A Wizard of Earthsea

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A Wizard of Earthsea
Robbins cover of first edition[1]
Author Ursula K. Le Guin
Illustrator Ruth Robbins[2]
Cover artist Ruth Robbins (depicted)
Country United States
Language English
Series Earthsea Cycle
Genre Fantasy novel, Bildungsroman
Published 1968 (Parnassus Press)
Media type Print (hardcover & paperback)
Pages 205 pp (first edition)[1]
ISBN 0-395-27653-5
OCLC 1210
Preceded by The Rule of Names (short story)
Followed by The Tombs of Atuan

A Wizard of Earthsea is a fantasy novel by the American author Ursula K. Le Guin, first published by the small press Parnassus in 1968. Set in the fictional archipelago of Earthsea, the story relates the education of a young mage named Ged under the tutelage of his aunt (a village witch), as an apprentice to a wizard, at a school of wizardry, and finally through a quest of self-discovery. The tale of Ged's growth and development continues in four subsequent novels, which are set a few years later and towards the end of his long life.

Le Guin's so-called Earthsea cycle came to include the novels The Tombs of Atuan (1971), The Farthest Shore (1972), Tehanu (1990), and The Other Wind (2001).[1][a] The author has also written seven short stories set in Earthsea, two of which preceded the novels.

In 1987, Locus ranked A Wizard of Earthsea number three among the 33 "All-Time Best Fantasy Novels", based on a poll of subscribers.[3][b] The Earthsea series has won numerous literary awards including a 1979 Lewis Carroll Shelf Award for A Wizard of Earthsea, one of seven added to the figurative bookshelf that year.


In 1967, Herman Schein (the publisher of Parnassus Press and the husband of Ruth Robbins, the illustrator of the book)[4] asked Le Guin to try writing a book "for older kids", giving her complete freedom for the subject and the approach.[5]

Le Guin has said that the book was in part a response to the image of wizards as ancient and wise, and to her wondering where they come from.[citation needed] Her short stories, "The Rule of Names" (1964) and "The Word of Unbinding" (1964), established some of the groundwork for the original Earthsea trilogy.[6]

Further inspiration came from the work of her parents, anthropologists Alfred L. Kroeber and Theodora Kroeber, with Ishi.

Plot summary[edit]

Ged’s early education[edit]

The story begins with the protagonist as a young boy named Duny tending goats in a mountain village of Gont, an island in the northeast of Earthsea. Because Duny's mother died during his infancy, elder brothers left home, and his father is a taciturn blacksmith, Duny grew up with little care or affection, becoming self-centered and willful. His aunt, the village witch, discovering Duny’s power to command animals using overheard words of the True Speech, begins training him to help her. Her promises of glory, wealth, and power appeal to his pride. Seen often summoning birds of prey, he is nicknamed Sparrowhawk, which becomes the name he is generally known by.

Duny first shows his great power when he saves his village from Kargish invaders, using a simple fog-weaving spell to conceal his village and lead the invaders astray with illusory shapes. But Duny overspends his power and falls into a trance. Word of his deed reaches Ogion the Silent, the Mage of Re Albi, who comes to Ten Alders village and heals the boy. Explaining that Duny must be trained so he does not misuse his power, Ogion takes him as an apprentice after Duny turns thirteen and has his naming ceremony in early autumn. In the rite of passage into adulthood, Ogion takes away the boy’s birth-name and gives him his "true name", Ged. In Earthsea, all things have a name in the True Speech, an original language magically connected to physical nature. Magic consists in manipulating the natural world through knowledge of true names.

Craving knowledge and power, Ged soon becomes frustrated with Ogion, who wishes to teach him patience and respect for order in nature, referred to by wizards as the Balance. One day, wishing to show off to a witch-girl who doubts his power, Ged looks for a shape-changing spell in his master’s books. But the girl has put a charm on him that forces him to read a spell for summoning spirits of the dead so she can see it through his eyes. After Ogion returns and dispels an ominous shadow that appeared in their hut, he reproves Ged for his irresponsibility. Though Ged has come to love his master, his ambition leads him to accept Ogion’s offer to send him to the school for wizards on Roke.

The school for wizards[edit]

At the school, Ged’s skill inspires admiration, envy, and rumors he will someday be Archmage. He also shows his affinity with nature when, returning alone from an isolated tower, a small wild animal called an otak becomes his companion. However, Ged unwisely studies magic beyond his level and ignores warnings about respecting the Balance, arrogantly believing that a powerful wizard need fear nothing. Moreover, he begins a fateful rivalry with an older student named Jasper, who looks down on Ged as inferior in both social class and power. At a midsummer festival when Ged is fifteen, this rivalry culminates in a duel in which, as he tries to prove his power by summoning a spirit of the dead, his spell goes awry. A rip in the fabric of the world opens to the realm of the dead, and a shapeless shadow creature passes through, attacking Ged and mutilating his face. The Archmage Nemmerle drives off the shadow and restores Balance, though it costs him all of his power and he dies soon after.

After many months healing in the school’s infirmary, Ged resumes his studies with a badly scarred face and psychological scars that rob him of all his former confidence. The new Archmage, Gensher, refuses Ged’s oath of fealty because he suspects he may be evil. Warning Ged that only Roke’s magical barriers protect him from the shadow, Gensher describes the creature as an ancient and nameless evil that wishes to possess Ged’s body, making him a gebbeth. Guilt-ridden from causing the Archmage’s death and doubting his own nature, Ged learns slowly and is always wary of the potential harm of using his power. Ged’s faith in himself is restored somewhat by a visit from his friend Vetch, who, before leaving Roke, confides his true name, Estarriol.

Ged’s first job and flight from the shadow[edit]

Ged graduates from the Roke school in the spring when he is 18. Avoiding “fame and display,” he accepts a job protecting poor villagers of the Ninety Isles from a feared attack by dragons. There, Ged befriends a fisherman named Pechvarry and his son, Ioeth. In autumn, the boy becomes sick with fever. While trying to save him by pursuing his spirit into the land of the dead, Ged sees the shadow creature waiting for him at the border of the two realms and knows it will soon find him. As he lies again in a trance after this first spirit journey, Ged is only wakened through the instinctive wisdom of his pet otak, which licks its companion to comfort him. Realizing that he cannot both defend the villagers and fight the shadow, Ged decides to remove the threat of the dragons to free himself of responsibility to the islanders. Sailing to Pendor, he kills five young dragons that attack him and, guessing the father dragon’s true name is Yevaud, exacts a promise that he and his brood will never threaten the archipelago. Yevaud tries to bribe Ged by offering riches and the name of the shadow, but Ged resists the temptation to make a deal for his own benefit.

Closely pursued by the shadow, Ged tries to return to Roke’s safety but is blocked by the island’s protective mage-wind. Taking the advice of a stranger to seek help at the Court of the Terrenon in Osskil, Ged flees north, sensing the creature draws strength from his fear and uncertainty. On Osskil, the shadow nearly catches him when it takes possession of his guide and prevents Ged from using magic by saying his true name. Fleeing in terror, Ged stumbles through a castle gate as the creature claws off his robe and kills his pet otak. Ged wakes to find himself in the castle of Benderesk, who is the lord of the Terranon, a stone locked in the castle’s depths. Benderesk’s wife, Lady Serret, shows Ged the stone and tempts him to speak to it, claiming it can give him limitless knowledge and power. Believing the stone harbors an ancient and evil spirit, Ged will not speak to it even as a means to defeat the shadow, and he declares, “Ill means, ill end.” When Serret tries to tempt Ged again, also offering to rule by his side, he sees Benderesk eavesdropping and realizes they wish to enslave him to use his power. Benderesk tries to transform his wife to punish her disloyalty, but Ged counters the spell and leads Serret outside the enchanted castle, where her appearance changes slightly and he recognizes her as the daughter of the lord of Re Albi. Pursued then by prehistoric flying beasts that serve the stone, Serret is caught and killed after changing into a gull while Ged escapes over the sea in the form of a falcon.

Shadow quest[edit]

The falcon Ged returns to Gont, where Ogion recognizes him and returns him to his true form. After hearing of Ged’s experiences, Ogion asserts, “All things have a name,” and he advises that the shadow must be faced to be understood. When Ged then buys a boat and starts hunting the shadow, it seems the very act of turning his will against it gives him strength, for the creature immediately flees. Ged pursues it southeast across the sea until, seeming to use Ged's own trick against him, it lures him into a fog where his boat is wrecked on a reef. While marooned on an islet, Ged recovers with the help of an elderly couple who were apparently abandoned on the island as child heirs of a defeated Kargish royal family. The woman gives Ged part of a broken bracelet as a gift, which he later learns is half of the lost Ring of Erreth-Akbe.

Making a new boat of driftwood bound by spells, Ged continues after the shadow until it leads him into a steep-walled inlet of the eastern isle of the Hands. When Ged is unable to grasp the creature's smoky form, it flees again; but a bond is established that enables Ged to sense where it goes. After stopping to buy a boat from an old man, healing his cataracts in payment, Ged continues to the isle of Vemish, where he learns a man with his appearance was seen crossing the island and walking out to sea. Going then to Iffish, Ged meets his friend Vetch, who has also seen the shadow in Ged’s form.

After the winter solstice (Sunreturn), Vetch insists on accompanying Ged on his quest, and they eventually leave the last island of the East Reach, heading out into the open sea. One morning, Ged wakes before dawn fearing that the shadow has found a way to escape and doom him. Hurrying onward by the power of his magewind, at nightfall they reach a dark shore that appears to be a magically manifested frontier of the land of the dead, later described as “the coasts of death’s kingdom.” After Ged steps out of the boat and walks into the darkness, the shadow advances toward him, taking the forms of many people Ged has known and finally becoming shapeless. As they meet, they both say the name “Ged,” embrace, and become one. The normal condition of the sea is then restored, and Vetch worriedly retrieves his friend from the water. As they sail west again and see the setting sun, Ged laughs and weeps, saying, “I am whole, I am free.” Until then afraid that his friend was possessed, Vetch understands that the creature was Ged’s spirit of death and that Ged could only reunite with it by understanding it as part of himself——by “knowing his whole true self.” The story ends with their return after 16 more days at sea to Vetch’s home, where his sister Yarrow greets them joyfully.

Major characters[edit]

A wizard on Gont, student of Heleth and master of Ged; called Ogion.
A mage of Iffish, friend of Ged. Called Vetch.
Protagonist of the story; a wizard called Sparrowhawk.
A sorcerer of O. Son of Enwit, born in the domain of Eolg, Havnor. Childhood rival of Ged.
Archmage of Roke when Ged is young. Formerly the Master Patterner.
A boatmaker of the Ninety Isles. He befriends Ged when Ged first arrives. Ged fails to save his sick son Ioeth.
Daughter of the Lord of Re Albi, wife of Benderesk. The name means "silver" in Osskilian.
An Osskilian who becomes possessed by the shadow that is unwittingly released into Earthsea by Ged.
The Dragon of Pendor.


  • Bulgarian: "Магьосникът от Землемория", first 1984
  • Catalan: "Un mag de Terramar", 1986, ISBN 84-3503-354-6
  • Chinese(Traditional): "地海巫師", 2002, ISBN 986801090X
  • Czech: "Čaroděj Zeměmoří", 1992, ISBN 80-7254-272-9
  • Danish: "Troldmanden fra Jordhavet"
  • Estonian: "Meremaa võlur"
  • Finnish: "Maameren Velho", first 1976
  • French: "Le sorcier de Terremer"
  • German: "Der Magier der Erdsee", first 1979, ISBN 3-453-30594-9
  • Greek: "Ο μάγος του αρχιπελάγους"
  • Hebrew: "הקוסם מארץ ים", first 1985
  • Hungarian: "A Szigetvilág varázslója", first 1989 ISBN 963-11-6420-9
  • Icelandic: "Galdramaðurinn", 1977
  • Indonesian : "A wizard of Earthsea", 2010, ISBN 978-602-97067-0-3
  • Italian: "Il Mago di Terramare", or "Il Mago di Earthsea", or "Il Mago"
  • Lithuanian: "Žemjūrės burtininkas", first 1992
  • Serbian: Čarobnjak Zemljomorja, first 1988
  • Polish: "Czarnoksiężnik z Archipelagu", 1983, ISBN 83-7469-227-8
  • Portuguese: "O Feiticeiro de Terramar", 1980, ISBN 978-972-23-2817-3, and "O Feiticeiro e a Sombra", 2003, ISBN 972-23-2817-4
  • Russian: "Волшебник Земноморья", also "Маг Земноморья", first 1990, ISBN 978-5-699-29645-3
  • Romanian: "Un vrăjitor din Terramare", first 2007
  • Slovak: "Čarodej Zememorí", 2004, ISBN 8071458937
  • Spanish: "Un mago de Terramar", 2000, ISBN 978-84-450-7333-9
  • Swedish: "Trollkarlen från övärlden", ISBN 91-29-65814-4
  • Turkish: "Yerdeniz Büyücüsü", 2003, ISBN 978-975-342-057-0, first 1998 Metis Yayınları
  • Ukrainian: "Чарівник Земномор'я", 2006, ISBN 966-692-809-4


A condensed, illustrated version of the first chapter was printed by World Books in the third volume of Childcraft in 1989.[7]

BBC Radio produced a radioplay version in 1996 narrated by Judi Dench.[8]

An original mini-series titled Legend of Earthsea was broadcast in 2005 on the Sci Fi Channel. It is based very loosely on A Wizard of Earthsea and The Tombs of Atuan. Le Guin has stated that she was not pleased with the result, which included "whitewashing Earthsea."[9]

Studio Ghibli released an adaptation of the series in 2006 titled Tales from Earthsea. The film very loosely combines elements of the first, third, and fourth books into a new story. Le Guin has commented with displeasure on the results.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Earthsea Cycle series listing at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database. Select a title to see its linked publication history and general information. Select a particular edition (title) for more data at that level, such as a front cover image or linked contents.
  2. ^ Locus subscribers voted only two Middle-earth novels by J. R. R. Tolkien ahead of Le Guin's Wizard.


  1. ^ a b c A Wizard of Earthsea title listing at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (ISFDB).
  2. ^ The first edition cover image (depicted) a little unclearly credits "Drawings by Ruth Robbins". ISFDB does not mention the interior illustrations, if any.
  3. ^ "Locus Poll Best All-time Novel Results: 1987, fantasy novels". Locus. Retrieved 2012-04-12. Originally published in the monthly Locus, August 1987. 
  4. ^ Sieruta, Peter D. (March 2, 2011). "Smud-ged in Earthsea". collectingchildrensbooks.blogspot.com. Archived from the original on 28 April 2011. Retrieved 2011-04-28. 
  5. ^ Esmonde, Margaret P. (1981). "The Good Witch of the West.". Children's Literature (Project MUSE database.: The Johns Hopkins University Press) 9: 185–190. doi:10.1353/chl.0.0112. ISSN 1543-3374. Retrieved 2011-04-28. 
  6. ^ Le Guin, Ursula, The Wind's Twelve Quarters, (New York, Harper & Row, October 1975), foreword.
  7. ^ "The Boy Who Became A Wizard". Childcraft: Stories and poems. World Book, Inc. 1989. pp. 176–187. 
  8. ^ "A Wizard of Earthsea". Retrieved 2011-07-10. 
  9. ^ Le Guin, Ursula (December 16, 2004). "A Whitewashed Earthsea - How the Sci Fi Channel wrecked my books.". slate.com. Retrieved 2011-07-10. 
  10. ^ Le Guin, Ursula. "A First Response to Gedo Senki.". Archived from the original on 17 July 2011. Retrieved 2011-07-10. 
  • Bernardo, Susan M.; Murphy, Graham J. (2006). Ursula K. Le Guin: A Critical Companion (1st ed.). Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-313-33225-8. 
  • Bloom, Harold, ed. (1986). Ursula K. Le Guin (Modern Critical Views) (1st ed.). New York, NY: Chelsea House. ISBN 0-87754-659-2. 
  • Cadden, Mike (2005). Ursula K. Le Guin Beyond Genre: Fiction for Children and Adults (1st ed.). New York, NY: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-99527-2. 
  • Drout, Michael (2006). Of Sorcerers and Men: Tolkien and the Roots of Modern Fantasy Literature (1st ed.). China: Barnes & Noble. ISBN 978-0-7607-8523-2. 
  • Martin, Philip (2009). A Guide to Fantasy Literature: Thoughts on Stories of Wonder & Enchantment (1st ed.). Milwaukee, WI: Crickhollow Books. ISBN 978-1-933987-04-0. 
  • Mathews, Richard (2002). Fantasy: The Liberation of Imagination (1st ed.). New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-93890-2. 
  • Pringle, David (1988). Modern fantasy: the hundred best novels: an English language selection, 1946-1987 (1st ed.). London: Grafton Books. ISBN 0-87226-219-7. 
  • Spivack, Charlotte (1984). Ursula K. Le Guin (1st ed.). Boston, MA: Twayne Publishers. ISBN 0-8057-7393-2. 

External links[edit]