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Earthsea Trilogy.jpg
Cover of The Earthsea Trilogy, a boxed paperback set of the first three Earthsea novels (1975, artist Pauline Ellison)
Author Ursula K. Le Guin
Country United States
Genre Fantasy, young adult fiction
Publisher Parnassus Press, Atheneum Books, Harcourt Brace & Company (US)
Published 1964–2014 (novels, 1968–2001)
Media type Print (hardcover and paperback), audiobook

Earthsea is a series of fantasy books by the American writer Ursula K. Le Guin, and the name of their setting, a world of islands surrounded by an uncharted ocean. Starting with a short story, "The Word of Unbinding" in 1964, there are six Earthsea books, beginning with A Wizard of Earthsea in 1968, and continuing with The Tombs of Atuan, The Farthest Shore, Tehanu, and The Other Wind. There are eight short stories, all but "The Daughter of Odren" now collected in The Wind's Twelve Quarters and Tales from Earthsea.


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 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 1800 miles) of the Northern hemisphere. 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.

Archipelago map by Le Guin, redrawn and recolored by Liam Davis

The racial characteristics of the people of Earthsea are for the most part "red-brown" in coloring, like Native Americans;[1] in the South and East Reach and on Way, they are much darker brown, but with straight black hair, like Indians, particularly Dravidians; in Osskil, they have a more European look,[2] although still with dark skin, rather like the peoples of the Middle East and Mediterranean, and the Kargs resemble predominantly blond northern Europeans. 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.[3]

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."[4]


Short stories[edit]

As of mid-2015, Le Guin has published eight 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.[5] In October 2014 a new novella set in Earthsea was published as a stand-alone, "The Daughter of Odren".[6][7]

Tales from Earthsea also includes about thirty pages of fictional reference material titled "A Description of Earthsea" (2001) and cataloged as short fiction by ISFDB.[5]

+Q Also collected in The Wind's Twelve Quarters
+T Also collected in Tales from Earthsea
T   Original to Tales from Earthsea



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



There have been a number of audiobook readings by different narrators and publishers.[8] In the early 1990s, Robert Inglis narrated the first three books of the series for Recorded Books.[11]


A BBC-produced two-hour radio dramatisation 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).[12] The adaptation was subsequently released on audio cassette.

In April and May 2015, BBC Radio 4 aired a new, six-part dramatisation of the Earthsea works, encompassing the storylines and motifs of the novels A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan and The Farthest Shore.[13] 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 different 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.[14] 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.[15] 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.[16][17][18]


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[19] 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.)[20]

"That makes it particularly galling of the director to put words in my mouth."[20] 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"?[20]


Tales from Earthsea Poster

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.[21] 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.[21]


  1. ^ According to ISFDB, "The Tombs of Atuan (Complete Novel)" appeared with illustrations by Jack Gaughan in Worlds of Fantasy, Issue 3, pp. 4–76. The issue was released December 1970 and is dated variously 1970–71, Winter 1970–71, and Winter 1970. The cover illustration by Gaughan features The Tombs of Atuan, which the cover promotes as "Complete new novel by this year's Hugo winner!". "Publication Listing: Worlds of Fantasy, Winter 1970". ISFDB. Retrieved 2015-08-13.
      Le Guin lists "Atheneum 1970".[8]


  1. ^ "Chronicles of Earthsea". The Guardian. 9 February 2004. Retrieved 12 September 2016. 
  2. ^ 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."
  3. ^ "Interview with Ursula K. Le Guin, Gifts" [2004]. Harcourt Books ( Retrieved 2007-11.
  4. ^ "Chronicles of Earthsea". Edited transcript of online Q&A. Arts: Books. theguardian ( February 9, 2004. Retrieved 2011-09.
  5. ^ a b "Earthsea Cycle – Series Bibliography". Internet Speculative Fiction Database (ISFDB). Retrieved 2012-04-09. 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.
  6. ^ a b "The Daughter of Odren". Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt ( Retrieved 2015-08-12.  Quote: 42 pages.
  7. ^ "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.
  8. ^ a b "Ursula K. Le Guin: Short Bibliography". Ursula K. Le Guin. May 2010. Retrieved 2014-08-13.  "(Major works only, principal U.S. editions only)".
  9. ^ "Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards – List of past winners". Archived from the original on 19 October 2011. Retrieved 10 November 2014. 
  10. ^ 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. 
  11. ^ "Earthsea Cycle". Recorded Books ( Retrieved 2014-08-13.  "Displaying 1-4 of 4 books in Earthsea Cycle". No dates.
  12. ^ "BBC Radio 7 – A Wizard of Earthsea". BBC iPlayer Radio. BBC ( Retrieved 2011-07-10.  Broadcast January 5, 2011, on BBC Radio 7.
  13. ^ 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. 
  14. ^ "Episodes". BBC Radio 4 Extra: Earthsea. BBC. Retrieved 2015-05-15. 
  15. ^ "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."
  16. ^ "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.
  17. ^ "Ursula Le Guin at 85". BBC Radio 4. BBC. Retrieved 2015-05-15.  Audio interview broadcast April 9, 2015.
  18. ^ "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. 
  19. ^ Le Guin (December 16, 2004). "A Whitewashed Earthsea: How the Sci Fi Channel wrecked my books". Slate. Retrieved 2007-05-06.
  20. ^ 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". Ursula K. Le Guin. Retrieved 2015-08-13. "Updated Sunday July 13, 2008".
      One of several Earthsea Miniseries Notes (index by Le Guin) – linked notes by Le Guin and by others.
  21. ^ 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.
  • Attebery, Brian (1980). The Fantasy Tradition in American Literature: From Irving to Le Guin (1st ed.). Bloomington, IN: University of Indiana Press. ISBN 978-0-253-35665-9. 
  • Bernardo, Susan M.; Murphy, Graham J. (2006). Ursula K. Le Guin: A Critical Companion (1st ed.). Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. ISBN 978-0-313-33225-8. 
  • Cadden, Mike (2005). Ursula K. Le Guin Beyond Genre: Fiction for Children and Adults (1st ed.). New York, NY: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-97218-5. 
  • Le Guin, Ursula (1968). A Wizard of Earthsea (1st ed.). Berkeley, CA: Parnassus Press. ISBN 978-0-395-27653-2. 
  • Le Guin, Ursula (1971). The Tombs of Atuan (1st ed.). New York, NY: Atheneum Books. ISBN 978-0-689-20680-1. 
  • Le Guin, Ursula (1972). The Farthest Shore (1st ed.). New York, NY: Atheneum Books. ISBN 978-0-689-30054-7. 
  • Le Guin, Ursula (1975). The Wind's Twelve Quarters (1st ed.). New York, NY: Harper and Row. ISBN 978-0-06-012562-2. 
  • Le Guin, Ursula (1990). Tehanu (1st ed.). New York, NY: Atheneum Books. ISBN 978-0-689-31595-4. 
  • Le Guin, Ursula (1993). Earthsea Revisioned. Green Bay Publications. ISBN 978-0-948845-03-1. OCLC 29598010. 
  • Le Guin, Ursula (2001). Tales from Earthsea (1st ed.). New York, NY: Harcourt Brace & Company. ISBN 978-0-15-100561-1. 
  • Le Guin, Ursula (2001). The Other Wind (1st ed.). New York, NY: Harcourt Brace & Company. ISBN 978-0-15-100684-7. 
  • 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. 
  • Petty, Anne C. (2004). Dragons of Fantasy: The Scaly Villains & Heroes of Tolkien, Rowling, McCaffrey, Pratchett & Other Fantasy Greats (1st ed.). Cold Spring Harbor, New York: Cold Spring Press. ISBN 978-1-59360-010-5. 

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