A Wizard of Earthsea

Ursula K. Le Guin

A young boy finds himself learning the magical arts on an isle dedicated to training mages. Through his own mis-step, he finds himself up against his own shadow, a battle that will see him transverse the world of Earthsea.

To light a candle is to cast a shadow...

Set in the fictional world of Earthsea, A Wizard of Earthsea is a monumental addition to the fantasy genre. The story follows a young boy first called Duny, who in tradition, is given a true name at the age of thirteen by the local mage, Ogion. In Earthsea, the power over an element is driven from its true name, Duny is given the name Ged. The boy’s talents in magic prosper under the tutelage of Ogion who teaches him all he knows. Having learnt all Ogion has to offer, Ged travels to the Isle of Roke where a school dedicated to the teaching of mages is located. Ged now finds his knowledge of magic expanded.

A Wizard of Earthsea is a spell-binding read, Le Guin captures the full depth of her imagination on the page as she brings to life the world of Earthsea. The history of the world and its characters is written succinctly yet with enough detail to set up the plot, and provide background which is as entertaining as it is insightful. Although the novel follows the exploits of Ged, there are a plethora of secondary characters each meaningfully created and enchanting. Le Guin’s prose is both intelligent and descriptive while imbuing a form of archaic language which has often become associated with witchcraft and wizardry. This novel is truly a must-read, it is a novel enjoyable to all ages and Le Guin’s creative flare and deep resonance of ecology and magic make it thought-provoking, powerful and entertaining. A perfect match for lovers of fantasy, this book is surprising for its accessibility and enjoyment even from those that usually don’t usually dabble in this genre.

A central theme of Earthsea is the concept of the power of a name, what does this convey?

The magic in Earthsea has a huge emphasis on balance and repercussions, the mages are conscious of the effects of their spells and use them sparingly, how does this compare and contrast with other books of this genre? What significance does this message have in the real world?

The enemy Ged must face is a shadow of himself, what meaning does this have?

What is your understanding of the ending, in particular, the joining of the shadow with Ged?

Why do you think Le Guin chose for the Archmage to sacrifice himself after Ged released the Shadow? Do you think that she was teaching a lesson in consequences?

The couple who inhabit the small island are a source of great mystery in the book. Ged forms a small friendship with them as they help him to recover and he makes their well prosperous.

Even though they do not speak the same language and are wary of each other at first, they are able to perform courteous acts towards one another – why do you think the author chose to include this?

What is your opinion of Ged? Is he a good central character for the novel and do you think he changes drastically from the boy Duny at the beginning of the book?

Le Guin spends a lot of time describing the geography of Earthsea, its various islands and people. Do you think this is a beneficial feature?

Do you think the book has enough female representation?

How does the Elder dragon, that Ged confronts on Pendor, compare to other depictions of dragons in the fantasy genre?


After releasing the shadow creature, Ged spends many months being tended to by the Master Healer, before returning to his studies. A new Archmage is appointed, Gensher, who describes to Ged that the creature he summoned was an ancient being of evil that intends to possess Ged. Ged struggles to come to terms with his responsibility for the evil he has released and the sacrifice that it caused the previous Archmage to make. Having completed his studies Ged receives his Staff and takes up residency as local mage in the town of Low Torning whose people have come under threat from dragons who have occupied a nearby island. While at Low Torning, Ged encounters the shadow as he is assisting a local child, although Ged escapes the confrontation, he becomes startlingly aware that he must leave as to prevent endangering the local townspeople. Before he leaves, he realises he must resolve the issues caused by the dragons and so he sails to the isle of Pendor which the dragons have occupied. Ged speaks with the Elder dragon and gambles his life on guessing the dragons true name. When he is successful, the dragon offers to reveal the name of the shadow that is chasing Ged. However, Ged requests that instead he would rather the dragon promise that no dragons will fly towards Low Turning or the Archipelago, thus protecting the townspeople from further harm.

Ged then flees to Osskil where he has heard rumour of a powerful sword which may aid him in slaying the shadow. However, in Osskil he comes under attack by the shadow again and seeks refuge in the Court of Terrenon. Lady of the Court, Serret, tries to convince Ged to use his powers to speak to a stone that the court harbours. However Ged learns that the stone possesses a dark evil power and that Serret has impure intentions and so he escapes.

Ged returns to his home in Gont and consults Ogion who advises him to seek the shadow out himself and become the hunter; Ogion believes that the shadow has a true name and that Ged is powerful enough to conquer it. Ged leaves Gont in search of the shadow and after becoming marooned on a small island, reaches Iffish the island of his friend Vetch. Vetch joins Ged on his quest and together they set sail, travelling further than any man is known to of travelled on the open sea. They finally catch up with the shadow, Ged then must speak the shadows true name to defeat it and the name he speaks is his own. The shadow unites with Ged to become one and Ged reveals to Vetch that he is whole again and that balance has been restored to Earthsea.

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