The Earthsea cycle is a fantasy sereis by Ursula K. Le Guin. The first three books were published in 1968, 1970, and 1972 respectively. Down below is a brief synopsis of each book. I’ll be going over some of the general themes and the pros/cons of the series.
Minor Spoilers below
Book #1 A Wizard of Earthsea
The first installment of the series is about a young man named Ged. The book tells about his great deeds and how he has become one of the greatest Wizards the world has ever known. The book’s focus is man vs. self. Ged was a wizard with unmatched potential as well as arrogance. The story is a coming of age story of how one’s arrogance can be his greatest enemy.
Book #2 The Tombs of Atuan
The tombs of Atuan is unique in the fact that Ged is not the central figure in the story. Tenar is a priestess to the “Eaten One”. She is brainwashed to believe that she has no choice in what she does and believes. Ged ends up helping her understand that she does have a choice in what she does. The story’s main point is that we can change who we are if we admit out ignorance and are open to learn other things.
Book #3 The Farthest Shore
The Farthest Shore is the most typical fantasy novel of the three. Ged must go on a quest with a young prince named Arren in order to stop an evil enemy from destroying the world. There are dragons, a magic sword, and let’s not forget a prophecy. The book is filled with clichés . You do have to keep in mind that this book was published in 1972. The fantasy genre was still being developed during this time. The ideas were not original, but neither were they a complete rip-off. The story is about bravery and sacrifice.
The Use of Magic
Magic is often used as a crutch. An author will write himself into a hole and often the only way out is through some elaborate use of magic that doesn’t make any sense or is out of place. The good thing about Le Guin is that magic is never used in an unrealistic way to conveniently save a hero or the day. For example, Ged does use his magic to help sailors. He puts charms on their boats and helps heal their children. Yet when a friend asks Ged to save his child’s life, he fails. Ged learns that magic is not always the answer to a conflict. Le Guin in all her books does a good job at explaining magic can do a lot of things but it is often our choices that make the most difference. The conflicts that matter the most in the books are ones that are Internal.
Man vs. Self
Ged must face the consequences of his arrogance. Tenar must come to terms with her own ignorance and childhood. Prince Arren must find the courage to follow Ged on his journey and take responsibility for his status. The bigger threats are often used as a steppingstone in each book for a character to face their inner conflict. The stakes are often high, but it seems that it is a conscious choice that saves the day rather than any magic. For example, Ged must face multiple dragons so that he might face his own demons. Tenar is threatened by another high priestess and is forced to decide whether she is going to remain a high priestess or leave. Prince Arren decides to follow Ged knowing that it may cost him his life. Magic is often involved but it is not the deciding factor on how each character wins over their internal struggle. Magic is primarily used so that a character must face his internal conflict. The man vs. nature and man vs. man are primary used so that a character will eventually face their own personal conflicts.
Point of View
Each book seems to focus on a different character. The first book focuses on Ged. The second book focuses on Tenar. The third book focuses on Prince Arren. Ged is in all three of them, but he is not the focus in the second and third. In fact, Ged only appears when the second book is almost halfway done. Le Guin makes the stories more interesting by telling one of Ged’s adventures through the eyes of another character. It’s not often that the main character in a series is not the focus in each book.
The Passage of Time
Stories will often start where they left off in the previous one. Yet Le Guin is not afraid to age her characters. Ged is a young man in the first book and an old man by the third. On the bright side, each book builds on the last one and you get to see how previous events affect a character in the future. On the downside, time lapses between the books does hurt Ged’s character. He often seems like a different character at times as his characterization seems rushed in certain instances. This is also the result of the dialogue in the story.
The weakest part of the entire series is the Dialogue. Le Guin tends to tell us what is happening and what the characters are thinking. The dialogue between characters in the story is rather limited. This does take a toll on the story. A character is mad, and we understand why. The character will act in a way that shows he is mad, and the results are not farfetched. Unfortunately, we are never shown through dialogue that the character is mad. The third – person point of view is relied on too much and the characterization of the characters is diminished.
Earthsea is far from a perfect series but is still an amazing read. Le Guin does a marvelous job at putting huge worldly conflicts second to a character’s internal conflict. The best part about the series is that the world seems magical. Often the magic in a series will be used as a crutch to resolve a character’s conflict or will be explained so thoroughly that it loses what makes it magical. The dialogue between characters leaves a lot to be desired but overall the first book is worth the read. If you enjoy the first than you will surely enjoy the next two.