A Wizard of Earthsea — “The Earthsea Cycle” Series

Wizard of Earthsea

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Book Review

In A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin, Sparrowhawk is magically gifted, but his pride unleashes a shadow that hunts him through the islands of Earthsea. It is the first book in the “Earthsea Cycle” series.

Plot Summary

Duny is a young boy living in an archipelago of islands known as Earthsea, and his particular island of Gont produces many talented wizards. Duny’s aunt notices that he has an unusually strong gift for magic, and she takes him on as an apprentice magician.

Duny learns the true names of many animals, which allows him to call them to him at will. Since he is always surrounded by birds of prey, the village children call him Sparrowhawk, a name he continues to use for much of his life.

When Duny is 12, soldiers from the Kargad Empire sail to Gont and attack his village. Duny cleverly shrouds the whole village in a thick mist, fooling the attackers. Rumor of Duny’s great achievement spreads, and a wise mage named Ogion arrives to take Duny as his apprentice and give him his true name: Ged.

Ged learns Hardic runes from Ogion, runes that will enable him to learn the Old Speech, the language where all things are called by their true names. One day, a girl asks him about his magic abilities, wondering if he can summon the spirits of the dead. In an attempt to learn a spell to impress the girl, Ged sneaks and reads Ogion’s lore books.

This spell accidentally summons a shadow creature, which must be banished by Ogion. Ogion realizes that Ged wants to learn more complicated magical arts, so he offers him the choice of going to the big city of Roke to attend a magical academy, an option that Ged readily accepts.

At the magic school, Ged meets Archmage Nemmerle and applies himself to his studies. Ged’s pride and unbending nature make it difficult for him to connect with other students. He makes only one friend, Vetch, and also makes one true enemy, Jasper. As Ged learns more and more magic, Jasper taunts him to prove his skills by demonstrating a feat of great power, such as summoning a spirit from the dead.

Ged is overwhelmed by pride in his own abilities and attempts to raise the spirit of a famous deceased woman. Instead, an evil shadow creature slips through a rip in the fabric of the universe and attacks Ged. Archmage Nemmerle drives away the shadow but dies from the effort. Ged is badly injured.

After several months of recovery, Ged is healed enough to walk outdoors again and swear fealty to Gensher, the new Archmage of the school. Gensher urges him to study well because the evil creature he unleashed is waiting for him outside of Roke and will possess him if he does not grow strong enough to withstand it.

Ged lacks his former strength and confidence. He is no longer a star pupil. Still, he passes all his training and, at about 18 years old, he becomes a full wizard and leaves to become the wizard of a town called Low Torning.

Low Torning needs a wizard because their little collection of islands is close to the island of Pendor, where a brood of nine dragons lives. They fear that when the eight younger dragons reach adulthood, they will attack the nearby people. They want Ged to be their protector.

Ged travels to Pendor to kill the dragons so he can complete his duty toward the villagers and leave to confront the shadow. He kills five of the younger dragons. Then the father of the group negotiates with him. Ged says that if the great dragon will swear never to fly east of Pendor to the islands, Ged will not attempt to control or destroy him by invoking his real name, Yevaud.

The great dragon offers Ged jewels and also offers to tell Ged the name of the shadow that hunts him. Ged is deeply tempted to seek his own benefit and make a deal with Yevaud, but instead, uses his influence over the dragon to protect the people of the islands.

After Ged defeats Yevaud through wit, Ged travels toward Roke. Rumor of his great deeds spreads throughout the islands. However, he finds that his passage to Roke is blocked because spells around Roke prevent evil from entering — where Ged goes, his shadow follows. A stranger on an island tells him to go to the Court of the Terrenon in Osskil to gain something that will help him defeat his shadow. In Osskil, the shadow possesses the body of one of Ged’s shipmates and attacks him.

Ged runs away and stumbles into the Court of the Terrenon. There, he meets a woman named Serret. The Terrenon is an ancient jewel rumored to be as old as the world itself. Serret says if Ged touches the jewel, it can tell him how to defeat his enemy.

Ged refuses to touch it. When Serret tries to persuade him to change his mind, he realizes that she and her husband want to let the Terranon possess him so they can use his magical powers. He also discovers that Serret is the girl he tried to impress in Gont as a young boy. Small flying monsters attack Ged as he flees the court, but he turns into a falcon and flies to Gont.

Ged goes to Ogion in falcon form, but he forgets his true self. Ogion helps Ged turn back into a human and suggests that he stop running and confront his shadow. Ged sails out onto the ocean and asks his shadow to meet him. He chases the shadow, nearly catching it several times. On the isle of Iffish, he meets his old friend Vetch, who insists on traveling the last part of the journey with him.

They sail to the farthest southeast island in the world, and then sail even farther eastward into the uncharted ocean. When Ged finally meets his shadow, he calls it Ged and embraces it. He later tells Vetch that he is whole and free, and he cries in relief because the shadow was a part of himself all along, a part that he has now finally accepted.

Christian Beliefs

None

Other Belief Systems

Ged’s aunt is a witch and works magic through verbal spells. The Kargs believe in God-brothers named Wuluah and Atwah, whom they call upon in times of trouble. Most citizens of Earthsea believe that the legendary hero Segoy made all the islands of the world.

While reading a lore book, Ged accidentally summons a shadow creature that must be banished by Ogion. Ogion tells Ged that all acts of magic are done for good or for evil and implies that the local enchantress works for the powers of evil.

The magic of Earthsea works on the principle of Equilibrium, and pupils at the magic school are taught not to invoke magic unless they know exactly how that magic will affect the balance of the world. Ged’s shadow possesses a human being and wants to possess Ged.

Authority Roles

Ged’s mother dies when he is a baby, and his father is a gruff man who doesn’t understand how to nurture a child, so Ged basically raises himself. His father beats and whips him for disobedience.

Ged’s aunt makes sure he stays alive as a baby but feels no interest in him until he starts to display magical talent. She tries to violate his free will by binding him with a spell that makes him serve her, but the spell doesn’t work.

Ogion is a calm, gentle man who teaches Ged that adulthood means being patient and developing any skill requires dedication. Ogion knows that Ged needs to learn humility and steadiness, but he allows Ged to exercise his freewill and leave for the city of Roke to fulfill his ambitions. Ged loves and respects Ogion.

Archmage Nemmerle is a wise and thoughtful figure who dies in order to save Ged from the shadow he unwisely summons.

Profanity & Violence

A Karg warrior is impaled with a spear. When Ged unleashes the shadow, it attacks him and leaves bloody black gashes across his face. The shadow kills Archmage Nemmerle.

Sexual Content

None

Discussion Topics

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book’s review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

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