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Earthsea Trilogy.jpg
Cover of The Earthsea Trilogy, a boxed paperback set of the first three Earthsea novels (1975, illustrator Pauline Ellison)

AuthorUrsula K. Le Guin
IllustratorPauline Ellison
Ruth Robbins
Anne Yvonne Gilbert
Gail Garraty
Margaret Chodos-Irvine
Kelly Nelson
Marion Wood Kolisch
Charles Vess
Cliff Nielsen
CountryUnited States
GenreFantasy, young adult fiction
PublisherParnassus Press, Atheneum Books, Harcourt Brace & Company (US)
Published1964–2018 (novels, 1968–2001)
Media typePrint (hardcover and paperback), audiobook

The Earthsea Cycle, also known simply as Earthsea, is a series of high fantasy books written by the American writer Ursula K. Le Guin. Beginning with A Wizard of Earthsea (1968), The Tombs of Atuan, (1970) and The Farthest Shore (1972), the series was later supplemented by Tehanu (1990), and Tales from Earthsea and The Other Wind (both 2001). In 2018, all the novels and short stories were published as The Books of Earthsea: The Complete Illustrated Edition, with illustrations by Charles Vess.


The world of Earthsea is one of sea and islands: a vast archipelago of hundreds of islands surrounded by mostly uncharted ocean. Earthsea contains no large continents, with the archipelago resembling Indonesia or the Philippines. The largest island, Havnor, at approximately 380 miles (610 km) across, is about the size of Great Britain. The cultures of Earthsea are not direct analogues of those of our world, but are literate non-industrial civilizations. Technologically, Earthsea is an early Iron Age society, with bronze used in places where iron is scarce. Weapons also include the use of wood and other hard but easily crafted metals. The overall climate of Earthsea is temperate, comparable to the mid-latitudes (over a distance of about 1,800 miles or 2,900 kilometres) of the Northern hemisphere of the Earth. There is a yearly transition from warm summers to cold and snowy winters, especially in northern islands like Gont and Osskil. In the southern regions of Earthsea it can be much warmer.

Most of the people of Earthsea are described as having brown skin.[1] In the Archipelago "red-brown" skin is typical, while the people of the East Reach have darker "black-brown" complexions.[2] The people of Osskil in the north are described as having lighter, sallow complexions,[3] while the Kargs of the Kargad Lands are "white-skinned" and often "yellow-haired".[4] Le Guin has criticized what she describes as the general assumption in fantasy that characters should be white and the society should resemble the Middle Ages.[5]

Magic is a central part of life in most of Earthsea, with the exception of the Kargish lands, where it is banned. There are weather workers on ships, fixers who repair boats and buildings, entertainers, and court sorcerers. Magic is an inborn talent which can be developed with training. The most gifted are sent to the school on Roke, where, if their skill and their discipline prove sufficient, they can become staff-carrying wizards. A strong theme of the stories is the connection between power and responsibility. There is often a Taoist message: "good" wizardry tries to be in harmony with the world, while "bad" wizardry, such as necromancy, can lead to an upsetting of the "balance" and threaten catastrophe. While the dragons are more powerful, they act instinctively to preserve the balance. Only humans pose a threat to it.

The Dry Land is where the people of the archipelago and reaches of Earthsea go when they die. It is a realm of shadow and dust, of eternal night where the stars are fixed in the sky, and nothing changes. The souls who live there have an empty, dreary existence, and even "lovers pass each other in silence". Le Guin has stated that the idea of the Dry Land came from the "Greco-Roman idea of Hades' realm, from certain images in Dante Alighieri's work, and from one of Rainer Maria Rilke's Elegies."[6]



Short stories[edit]

Le Guin published nine short stories of Earthsea. Seven appear in two collections of her work (and some have been reissued elsewhere). Two early stories were originally published in 1964, and were collected in The Wind's Twelve Quarters (Harper & Row, 1975). These helped to define the setting of Earthsea. Five much later stories were collected in Tales from Earthsea (Harcourt, 2001), where three were original.[7] In October 2014 a new novella set in Earthsea was published as a stand-alone, "The Daughter of Odren".[8][9] A final 12-page short story, "Firelight", was published in June 2018, covering the last days of Ged.[10]

Tales from Earthsea also includes about 30 pages of fictional reference material titled "A Description of Earthsea" (2001) and cataloged as short fiction by ISFDB.[7]

+Q Collected in The Wind's Twelve Quarters
+T Collected in Tales from Earthsea
T   Original to Tales from Earthsea
All of the stories are included in The Books of Earthsea.

Unsubmitted story[edit]

After "The Rule of Names" and before "A Wizard of Earthsea", Le Guin wrote a longish story about a prince in search of the Ultimate. He travels southwest from Havnor through the archipelago into the open sea. He finds a raft-colony and sea-people. The prince joins them in the sea. He wears out, sinks and finds the Ultimate. This story was never submitted for publication for 'it never worked out itself well'.[12] However, the theme of a raft-colony and sea-people was later taken up as an important ingredient in the plot of "The Farthest Shore".


Each novel in the series has received a literary award, including

On November 5, 2019, the BBC News listed The Earthsea Trilogy on its list of the 100 most influential novels.[15]



There have been a number of audiobook readings by different narrators and publishers.[16] In the early 1990s, Robert Inglis narrated the first three books of the series for Recorded Books.[17]


A BBC-produced two-hour radio dramatization of A Wizard of Earthsea was originally broadcast on Radio 4 on December 26, 1996. This adaptation was narrated by Dame Judi Dench, with Michael Maloney as Ged, and used a wide range of actors with different regional and social accents to emphasize the origins of the Earthsea characters (for instance, Estarriol and others from the East Reach were played by actors with Southern Welsh accents).[18] The adaptation was subsequently released on audio cassette.

In April and May 2015, BBC Radio 4 aired a new, six-part dramatization of the Earthsea works, encompassing the storylines and motifs of the novels A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan and The Farthest Shore.[19] The first of the six 30 minute-long episodes premiered on April 27 and the last on May 5. The characters of Ged and Tenar were portrayed by three actors at different stages in their lives (Kasper Hilton-Hille, James McArdle and Shaun Dooley as Ged; Nishi Malde, Aysha Kala and Vineeta Rishi as Tenar). The radio drama was adapted by Judith Adams, directed by Sasha Yevtushenko and featured original music composed by Jon Nicholls. Following the premiere radio broadcast, each of the episodes were made available for online streaming on BBC Radio 4 Extra for a month, via the BBC iPlayer service.[20] The adaptation was created and aired as part of a thematic month centered on the life and works of Ursula Le Guin, in commemoration of her then-recent 85th birthday.[21] In addition to the Earthsea radio drama, the thematic month included the airing of a two-part radio adaptation of The Left Hand of Darkness earlier in April, as well as exclusive interviews with Le Guin and some of the writers she inspired.[22][23][24]


Miniseries, 2004[edit]

The U.S.-based Sci Fi Channel broadcast in December 2004 a three-hour loose adaptation for television of A Wizard of Earthsea and The Tombs of Atuan, entitled Legend of Earthsea (later, simply Earthsea). It was broadcast in two parts on Channel 4 in the UK at Easter 2005. Sci Fi Channel had angered Le Guin[25] and fans of the Earthsea novels with its announcement that Ged and the vast majority of the other characters would be played by Caucasians and with the dramatis personæ posted on an official website. The latter revealed several original characters – such as "The Archmagus" and "King Tygath", "Diana", "Penelope", and "Marion" – and it referred to "Kargide" characters rather than Kargad, Karg, or Kargish. The religious practices of Atuan were portrayed differently in the adaptation, and the celibacy of Earthsea wizards overlooked as Ged and Tenar become sexually involved.[citation needed]

One month before the U.S. broadcast, Le Guin posted on her website "A Reply to Some Statements Made by the Film-Makers" published in the December 2004 issue of Sci Fi Magazine. She opened with the observation, "I've tried very hard to keep from saying anything at all about this production, being well aware that movies must differ in many ways from the books they're based on, and feeling that I really had no business talking about it, since I was not included in planning it and was given no part in discussions or decisions." (Director Robert Lieberman, too, had stated that she was not involved.)[26]

"That makes it particularly galling of the director to put words in my mouth."[26] Le Guin disavowed some specific interpretations both by Lieberman and by executive director Robert Halmi Sr., and concluded (quoting Lieberman):

I wonder if the people who made the film of The Lord of the Rings had ended it with Frodo putting on the Ring and ruling happily ever after, and then claimed that that was what Tolkien "intended ..."[,] would people think they'd been "very, very honest to the books"?[26]

Planned TV series[edit]

In May 2018, it was announced that the series had been opted for a film adaptation by producer Jennifer Fox.[27] In 2019 it was decided to produce a TV series instead.[28]

Animated film, 2006[edit]

Studio Ghibli's 2006 film, Tales from Earthsea, is loosely based in the Earthsea mythology. It was directed by Gorō Miyazaki, the son of Hayao Miyazaki. In the past, Le Guin had rejected Hayao Miyazaki's offer to create a film based on the series, but due to her love of his films, Le Guin granted Studio Ghibli the rights.[29] The story is based mainly on elements of the third and fourth novels of Earthsea.[citation needed] Le Guin has stated that she found the adaptation "disappointing" and "entirely different" from her creation.[29]


  1. ^ First appeared in the Winter 1970 issue of Worlds of Fantasy with illustrations by Jack Gaughan, including the magazine cover. (ISFDb: Worlds of Fantasy, Winter 1970)


  1. ^ "Chronicles of Earthsea". The Guardian. 9 February 2004. Retrieved 12 September 2016.
  2. ^ Quoting A Wizard of Earthsea: "He had the accent of the East Reach, and was very dark of skin, not red-brown like Ged and Jasper and most folk of the Archipelago, but black-brown."
  3. ^ Quoting A Wizard of Earthsea: "She was a tall girl of about his own age, very sallow, almost white-skinned; her mother, they said in the village, was from Osskil or some such foreign land. Her hair fell long and straight like a fall of black water."
  4. ^ Quoting A Wizard of Earthsea: "...they are a savage people, white-skinned, yellow-haired, and fierce, liking the sight of blood and the smell of burning towns."
  5. ^ "Ursula K. Le Guin's BookExpo America Speech: Some Assumptions About Fantasy" [2004]. Harcourt Books ( Archived from the original on 2007-08-17.
  6. ^ "Chronicles of Earthsea". Edited transcript of online Q&A. Arts: Books. theguardian ( February 9, 2004. Retrieved 2011-09.
  7. ^ a b "Earthsea Cycle – Series Bibliography". Internet Speculative Fiction Database. Retrieved 2012-04-09 – via 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.
  8. ^ a b "The Daughter of Odren". Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Retrieved 2015-08-12 – via 42 pages
  9. ^ "The Daughter of Odren (Kindle Single)". Retrieved 2015-08-13. Quote: "Master storyteller Ursula LeGuin takes readers back to Earthsea"; 31 pages; age level 12 and up.
  10. ^ "The Books of Earthsea". Orion Books. Archived from the original on May 14, 2018. Retrieved May 14, 2018.
  11. ^ "50th anniversary of the timeless and beloved A Wizard of Earthsea". Hachette Australia. Retrieved May 14, 2018.
  12. ^ Dreams Must Explain Themselves by Ursula Le Guin in Algol 21, Tenth Anniversary Issue, (november 1973; p. 8)
  13. ^ "Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards – List of past winners". Archived from the original on 19 October 2011. Retrieved 10 November 2014.
  14. ^ Bernardo, Susan M.; Murphy, Graham J. (2006). Ursula K. Le Guin: A Critical Companion (1st ed.). Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. p. 5. ISBN 0-313-33225-8.
  15. ^ "100 'most inspiring' novels revealed by BBC Arts". BBC News. 2019-11-05. Retrieved 2019-11-10. The reveal kickstarts the BBC's year-long celebration of literature.
  16. ^ "Ursula K. Le Guin: Short Bibliography". Ursula K. Le Guin. May 2010. Retrieved 2014-08-13. "(Major works only, principal U.S. editions only)".
  17. ^ "Earthsea Cycle". Recorded Books ( Retrieved 2014-08-13.[permanent dead link] "Displaying 1-4 of 4 books in Earthsea Cycle". No dates.
  18. ^ "BBC Radio 7 – A Wizard of Earthsea". BBC iPlayer Radio. BBC ( Retrieved 2011-07-10. Broadcast January 5, 2011, on BBC Radio 7.
  19. ^ Adams, Judith (April 14, 2015). "Adapting Ursula Le Guin's 'Earthsea' and 'The Left Hand of Darkness' for Radio". BBC Blogs – BBC Writersroom. BBC. Retrieved 2015-05-15.
  20. ^ "Episodes". BBC Radio 4 Extra: Earthsea. BBC. Retrieved 2015-05-15.
  21. ^ "Ursula K. Le Guin on BBC Radio 4 and 4 Extra". BBC Radio 4. BBC. April 8, 2015. Retrieved 2015-05-15. "A preview of our Le Guin celebration."
  22. ^ "The Left Hand of Darkness [Episode 1 of 2]". BBC Radio 4: The Left Hand of Darkness. BBC. Retrieved 2015-05-15. Broadcast April 18, 2015; episode 2 broadcast April 25.
  23. ^ "Ursula Le Guin at 85". BBC Radio 4. BBC. Retrieved 2015-05-15. Audio interview broadcast April 9, 2015.
  24. ^ "The Le Guin Effect: 7 Bestselling Authors Influenced by Ursula Le Guin". BBC Radio 4: The Left Hand of Darkness. BBC. Retrieved 2015-05-15.
  25. ^ Le Guin (December 16, 2004). "A Whitewashed Earthsea: How the Sci Fi Channel wrecked my books". Slate. Retrieved 2007-05-06.
  26. ^ a b c Le Guin (November 13, 2004). "Earthsea Miniseries: A Reply to Some Statements Made by the Film-Makers of the Earthsea Miniseries Before it was Shown" Archived 2004-11-27 at the Wayback Machine. Ursula K. Le Guin. Retrieved 2015-08-13. "Updated Sunday July 13, 2008".
      One of several Earthsea Miniseries Notes (index by Le Guin Archived 2015-09-07 at the Wayback Machine) – linked notes by Le Guin and by others.
  27. ^ N'Duka, Amanda (May 24, 2018). "Oscar Nominated Producer Jennifer Fox Nabs Film Rights To 'Earthsea' Book Series". Deadline. Retrieved June 6, 2018.
  28. ^ Andreeva, Nellie (September 3, 2019). "'Earthsea' TV Series Based On Fantasy Books In The Works By A24 & Jennifer Fox". Deadline.
  29. ^ a b Le Guin (2006). "Gedo Senki: A First Response". Ursula K. Le Guin. Archived from the original on 2011-07-17. Retrieved 2011-09-04. With linked "Response from a correspondent in Japan".
      Complete subtitles: A First Response to "Gedo Senki", the Earthsea film made by Goro Miyazaki for Studio Ghibli. Written for my fans in Japan who are writing me about the movie, and for fans elsewhere who may be curious about it.

External links[edit]