comment away! 

3 thoughts on “A Wizard Of Earthsea, by Ursula Le Guin

  1. I read the book when I was say…11? It impressed me with its imagery and some of the metaphysical concepts have become a part of my own creative inner terrain I will never forget.

    But I 100% agree with you here, and sadly, none of the other books are much different.

  2. At least one of the other books is from someone else’s point of view, a woman in fact. I can’t remember if it’s in first person or not … I just remember really liking it. For what it’s worth 🙂

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