A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula. K. Le Guin is a novel which I’ve wanted to read for quite some time. Hence I was lucky to find a collected edition containing the first four of the Earthsea books in a Waterstone’s during the summer. I was thus able to read A Wizard of Earthsea for the first time, and words cannot describe how I excited I was to finally have a chance to read it. The plot follows the young wizard Ged, also known as Sparrowhawk, who follows a journey to discover himself after his arrogance leads to him summoning a shadowy creature which attacks him, propelling him to seek a way to be free of the creature.
Genre wise the novel is a fairly strong foray into the fantasy genre and magic features heavily into the plot, with Ged being a wizard himself. The magic system is very clever and fleshed out, and one of the more enjoyable parts of the novel. The concept of balance and wizards having to keep the balance, similar in some ways to Taoism. The novel in general follows a very ideological edge and it became apparent towards the end that the story wasn’t so much about the external conflict, but rather Ged’s internal conflict and his coming of age journey into manhood, symbolically speaking. His emotional growth plays an important part of his conflict and a lot of the story’s events are connected to this growth as a result.
The most interesting aspect of this was the way the two eventually came together in the form of Ged’s shadow. This also ties into the novel’s greatest twist, namely that Ged’s shadow is in fact part of himself. Throughout the novel it is assumed to be a powerful demon trying to possess him and nameless, however he is able to finally banish it by recognising it as a part of himself and accepting it. Thus the novel brings the external conflict of Ged’s shadow and ties it into the symbolic journey of Ged’s growth into manhood. This was an interesting twist and to me it brought the novel into a whole new dimension.
The one thing I did notice was the pacing. The novel seemed to have on okay pacing towards the beginning, a bit slow but considering the need to build up the setting and how interesting it was this was more than justified. Towards the middle I felt like the plot bounced around a bit, with no clear focus towards some parts of Ged’s journey. The novel also muddied the waters between its climax and its resolution, since the climax of Ged’s confrontation with the shadow takes place literally at the end of the novel. The novel kind of just ends after Ged defeats his shadow, with nothing but a few pages of the journey back to land and a brief moment of reverie before an abrupt end. I couldn’t help therefore that I was cheated out of some of the novel’s closure as a result since the novel ended so abruptly. Since I’m normally used to having at least a brief epilogue chapter before a story ends this came across as quite unusual to me and I’m not sure what to think about it. I like the climax itself for the twist, yet at the same time I can’t seem to get over how abrupt and how much of an anti-climax it seemed to be.
I still thoroughly enjoyed the novel and it was refreshingly different to all the young adult fantasy novels that have succeeded it and as a whole it has that unique blend between the children’s fantasy novel’s of old, such as the Chronicles of Narnia and the more modern day ventures into the genre. This novel to me strikes me as the perfect gap and is the archetypical coming of age novel and it does things which I can’t help but admire it for, even if it lacks in execution in some places. As I read it, there was no doubt in my mind that I was reading a classic example of the fantasy genre.
IN A WORD: SYMBOLIC