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 young-adult fantasy novel written 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 follows the education of a young mage named Ged who joins the school of wizardry. A Wizard of Earthsea is widely regarded as a classic of fantasy and young-adult literature and was one of the final recipients of the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award, an award that recognized outstanding children's literature.[3] Le Guin would later write five subsequent books that, together with A Wizard of Earthsea, are referred to as the Earthsea Cycle: The Tombs of Atuan (1971), The Farthest Shore (1972), Tehanu (1990), The Other Wind (2001), and Tales from Earthsea (2001).

Margaret Atwood has called A Wizard of Earthsea one of the "wellsprings" of fantasy literature,[4] illustrating Le Guin's influence within the genre. A Wizard of Earthsea has been compared to major fantasy works such as J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings[5] and L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.[6] Modern writers have credited A Wizard of Earthsea for introducing the idea of a "wizard school," which would later be made famous by the Harry Potter series of books.[5]


Early concepts for the Earthsea setting were developed in two short stories, "The Rule of Names" (1964) and "The Word of Unbinding" (1964), both published in Fantastic. These stories introduced important concepts, such as Le Guin's treatment of magic, but do not include any characters that would appear in A Wizard of Earthsea. In 1967, Herman Schein (the publisher of Parnassus Press and the husband of Ruth Robbins, the illustrator of the book)[7] asked Le Guin to try writing a book "for older kids," giving her complete freedom for the subject and the approach.[8] Drawing from her short stories, Le Guin began work on A Wizard of Earthsea. 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.[9]

Plot summary[edit]

The novel follows Duny, a young boy born on the island of Gont. Discovering that he has the potential to be a powerful wizard, his aunt, the village witch trains him in magic. Duny often uses his power to call birds of prey to him, earning the nickname "Sparrowhawk." When Sparrowhawk is nearly thirteen, his village is attacked by Kargish invaders. He summons a fog to conceal his village and distract the attackers, although the effort leaves him mute. Hearing of this incident the powerful mage Ogion heels Sparrowhawk and takes him as an apprentice, giving him his "true name"—Ged. Ogion tries to teach Ged about the "balance," the concept that magic can upset the natural order of the world if used improperly. In an attempt to impress a girl he meets, Ged searches Ogion's spell-books and inadvertently summons a strange shadow, which is banished by Ogion. Sensing that Ged is impatient to learn wizardry faster than Ogion is willing to teach, he offers to allow Ged to attend a school for wizards on the island of Roke.

At the school, Ged's skills inspire admiration among the teachers as well as students. He befriends an older student named Vetch, but generally remains aloof from his fellows. Another student, Jasper, acts condescendingly towards Ged and provokes the latter's prickly nature. After Jasper needles Ged during a feast, Ged challenges him to a duel. He casts a powerful spell intended to raise the spirit of a dead woman, but the spell goes awry. A rip in the fabric of the world opens to the realm of the dead, and a shadow creature passes through, attacking Ged and scarring his face. The Archmage Nemmerle banishes the shadow and saves Ged's life, although it costs him his own.

Ged spends many months healing before resuming his studies. The new Archmage, Gensher, describes the shadow creature as an ancient evil that wishes to possess Ged. Gensher warns him that the creature has no name, and that only Roke’s magic protects him from it. A few years later, Ged receives his wizards' staff from the school, and goes to serve the villagers of the Ninety Isles, who fear an attack from a dragon and its brood that live on the nearby island of Pendor. While attempting to save the life of a fisherman's daughter, Ged crosses the barrier to the land of the dead and learns that he is being pursued by the shadow creature. Deciding to flee from the creature, he sails to Pendor, where he kills five young dragons before threatening the old dragon with Ged's knowledge of his true name, learned on Roke. The dragon offers to tell Ged the name of the shadow creature in return for remaining unharmed, but instead Ged exacts a binding promise that the dragon and his brood will never threaten the archipelago.

Chased by the shadow, Ged travels north to the island of Osskil, hoping to seek advice from the stone of the Terrenon, which is said to have the power to answer any question. On Osskil, he realises that his guide has been possessed by the shadow; fleeing in terror, Ged stumbles into the Court of Terrenon. The creature destroys his staff, but cannot penetrate into the castle. Serret, the lady of the castle, looks after Ged, and when he recovers shows him the stone of Terrenon. She tempts Ged to speak to it, claiming it can give him limitless knowledge and power. Believing the stone harbors an ancient and evil spirit, Ged refuses. When Serret again attempts to persuade him, he realizes that she and her husband Benderesk are trying to enslave him and use his power. Ged flees, and though he is pursued by Benderesk's minions he transforms into a falcon and flies away.

Ged flies back to Gont goes to Ogion, who crafts a new staff for him. Contrary to Gensher, Ogion insists that all creatures have a name, and advises Ged to confront the shadow creature. Setting sail in a small boat Ged pursues the creature across the sea until it lures him into a fog where his boat is wrecked on a reef. Ged recovers with the help of an elderly couple marooned on the island as children. When he leaves, the woman gives Ged part of a broken bracelet as a gift. Ged patches his boat with magic and escapes the island pursuing the creature into the East Reach of the Archipelago. On the island of Iffish he meets his friend Vetch, who insists on joining him. They journey east far beyond the last known lands before they finally come upon the shadow. Here Ged realizes that the shadow has always been a part of his own spirit. Naming it with his own name, he merges with the shadow creature, understanding and accepting it as part of himself, and thus healing himself.

Major characters[edit]

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

Awards and recognitions[edit]



  • A condensed, illustrated version of the first chapter was printed by World Books in the third volume of Childcraft in 1989.[11]
  • BBC Radio produced a radioplay version in 1996 narrated by Judi Dench.[14]
  • 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."[15]
  • 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.[16]
  • BBC Radio produced a six part series adapting the Earthsea novels in 2015, broadcast on Radio 4 Extra.[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b 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. ^ Bartell, Joyce. "The Lewis Carroll Shelf Award". Accessed November 10, 2014.
  4. ^ Atwood, Margaret. Quoted in "Margaret Atwood Chooses ‘A Wizard of Earthsea’". The Wall Street Journal, October 16, 2014. Accessed November 10, 2014.
  5. ^ a b Craig, Amanda. Classic of the month: A Wizard of Earthsea. The Guardian. September 24, 2003. Accessed November 10, 2014.
  6. ^ A Wizard of Earthsea reader's guide. The Big Read. National Endowment for the Arts.
  7. ^ 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. 
  8. ^ 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. 
  9. ^ "Dreams Must Explain Themselves", in The Language of the Night by Ursula K. Le Guin, The Women's Press, 1989, p. 41.
  10. ^ Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards. List of past winners. Accessed November 10, 2014.
  11. ^ "The Boy Who Became A Wizard". Childcraft: Stories and poems. World Book, Inc. 1989. pp. 176–187. 
  12. ^ "A wizard of Earthsea : Inglis, Rob, Le Guin, Ursula K., 1929- : eAudiobook : Toronto Public Library". Torontopubliclibrary.ca. Retrieved 2016-08-29. 
  13. ^ "A wizard of Earthsea (Audiobook on Cassette, 1992)". [WorldCat.org]. 2016-08-06. Retrieved 2016-08-29. 
  14. ^ "A Wizard of Earthsea". Retrieved 2011-07-10. 
  15. ^ Le Guin, Ursula (December 16, 2004). "A Whitewashed Earthsea - How the Sci Fi Channel wrecked my books.". slate.com. Retrieved 2011-07-10. 
  16. ^ Le Guin, Ursula. "A First Response to Gedo Senki.". Archived from the original on 17 July 2011. Retrieved 2011-07-10. 
  17. ^ "Earthsea". Retrieved 2015-07-29. 
  • 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]