…a man: who, knowing his whole true self, cannot be used or possessed by any power other than himself, and whose life therefore is lived for life’s sake and never in the service of ruin, or pain, or hatred, or the dark (195)
A Wizard of Earthsea is a fantasy bildungsroman* and origin story of Sparrowhawk (also known as Ged) the greatest voyager of Roke. Readers follow Ged from his humble beginnings as a nobody to his first adventure as wizard.
Ged, is very interesting character; he’s the last born and a natural loner. Left to his own devices in a small village, he finds creative ways to cultivate his mind. His magical roots begin with learning charms from his witch-aunt: calling goats, healing spells, patching leaky roofs etc. However, simple charms aren’t enough for Ged, future dragonlord and Archmage. Eventually he takes up an apprenticeship with a Master Wizard, but impatience and immaturity rule over him. The Master Wizard sends Ged to the Roke School of Wizards, famous throughout all of Earthsea.
Ged begins his adventure talented but immature and flawed. Along the way, he learns the importance of balance, not letting one side overwhelm the other. He develops the courage and wisdom to finish what he started. Major conflict starts when ego leads Ged to summon a power he doesn’t understand and cannot control. He creates a gateway for a shadow to enter the world. But this is not just any shadow–it’s everything dark. On his journey to understand the shadow and his connection with it, he matures greatly. What begins as a source of self-inflicted damage and destruction of Ged becomes a passage to wholeness and adulthood.
There were many elements and little details in this book that intrigued me. I like the idea of limits; knowing them and testing them–be it the power of a spell, or sailing the seas to the edge of the world. This is relevant because Ged is a wizard, but he is also human with weaknesses. I also like the dark invitations: the elder dragon on the isle and the stone that was before all things. Both had knowledge of the shadow (knowledge that Ged needed) but their power was sinister and untrustworthy. I also like the importance of names. Knowing someone or somethings true** name grants one the ability to speak to, connect with, and in certain instances control them. I’m looking forward to the next book in this Earthsea series by the always impressive, Le Guin.
* I don’t know why I didn’t just say Coming-of-Age…
**Ged is Sparrowhawk’s true name.