Tuesday, December 8, 2015

A Wizard of Earthsea Book Review

by The Wanderer

Author: Ursula K. Le Guin
Publisher: Bantam
Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy
Series: Earthsea Book One
Pages: 198

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Ged is the real name of the wizard Sparrowhawk. In his early years he exemplifies extraordinary magical talent.  As he comes of age he learns to harness that magical power, but in his greed for knowledge he also looses a terrible shadow on the world. Once he becomes a wizard, Ged must restore balance by defeating the monster he’s created.

The Tolkienesque fantasy trope of ordinary person fights dark lord remains in Le Guin’s Earthsea, but it’s so far removed from the concept that you never feel like you’re reading some sort of cheap knock-off. Where Tolkien’s story is about the great things an ordinary person can accomplish, Le Guin is focused on an individual’s personal responsibility. Ged must learn from his greatest mistake.  He feels the shame and sorrow that comes with that.  He even tries to run from what he’s done, but eventually he comes to the realization that he must take responsibility for it.

I love the life lesson Le Guin is trying to teach, and with her eloquent writing she does an excellent job presenting the idea to the reader. Le Guin’s prose is very on point, and it easily sucks you into the world, much the same way Tolkien’s did. As far as worldbuilding is concerned, Earthsea comes with a very detailed map, that reveals a water dominated world with islands of various sizes scattered galore. Le Guin takes time out to appreciate nature, especially with the magic system which works by calling everything in nature by it’s true name. The beauty of nature is important to the worldbuilding, but it never gets carried away by preaching conservationism. The story also features a wizard school, which is the earliest example of this that can be found in modern fantasy; the likes of which inspired future fantasy authors J.K. Rowling and Lev Grossman.

Lessons in life are aplenty, Ged happens to get through them with what feels like “barely more than a struggle.” In under 200 pages Ged accomplishes more than what most extraordinary fantasy characters could in a 1,000. While the plot points happen quickly, it starts to cheapen the struggle of what resembles lots of our “real world” difficulties. Ged is a decently developed character, but the rest of the minor characters really struggle – particularly Obion, Vetch, and Jasper – who often times just fulfill a one dimensional function of either mentor, friend, or rival.

Considered one of the most important classic fantasy staples post Lord of the Rings, Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea series is still winning readers over. I had never had the opportunity to read any of the Earthsea books when I was younger, and based off of the praise I heard, I snagged a cheap copy from Borders while that company was heading to its grave.  Half a decade later I finally decided to read the first volume, A Wizard of Earthsea. I regret not being able to read this when I was a young, I have the feeling I would have enjoyed it a lot more. This is a good book – I definitely appreciate what I read, I definitely enjoyed what I read – but it’s not as excellent as others.

Score: 8.0

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