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Ursula K. Le Guin, A Wizard of Earthsea (book review and recommendation)

 I'm thrilled to finally review this book. I actually read it last Summer, but due to health reasons (also the reason why I was absent from both of my blogs), I wasn't able to post my review here sooner.

Ursula K. Le Guin is a very popular science fiction writer and for a good reason. The first novel by Le Guin that I read was The Left Hand of Darkness and I have simply fell in love with that one. I can't wait to read more from Ursula K. Le Guin, because I think she is an immensely gifted writer. A year ago, an influential  magazine went as far as to name Le Guin the greatest American living science fiction author. 


Today considered a classic of both fantasy and children's literature, A Wizard of Earthsea could also be describes as a young adult and 'coming of age' novel. First published in 1969, it is a story of a boy who gets invited to attend a magic school, accepts the invitation, fights his own demons and learns a lot about himself in the process. 

Does it sound familiar? Well, you have to remember that it was written and published decades before Harry Potter, so if anyone took the plot idea from anyone, it was certainly not Ursula. In fact, all those writers who wrote about magic schools after this book was published, were probably taking inspiration from Urusula L. Guin. It could be said that Ursula Le Guin is one of the first, if not the first (perhaps she really is the first, but I need to do some research to prove it) to develop this concept of  magic school.

Ursula K. Le Guin, A Wizard of Earthsea - book photography


I loved it. I gave it 5 out of 5. If you want to find out why I loved it so much, scroll down.

Ursula K. Le Guin, A Wizard of Earthsea (#book #review and recommendation)


This novel is so great that I read it despite the fact that I had high fever at the time (I actually read it a day before I was hospitalized- I’m out of the hospital now just in case you’re wondering). If for nothing else, A Wizard of Earthsea would deserve five stars for making me feel good when I was quite ill. When I started reading it, I thought to myself- what a shame I didn’t read it as kid. By the time I finished it, I realized that it was never too late to enjoy a story that is as complex as this one. It is never too late to enjoy a good book, no matter what category it might fall in. I was fortunate to have read many wonderful books when I was a kid, and I feel equally fortunate for having been able to enjoy this wonderful book. Moreover, I’m happy I read it at that specific moment in time- not only because it helped me get over a difficult morning, but because I can genuinely say that I feel that it taught me an important lesson. A lesson I needed. You know sometimes it seems to me that books arrive to us just when we need them the most. It might be why I truly believe that #booksaremagic!


I do really feel that we can learn from this novel. A Wizard of Earthsea was originally seen as a great book for children, but today it is a popular reading for adults as well. The reviews and the critique for this novel have been mostly positive and I do believe it is for a reason.  We all have things we don’t like about ourselves and that we’re afraid to tackle, but suppressing those issues, not dealing with our fears/demons/whatnot only backfires in the end.  The way this book goes about delivering that important lesson is (like most story-telling) metaphorical. 

Ursula K. Le Guin, A Wizard of Earthsea (book review and recommendation)


A young boy nicknamed Sparrowhawk learns a few magic tricks from his aunt, ends up saving his village from an invasion and earns a chance to study magic with a known mag who gives him his true name- Ged. Impatient to learn more, Ged forsakes his master to study at a magic school (I already mentioned how some say that a magic school is a concept pioneered by Ursula- as far as fantasy genre goes anyway) and magic school is where Ged’s adventures really start. As a typical adolescent Ged makes some grave mistakes, and to make things worse his talent for magic makes them quite serious ones- the kind that can have consequences not only for himself but for others as well.

Ursula K. Le Guin, A Wizard of Earthsea (book review and recommendation)

“You thought, as a boy, that a mage is one who can do anything. So I thought, once. So did we all. And the truth is that as a man's real power grows and his knowledge widens, ever the way he can follow grows narrower: until at last he chooses nothing, but does only and wholly what he *must *do . . .” ― Ursula K. Le GuinA Wizard of Earthsea

Ursula K. Le Guin, A Wizard of Earthsea (book review and recommendation)


 This novel examines the concept of power- not only what power means but how it should be used? Right from the start, I sensed there is a deeper (more psychological) message at the bottom of this story. To put it clearly, I don’t think this is a book only for kids and young adults. It can certainly be enjoyable to them, but there is enough complexity in it to please an adult reader. It might seem a typical young magician ‘coming of age’ story, but I was left with an impression that there is more depth to it and I don’t think my impression is wrong.  One of the things I truly love about this novel is the way it questions power. What is power? Should we use it? Can we avoid it? If we are to use it, how should go about it? As one expect, Ged learns a great deal as he grows up. By the end of the book, Ged is a changed person, his growth is not only physical but also spiritual. 

Ursula K. Le Guin, A Wizard of Earthsea (book review and recommendation)

                               IT IS A RATHER SHORT NOVEL, BUT THAT DOESN'T MAKE                                                 IT ANY LESS PROFOUND

It is a rather short novel, but one in which no word is obsolete. It is a well-balanced and plotted story. The plot is interesting, the characters are likable and the world building is lovely. The narration is written in third person and this fits the story quite well, I would hasten to add. The same could be said for the chronological (traditional) sequence of events.

 There are some hints about the future life of the protagonist, so the reader gets a glimpse into the future (and you can assume that the hero won’t die any time soon), but the story-telling is for most past simple and linear. Despite those few references to the future, I found myself fully immersed into the story. I worried about our protagonist Ged- and about what his actions might unleash upon the world. This world that Ursula created seemed quite real to me. The way that the author gets you care about the protagonist (Ged) is very clever.

Ursula K. Le Guin, A Wizard of Earthsea (book review and recommendation)


 Ursula doesn’t go into great depth when it comes to revealing the inner life of the protagonist, but still she tells you enough to make you see that inner changes yourself. Throughout the novel, it seems that the story-telling is mostly focused on events and in one way that is true and yet in another it is also about character development. 

The novel itself has many layers to it. Ursula is good enough a writer to tell a story in a seemingly very simple ‘event based ‘narrative, but at the same managing to portray people and the characters involved in those events. In other words, Ursula seems to be able to create well developed and likable characters without wasting any time on long dialogues or reflections. 


There are no long descriptions in this novel, neither when it comes to world building or when it comes to characters themselves. Characterization is done quite effortlessly. You never do get the feeling that you’re in the head of the characters in the sense that you can feel exactly what they’re feeling or be sure of what they’re thinking in any given moment, but their actions do make sense. You see them grow as people, you can follow their character development and generally speaking I would say that characterization was done quite well. 

While we are talking about characterization, I might add that this novel is strongly focused on the protagonist. All the other characters we get to know, we get to know through Ged- the protagonist. While it is true that the narration is told from third person point of view, it is definitely focused on Ged. Still, we do get to know other characters as well. 

Another thing to take note of is that there is a lack of active/influential female characters. In fact, the only female characters who get more spotlight are rather manipulative. There are no girls in magic school, but later on, there is this girl who tries to manipulate Ged for her own (evil) purposes. There is a love interest of sorts, the protagonists fancies a sweet girl, a sister of his friend- but nothing much happens between them. Ged and this likable girl talk a bit on a number of occasions and that's that. So, if you are looking for a novel with a heroine who takes charge of everything, this is not a novel for you.  

book photography #fantasybook #beautifuleditions #bookmagiclove


There are a lot of wonderful reviews of this novel here on goodreads, so many in fact that I’m not sure I have anything relevant or unique to contribute. To keep it as short as possible, it would probably be best to say something along the lines: “A Wizard of Earthsea is a fantasy masterpiece. “ I do think it is. I would describe it as an absolutely perfect little book. 


Perhaps the thing that I enjoyed the most about this novel is that it wasn’t a typical hero against villain story. Ged, the protagonist, is both the bad and the good guy- at different periods of his life. Aren’t we all? His pride costs Ged dearly, and I liked how it is clear from the start that Ged is the only one who can correct his wrongs doings. To me this seems like such a refreshing concept and a nice change from ‘victim hero’ syndrome. The message behind Ged’s fall from grace- 'It takes a second to do wrong, but it might take a life time to set things right' had a bitter sweet charm to it. 

I felt this kind of message was quite realistic. It is not always easy to correct our mistakes. It is not always the case that we can blame someone, some dark force, for everything bad that has happened. Sometimes we need to confront our mistakes and do everything that is in our power to correct them.

UrsulA K.Le Guin, A Wizard of Earthsea (book review and recommendation)


 Ged's struggle with his shadow brought Jung/ Freudian references to mind, but it also reminded me of Paradise Lost. Honestly, I loved the seriousness of all the messages I came across in this little gem of a book. The seriousness of the fact that freedom means responsibility. There is no freedom without responsibility. We are free because we’re morally responsible for the choices we make (I think Heinlein said something of the sort)- and it seems to me that this freedom is so frightening that most of us prefer to run away from it, finding excuses for our weakness. 


To conclude, I would recommend A Wizard of Earthsea to everyone- not only to fans of fantasy. Yes, it has talking dragons and magicians but it also delivers some important psychological (and perhaps even theological) lessons. In the end, what it means to be alive? What it means to have power if we don’t have the power over ourselves? If we let our weaknesses eat us inside, we might end up being dead even if we are physically alive.

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