Copyright 2014 by Paula S. Jordan
“The Island of Gont, a single mountain that lifts its peak a mile above the storm-racked Northeast Sea, is a land famous for wizards.”
So begins A Wizard of Earthsea, volume one of The Earthsea Trilogy, and so began my readerly friendship with Ursula K. Le Guin. The trilogy was perhaps my first deep insight into that amalgam of dreams and imperfections that is the human condition. It is a permanent fixture of my heart.
There have been periods since that first experience when I did not read Le Guin’s books, and periods when I did, so my experience of her is spotty. But I can tell you that I have, in one way or another, been informed, deeply moved, and emotionally strengthened by every work of hers that I have read.
As many of you undoubtedly know, Wizard is the insightful coming-of-age story of Ged, known as Sparrowhawk, a gifted boy whose pride would lead him into such troubles as would last through the Trilogy and shadow his magic for life. The book is filled with whimsy and hope and learning and deepest despair, and again hope, in the heart of a much wiser young man.
The Tombs of Atuan, volume two of the Trilogy, is that rarity, the coming-of-age story of a girl. Taken from her home and family as a small child, Tenar was dedicated for a life as high priestess to the “ancient and nameless Powers of the Earth.” And so she served, until a young wizard named Ged came as a thief in search of the greatest treasure of the Tombs she guarded.
In The Farthest Shore, volume three of the Trilogy, an older Ged has risen to become the Archmage of Roke, the most powerful wizard of an Earthsea from which the magic seemed to be fading away. Together with the young Crown Prince Arren, and Kalessin, Eldest of the dragons, Ged travels across the world to “confront his own past, and test the ancient prophecies.” With them also sail Earthsea’s every hope.
It seems clear at the conclusion of The Farthest Shore, completed in 1972, that Le Guin thought she was done with Ged. But Ged, it seems, or perhaps Earthsea itself, was far from done with her. Some 18 years later both Ged and Tenar are back, with Tehanu, a foster child of strange and violent origins, who would add her own indelible brush strokes to the evolving portrait of Earthsea and its inhabitants. If the original Trilogy was–and was not–a tale for children, Tehanu is a story for those same children grown, not old, but older. Ready for another course in wisdom.
Once again, a decade after Tehanu, Earthsea had more work for its historian and gazetteer. Unfortunately I cannot comment on Tales From Earthsea. Not just yet. For though I have read The Other Wind, the most recent (note that I did not say the final) book in the Cycle, I have not yet read the Tales. So I will save the fifth and sixth books in the Cycle for next week, after I have read it.
Following that, I will proceed with brief looks, in varying depths, at the other books of Ursula Le Guin on my shelf.
In the meantime, if you haven’t read Tehanu, or the Trilogy itself, I recommend that you do. The elegantly slim volumes of the Trilogy read rather quickly. But Tehanu is a full length novel, requiring and deserving your extended attention. You won’t regret it.