Wrote this as an English assignment ... I figured what the hell, someone would enjoy it, right?
Shadow of a Doubt
Since the dawn of mankind, humanity as a race has been looking out beyond the circle of firelight that defines their world with a mix of curiosity and apprehension. Nobody knows for sure what is out there, but everyone has a creeping suspicion that it will not be friendly. Sometimes, these feelings manifest themselves as a healthy desire for self-preservation; sometimes, they instead transform into an unwillingness to venture away from the warm glow of the known world. A Wizard of Earthsea is a book that masterfully illustrates humanity's fear of the unknown, and in it Ursula LeGuin uses one's man terror as a magical shadow to demonstrate that in the end, as Winston Churchill once stated, all there is to fear is fear itself.
Ged, the main character, is a prime example of overconfident youth at the start of the novel. Intelligent and strong, Ged becomes an ambitious apprentice to a wise old mage who advises patience above all else. For someone like Ged, this could spell disaster, and eventually does as his desire for more power and his pride get the best of him when he reads a spell from his master's book.
As he read it, puzzling out the runes and symbols one by one, a horror came over him. His eyes were fixed, and he could not lift them till he had finished reading all the spell . . . the horror grew in him, seeming to hold him bound in his chair . . . looking over his shoulder he saw that something was crouching beside the closed door, a shapeless clot of shadow darker than the darkness. It seemed to reach out towards him ...
Enchanted by a witch's daughter, Ged had been charmed into reading that spell. This weakness opens a chink in Ged's armor, where previously he had shown nothing but bravery and curiosity marked by pride. That single creeping string of terror, the unshakable feeling that something large, powerful and unpleasant is chasing after him, haunted Ged through most of the book.
The shadow hangs over Ged like a curse. When it reappears thanks to his use of a spell of summoning, Ged is weakened and reminded of his folly. His decision then is to run from the shade. His fear is expressed as he talks to his close friend, Vetch.
'I am no seer, but I see before you, not rooms and books, but far seas, and the fire of dragons, and the towers of cities, and all such things a hawk sees when he flies far and high.' 'And behind me -- what do you see behind me?' Ged asked, and stood up as he spoke, so that the werelight that burned overhead between them sent his shadow back against the wall and floor.'
In this scene he expresses the heartfelt terror he has regarding the shade, which is a nameless terror he is unable to fight against. In Ged's world, magic revolves around names. To work magic on something, a wizard would need to know that thing's true name. The shadow does not have a true name, and therefore has no substance. The problem this makes for Ged is that while it can name him, he can't name it. The shade
is an unknown to him, and that makes him afraid. This fear overcomes him, because the last time he really felt fear, his power defeat it. However, it was his power which created the shade in the first place, so his primary resource is useless. To defeat this enemy
Ged will have to get a new weapon, one he had all along but which the shade used trickery
to take from him: courage.
Ged spent his next few years at work, encountering the shadow every now and again and running from it each time. This continued until he slowly became closer and closer to the shade, finally fleeing from it by changing form into a hawk and risking his life to fly to the home of his former master, Ogion.
. . . Ged went on, falcon-winged, falcon-mad, like an unfalling arrow, like an unforgotten thought, over the Osskil Sea and eastward into the wind of winter and the night . . . a great hawk came down with loud-beating wings and lighted on [Ogion's] wrist . . . then Ogion began to lay a spell . . . when the spell was whole and woven he said softly, --'Ged,'-- not looking at the falcon on the hearth. He waited some while, then turned, and got up, and went to the young man who stood trembling and dull-eyed before the fire.
When Ged arrived at Ogion's house, the older mage advised him to turn around, and to run at the shade instead of from it. Ged took the advice to heart, and with the help of his best friend
Vetch he chased the shadow to the end of his world and beyond. The final confrontation was that of a man facing every midnight terror he has ever experienced.
At first it was shapeless, but as it drew nearer it took on the look of a man. An old man it seemed, grey and grim, coming towards Ged; but even as Ged saw his father the smith in that figure, he saw that it was not an old man but a young one. It was Jasper: Jasper's insolent handsome young face . . . hateful was the look he fixed on Ged . . . the look of Jasper fell from the figure that it approached, and it became Pechvarry. But Pechvarry's face was all bloated and pallid like the face of a drowned man, and he reached out his hand strangely as if beckoning.
The shade flashed through all the figures in Ged's life that could cause him to turn away or become intimidated, and each one Ged faced in turn. In the end, the young mage defeated the shadow by using its true name: his own.
Ged's fear owned him because he did not know its nature. He gave in to the desire to run from it, and the shadow grew strong from his fear. The shade mastered him only as long as he let his fear continue. It fed on his terror, which was the only weapon it had and the only thing it was. As soon as Ged faced his fear and was no longer afraid, the being dissipated. Throughout A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula LeGuin uses the character of the shadow as horror personified to illustrate that the only thing that must be feared is fear.