Date of Publication: 1968
Number of Pages: 183
Synopsis (from back cover): Ged was the greatest sorcerer in all Earthsea, but once he was called Sparrowhawk, a reckless youth, hungry for power and knowledge, who tampered with long-held secrets and loosed and terrible shadow upon the world. This is the tale of his testing, how he mastered the mighty words of power, tamed an ancient dragon, and crossed death’s threshold to restore the balance.
Review: I am not a fan of fantasy or science fiction. I am, however, an enthusiastic fan of J.R.R. Tolkien, and especially The Lord of the Rings. I knew that the Earthsea saga was supposed to be similar, and it is, but happily, it is also very different. The entire population of the world lives on small islands that make up the Archipelago of Earthsea, and wizards are common, if revered, laborers. Each village, township, or great city employs one, and they are all educated on one enchanted island, Roke. Fishermen depend on wizards to help calm the weather and the sea, and even the very fish themselves. Wizards are healers and magicians. And Ged is both the most powerful and talented, and also the most prideful and, therefore, the most cursed of these wizards.
This story follows Ged’s early life, from his birth and childhood on the Gont, where is father was a smith and his aunt a petty village witch who taught him his first spells, to his education at the great wizard school on Roke, and to his great mistake of pride and his journey toward rectifying it. In a way, it is very much like The Lord of the Rings, if it had been told from Gandalf’s point of view: a powerful wizard wanders the earth, doing great things to help people, but always in pursuit of some dark mission. In another way, it reminded me of Homer’s Odyssey, in that Ged is constantly sidelined by manipulative and dark forces. All of these likenesses in fact add to the enjoyment I had in the story. Ged is a wonderfully complex hero; he is not wholly good and makes terrible mistakes that endanger the entire world. He gives in to pride, anger, and envy, and this causes his early downfall, but it also makes him a better person. The people around him either help him or hinder him, but this doesn’t make them one-dimensional. In fact, I am looking forward to reading the next book in the series, The Tombs of Atuan not just to read more about Ged, but also about his friends, Vetch, Yarrow, and Ogion, and also about his nemesis, Jasper. I recommend this book to any fan of Tolkien or C.S. Lewis…to well-read fans of fantasy and science fiction, this book will already be a favorite.
Reviewed by Sarah
An interesting observation, The Earthsea Cycle has running commentary on race and imperialism. Notice the people from Ged’s homeland are described as bronzed and the invaders are white. Later in the series Ged confronts other groups of people and Le Guin’s descriptions are anthropological. The Sci-fi channel made a version of the book but Ged was white, blonde hair, and blue eyes; obviously they missed the point. Studio Ghibili made an animated version of “Tales from Earthsea” but it can’t be released in the US until 2009 because of that crappy sci-fi chnnel movie (grrr).
P.S. Not to dash your hopes but Tombs of Atuan picks up with Ged like twenty years later and most of those charecters don’t come back, but some do! And you’ll be very happy when you meet dragons (they’re incredible), Le Guin has a very interesting treatment of them.