The Thunder Child

Science Fiction and Fantasy
Web Magazine and Sourcebooks

Book Reviews
"Stand By For Mars!"
Book Reviews

Book Reviews by Gabe Gregoire

A Wizard of Earthsea
Ursula K. LeGuin

Review by Gabe Gregoire

Think about death too much, and you become morbid. Face death, and life becomes more precious. But unleash the shadow of death upon the world, as the mage Ged does in Ursula K. LeGuin's A Wizard of Earthsea, and you'll forever be hunted by a nameless dread that has the power to destroy your world.

I say 'nameless,' because in Earthsea, having knowledge of a person or thing's true name grants one dominion over them or it. For example, by calling the true name of a hawk, Ged can make the bird come and land on his outstretched wrist. Likewise, Ged only gives his own true name to those he implicitly trusts and admires, like his fellow sorcerer-student, Vetch. Indeed, in the mythology that LeGuin builds, life itself is one long true name that is spoken by the stars, and the names of all things in Earthsea are merely snatches of the word of life.

The point is that identity is elusive. The search for oneself can take the form of a quest of many years, as it does for Ged, who grows from an impetuous lad to an even-tempered and decent young man over the course of the novel. This makes A Wizard of Earthsea an ideal story for teens of either gender.

This reviewer was given the book as a gift at age twelve, and was captured by images of magical beings like powerful spell-casters and wise (and dangerous) dragons. Only upon reading LeGuin's novel as an adult did I recognize the underpinnings of a philosophy based on Jung's concepts of the unconscious and the shadow. Just as analytical psychology teaches us to integrate our shadows, lest we project them onto others, so Ged seeks to defeat and absorb his dark doppelganger.

Of course, I was an English major, and didn't study much psychology, so I should also tell you that LeGuin's language smacks of the poetry of Chaucer. (Compare the poet's "When in April the sweet showers fall / And pierce the drought of March to the root" [from The Canterbury Tales] to LeGuin's "The days came warm and clear. The Great House and the streets of Thwil were hushed.") But LeGuin's parents were a scientist and a writer, and she herself attended Columbia University, so she was certainly no stranger to academic ideas about the human psyche.

Ged makes friends on his journey, but none as true as Vetch. Indeed, in the end, Vetch is his only companion as Ged confronts his faceless enemy, and the only witness to the aftermath of the battle.

It is a treat to enjoy LeGuin's world, one that's as rich and varied as the one we share outside the pages of the book.

A Wizard of Earthsea won the 1979 Lewis Carroll Shelf Award, and is the first in a series of five books about this fantastical world: A Wizard of Earthsea (1968), The Tombs of Atuan (1971), The Farthest Shore (1972), Tehanu(1991), and The Other Wind (2002). (There are also some short stories.)

Return to:
The Thunder Child Reviews Index

Click on the icons for new features in The Thunder Child.
Radiation Theater: 1950s Sci Fi Movies Discussion Boards
The Sand Rock Sentinel: Ripped From the Headlines of 1950s Sci Fi Films

Learn more or
Buy Now

website statistics