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This article is about the books. For the television miniseries of the same name, see Legend of Earthsea.
Boxed set cover art of the first three books in the "Earthsea" series
Boxed set cover art of the first three books
in the "Earthsea" series, as issued in 1975.
Artwork by Pauline Ellison.
Author Ursula K. Le Guin
Country United States
Language English
Genre Fantasy, Young-adult fiction
Publisher Parnassus Press, Atheneum Books, Harcourt Brace & Company (US)
Published 1968 – 13 September 2001
Media type Print (hardcover and paperback)

Earthsea is a series by Ursula K. Le Guin, starting with her short story "The Word of Unbinding," published in 1964. Earthsea became the setting for six books, beginning with A Wizard of Earthsea, first published in 1968, and continuing with The Tombs of Atuan, The Farthest Shore, Tehanu, Tales from Earthsea and The Other Wind. All are set in the world of Earthsea, as are seven short stories by Le Guin.


A map of The Earthsea Realm originally drawn by Ursula K Le Guin and redrawn by Liam Davis.

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. Ged's father is a bronze-smith. 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.

The racial characteristics of the people of Earthsea are for the most part "red-brown" in coloring, like Native Americans; 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,[1] though 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.[2]

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."[3]


Short stories[edit]

Seven short stories appear in two collections of Le Guin's 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.[4]

Tales from Earthsea also includes about thirty pages of fictional reference material titled "A Description of Earthsea" (2001) and catalogued as short fiction by ISFDB.[4]



Each novel in the series has received a literary award, including the 1969 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Fiction & the 1979 Lewis Carroll Shelf Award for A Wizard of Earthsea, the 1972 Newbery Honor for The Tombs of Atuan, the 1973 National Book Award for Children's Books for The Farthest Shore, the 1990 Nebula Award for Best Novel for Tehanu, and the 2002 World Fantasy Award for Best Novel for The Other Wind.



There have been a number of audiobook readings by different narrators and publishers.[5] In the early 1990s, Robert Inglis narrated the first three books of the series for Recorded Books.[6]


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).[7] 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.[8] The first of the six 30 minute-long episodes premiered on April 27, 2015, and the last on May 5, 2015. 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.[9] The adaptation was created and aired as part of a thematic month centered on the life and works of Ursula LeGuin, in commemoration of her then-recent 85th birthday.[10] 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 herself and the writers she inspired.[11][12][13]


Main article: Earthsea (TV series)

The U.S.-based Sci Fi Channel broadcast a three-hour loose adaptation for television of A Wizard of Earthsea and The Tombs of Atuan in December 2004, and it was broadcast on Channel 4 in the UK in Easter 2005 in two parts. Titled Legend of Earthsea, it angered fans of the Earthsea novels (and Le Guin herself)[14] with the announcement that Ged and the vast majority of the other characters would be played by Caucasians and with the Dramatis personæ posted on the official website (see below), which featured several original characters such as "The Archmagus" and "King Tygath", "Diana", "Penelope", and "Marion", and several references to "Kargide" (not Kargad, Karg, or Kargish) characters. The religious practices of Atuan were portrayed differently, and the celibacy of Earthsea wizards overlooked as Ged and Tenar become sexually involved.

Le Guin was not involved in the production in any way. She did publish the following remarks on her website:

I can only admire Mr [Executive Producer Robert] Halmi's imagination, but I wish he'd left mine alone... 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?"[15]


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. The story is based mainly on elements of the third and fourth novels of Earthsea[citation needed]; however, Le Guin has stated that she found this rendition of her work "disappointing" and "entirely different" from her creation.[16]


  1. ^ According to ISFDB, "The Tombs of Atuan (Complete Novel)" appeared in Worlds of Fantasy, Issue 3, 1970–71 (on the cover), also known as Winter 1970.


  1. ^

    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.

    —Ursula K. Le Guin, A Wizard of Earthsea
  2. ^ Interview with Ursula K. Le Guin, Gifts.
  3. ^ Ursula Le Guin Q&A | By Genre | Books.
  4. ^ a b [ISFDB]. "Earthsea Cycle – Series Bibliography". Internet Speculative Fiction Database. 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.
  5. ^ "Ursula K. Le Guin: Short Bibliography". Ursula Le Guin. May 2010. Retrieved August 13, 2014. 
  6. ^ "The Earthsea series". Recorded Books. Retrieved August 13, 2014. 
  7. ^ "A Wizard of Earthsea". Retrieved 2011-07-10. 
  8. ^ "Adapting Ursula Le Guin's 'Earthsea' and 'The Left Hand of Darkness' for Radio". BBC Blogs - BBC Writersroom. Retrieved 5 May 2015. 
  9. ^ "Earthsea - Episodes List". BBC Radio 4 Extra. BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 5 May 2015. 
  10. ^ "Ursula K. Le Guin on Radio 4 and 4 Extra". BBC Radio 4 Extra. BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 5 May 2015. 
  11. ^ "The Left Hand of Darkness". BBC Radio 4 Extra. BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 5 May 2015. 
  12. ^ "Ursula Le Guin at 85". BBC Radio 4 Extra. BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 5 May 2015. 
  13. ^ "7 Bestselling Authors Influenced by Ursula Le Guin". BBC Radio 4 Extra. BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 5 May 2015. 
  14. ^ Le Guin, Ursula, "A Whitewashed Earthsea", web page at Ursula K. Le Guin on the TV Earthsea. - By Ursula K. Le Guin – Slate Magazine. Retrieved 2007-05-06.
  15. ^ Ursula K. Le Guin: Earthsea.
  16. ^ Le Guin, Ursula K. (2006). "Gedo Senki, A First Response". Retrieved 2011-09-04. 
  • 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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