Book Review: A Wizard of Earthsea (Ursula K. Le Guin 4 *’s)

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin is the first book of the Earthsea series, a rather famous series that has been around for decades. The copyright on A Wizard of Earthsea dates it to 1968, so it’s stayed the course of time. I’ll begin my book by saying, I didn’t really like the first chapter that much. It was written in that older style (I don’t recall the technical name—it’s like 3rd person narrative, or something like that) where every scene runs into every other scene and it consists of a shallow narrative that simply seems to connect dots in a line to me. I much prefer the modern style, where you sink into the scene getting glimpses of even the thoughts of the characters. Anyway, from the outset it is quite clear that Ursula K. Le Guin has incredible skill with the written word. Although I didn’t like the style, I was very much impressed with her technical skill.

 

The story told is of the early exploits of the young wizard named Ged. It’s worth pointing out that Ged is his true name (in normal affairs he goes by Sparrowhawk). I’ve always wondered where the notion that knowledge of a thing’s true name gives one power over that thing came from. I’ve seen such referenced in Dungeons and Dragons, The Black Company books by Glen Cook, and now here. As this dates to 1968 it is the current winner in my experience. Anyway, the character of Sparrowhawk begins the book as a precocious, power-hungry wizard-in-training. He is so precocious, and so power-hungry he gets himself in trouble and inadvertently, in an attempt to upstage a rival, unleashes a shadowy being from the underworld onto the real world. The rest of the book deals largely with him dealing with this shadowy being with only a few side adventures. It’s a short book, so the side adventures make up a good portion of it. It’s got a dragon in it, which is always a plus in my view, provided the dragon is done well—and this one is.

 

Strengths: like I said, Ursula K. Le Guin’s skill with the written word is quite impressive. The main character evolves quite convincingly over the course of the book from a rash impetuous youth, to a more mature seasoned individual. I must stress again the writer’s skill: it is very difficult to write in the style she chose. She used that old English type prose that Tolkien did many times (you know, kind of a Yoda-speak: “strong, it was, and sleek,” etc …) and it didn’t come across as tiresome and forced. That is an achievement in its own right. Weaknesses: although I found the tale to be entertaining, I was not fully smitten by it. It was an okay story, written in an earlier, more difficult to read style, but written with incredible skill.

 

Ultimately, I’ll give A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin four stars out of five.

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