A Wizard of Earthsea
is the first book in the first trilogy of Earthsea
by Ursula K. Le Guin
The style of the first trilogy, and especially this book is that of oral tradition of an epic story focusing upon the Deed of Ged (the second trilogy focuses upon Tenar). This reads more like a classic oral tale from ancient Greece than the every day fare of fantasy stories that exist. For this reason alone, it is an interesting story to read. However, the characters and the story itself is fascinating. Le Guin does a superb job of fleshing out the characters, and tying up every loose end that needs tying (some are left open for other stories). The following is the first paragraph of the first chapter of A Wizard of Earthsea.
The island of Gont, a single mountain that lifts its peak a mile above the storm-racked Northeast Sea, is a land famous for wizards. From the towns in its high valleys and the ports on its dark narrow bays many a Gontishman has gone forth to serve the Lords of the Archipelago in their cities as a wizard or mage, or, looking for adventure, to wander working magic from isle to isle of all Earthsea. Of these some say the greatest, and surely the greatest voyager, was the man called Sparrowhawk, who in his day became both dragonlord and Archmage. His life is told in the Deed of Ged and in many songs, but this is a tale of the time before his fame, before the songs were made.
The Deed of Ged is mentioned in the starts and ends of the books. Just like all oral tales, different people have slightly different views of the story that happened long ago.
In A Wizard of Earthsea we are introduced to a young boy. At an early age he learned a bit of magic from overhearing a aunt call out the true name of the goats to help control them. The boy was fascinated by this and called out the rhyme several times only to have the goats cluster around him and stare at him. He was rescued from the goats (not that they were a threat, just scary to a young boy) by his aunt - a village witch who recognizes the power within him.
As a student of his aunt, he learned the true words for all manner of animals and was called Sparrowhawk for his ability to call down birds from the sky. He also learns various weather magic from a sea captain who would like Sparrowhawk on his boat.
A major turning point in the boy's life comes when raiders attack the island of Gont and he uses his abilities to bind the fog to stay and make ghostly shapes in it to scare the raiders while the men of the village attack them and eventually repel them. From this, he becomes exhausted and word of his power reaches Ogion, a mage who lives in the hills of Gont.
From Ogion, Sparrowhawk is named 'Ged'. Its been mentioned above, 'true name'. A true name of a thing allows a mage (or anyone who knows the original language from which the world was made and named) to have some control and power over the object (or person). For this reason, the
true name is highly guarded and only given out to the most intimate of
friendships and the closest trust.
After Ogion teaches all that he can to Sparrowhawk, he gives the boy
a choice - to stay there or go to Roke - the island home to the Wizard's
School. It is here, as a student that Sparrowhawk meets his friends
and summons a shadow into the world.
The essence of A Wizard of Earthsea is that of Ged the student. Within
classical guild structure there are three phases to a career:
The second and third books can be thought of as addressing the later two
portions of Ged's career as a mage. However, the focus here is A Wizard of Earthsea. In the story, Ged learns about good and evil and responsibility that comes with power. Ged is twice given the opportunity for a 'quick fix' and refuses realizing their high cost.
A Wizard of Earthsea was originally published in 1968 and has influenced
fantasy and science-fiction for well over 30 years. The idea of guarding a name comes from many superstitions and mythologies in our own world. The most obvious (not to mention that Le Guin was cited in the introduction for the story) reference to this is True Names and Other Dangers by Vernor Vinge. The Wizard's Bane series by Rick Cook also has true names play an important role.
First Earthsea Trilogy (story of Ged)
- A Wizard of Earthsea
- The Tombs of Atuan
- The Farthest Shore
Second Earthsea Trilogy (story of Tenar and Tehanu)
- The Other Wind