Ursula K. Le Guin, 1968 – First in the Earthsea Cycle
Ged is his True name, but don’t wear it out. The young sorceror’s commonly used name is Sparrowhawk, and he only shares his True name with those he trusts implicitly. In Earthsea, knowledge of someone’s True name gives the knower power over the named.
This children’s fantasy novel is an extreme coming of age story with elements of Harry Potter (sorceror school) and the Lord of the Rings (lots of sorcerors hold up staffs, staffs light up, etc). Ged is proud and a bit arrogant, which should come as no surprise since he’s accidentally discovered that his mentor considers him to be a future Archmage. After he accepts a challenge thrown down by his rival, with disastrous results, Ged and those around him are in danger – a danger that only Ged can obliterate.
The only way I knew this was a children’s novel was by googling it. In hindsight though, there are a few chapters in the middle of the tale that could stand on their own as short stories; they almost read as fables. Those chapters do have a “let me tell you a story, children” quality.
Le Guin is known for challenging fantasy stereotypes, and there is some of that in this book; the skin colors of most of the characters are red-brown to brown-black – but there is a notable lack of female characters in this 1968 publication. If I had read this as child in 1968, I would have seen nothing to contradict the message that women are meant to play a supporting role. The one woman who challenges this assumption is perceived as evil.
I listened to the audio version narrated by Rob Inglis. Inglis also narrated the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and only thing that kept me from thinking I was in Middle Earth, with the the combination of wizards, staffs, and Inglis’ British accent, was the fact that much of this tale takes place at sea.
Overall, I rate A Wizard of Earthsea at a healthy three stars; I liked the story well enough, but didn’t like the gender stereotypes, and I thought the narrator, while obviously talented, was not a good match.
I listened to the majority of this book at The Headlands, an International Dark Sky Park near Mackinaw City, MI while waiting for the sky to get dark enough to see some of the Perseid meteor shower. I wrote about the experience on my Michigan blog, Bookish in the Mitten.