A Wizard of Earthsea is the opening book in the Earthsea Cycle by Ursula K Le Guin and is considered to be a fantasy classic, a foundational text in the genre alongside Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit by JR Tolkien. It tells the story of Ged’s youth, otherwise known as Sparrowhawk, and how he rose up from insignificance and small village life to be a great sorcerer in the islands of Earthsea. In his arrogance he sets free a shadow demon, and must find a way to either outrun it, or defeat it.
Length: 7 hours
Published: 2018 (originally 1968)
I first read this story many years ago, borrowing a physical bind-up of the first four books from my local library. I remembered basic details before re-reading it this time, but I had forgotten most of the story.
Initially, I started it as a kindle book, but struggled to keep picking it up. It’s definitely a slow story. I found that listening to it on audio was the only way I could get it read. Listening, for me, is a more passive form of reading so it makes it easier to get through books that I’m not as interested in.
The writing style keeps the reader at quite a narrative distance from the point of view character, Ged. We are told (rather than shown) a lot of things about him and his world, but it doesn’t come from his thoughts and feelings. The book spans many years of Ged’s life whilst only being about 150 pages long. Consequently, Le Guin skips over a lot of events and time.
This distance makes it hard to connect with the characters. I didn’t really care what happened to them, or to the world. I would say it’s a story that is more about the themes and world building than about characterisation or even plot.
The plot isn’t a large Lord of the Rings style plot. Only Ged’s life is at stake and if he fails nothing bad will happen to the rest of the world. Whilst this isn’t necessarily a bad thing in a story, as a reader I need to feel connected to the character in order to care about the plot. Especially when, as in this case, the plot is the character’s life.
I think A Wizard of Earthsea is important for what it did for the fantasy genre, though it doesn’t meet today’s readers’ expectations. However, I have heard many positive things about Le Guin’s science fiction novels and the boundaries they pushed. I don’t think I’ll be continuing the re-read of this series, unfortunately.