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Bookends: The first tale of the land of Earthsea February 5, 2015

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends.
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Bookends: The first tale of the land of Earthsea

By Dan DavidsonEarthsea

July 2, 2014

– 933 words –

 

A Wizard of Earthsea

By Ursula K. LeGuin

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

320 pages

$9.99

 

A Wizard of Earthsea

By Ursula K. LeGuin

Unabridged reading by Rob Inglis

Audible.com

7 hrs and 16 mins

$25.87

 

It’s interesting that publishers seem to feel the need to use larger print and make fatter books these days. My paperback copy of A Wizard of Earthsea, which I got in 1994 to replace my well-worn 1976 edition, checks in at a mere 184 pages, has smaller print, smaller margins and gutters than most books I see in this decade.

The story of Ged, whose public name is Sparrowhawk, is one of the first I ever read that featured a school for wizards, at which the young acolytes spend a lot of time learning the true names of things. Names are vital to the working of magic in this world, so much so that most people have a secret true name known only to them and the person who gave it to them.

Ged began life as Duny, his childhood name, and fell into working magic quite by accident when he copied a calling/binding rhyme that he heard his aunt, who was a minor witch, use to charm a goat. This led to her training him in most of her art, and he picked up a few tricks from some other magic users, for the island of Gont was well known for its wizards.

When 12 year old Duny uses a hitherto unheard of combination of tricks to save his entire village from some barbarian invaders, he draws the attention of the famous wizard Ogion the Silent, who gives him his true name and takes him on as a prentice.

Ged’s abiding weakness in his youth is pride, and this is the cause of nearly all the ill that befall him over the next ten years or so. Studies with Ogion do not progress fast enough for a boy who wants power, and so he choses to go to the wizards’ school on the isle of Roke.

This is no Hogwart’s, but more of a monastery, a place full of illusions and mystery. Ged, who is known as Sparrowhawk, excels in his studies, but lets his pride imagine injuries and rivals far in excess of what he actually faces there. This leads him, after a time, to attempt the feat of calling up a shade of the dead, not for any good or sufficient reason, but simply to show up the aristocratic young man who seems to be his chief rival.

This act also calls up the dark creature who becomes his bane for the next several years, and will eventually send him questing all over the island dotted world to seek a way to atone for his error.

Along the way there are friendships, triumphs, a duel with dragons and much hardship. Ged learns how to serve the people who need his skill with the arts without investing his efforts with any sense of pride. He learns to be humble and work more for the betterment of others. But he spends much of these years looking over his shoulder and learns that some parts of his life have been manipulated by an evil power that hopes to corrupt him and take control of his skills.

Managing to flee that fate, he almost loses himself in a spell of transformation, spending too long in literal flight as a bird. It is following this incident that he resolves to turn the tables on the Shadow and become the hunter that his public name implies. There are many adventures yet, some of them alone, some with his one time student friend, Vetch, before the final confrontation between Ged and his Shadow.

We know from the beginning of the novel that this is a tale of the great Wizard Sparrowhawk, of feats that he performed before he became so famous, before the song “The Deed of Ged” was written and sung, so I’m not spoiling the ending of this book to tell you that it all works out well.

A word of warning though. If you ever come across the Syfy channel mini-series that was “inspired” by this book, run away from it. It has almost nothing to do with the book. The author famously disowned it in print.

This might have been a standalone fantasy, but LeGuin did follow it up with two sequels, fleshing out references she had made in the book. For years these were known as the Earthsea Trilogy, and then she wrote a fourth book, followed later by a collection of short stories set in this world, and then another novel.

I downloaded the digital file of this reading of the audiobook from Audible.com. It was odd in that it was originally made is the days of tape cassettes, and so you hear the occasional prompt to turn the tape over. Rob Inglis does a very good job on this book and the English accent does of course, make it sound different than the voice I originally heard I my head nearly 40 years ago now.

I was surprised that I remembered most of the high points of the book but not the exact ending, which I recalled as one of the earlier confrontations between Ged and his Shadow, a couple of chapters before the actual conclusion.

Houghton Mifflin is currently marketing this as a book for younger readers, but which I take it they mean young adult. It wasn’t, originally, and it isn’t necessarily so now.

 

-30-

 

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