A Wizard of Earthsea
Ursula K. Le Guin
ABOUT THIS BOOK
In my last review on The Invoice, I highlighted its nice message on life.
I’m now thrilled to talk a bit about the book I was assigned to read for The Classics Club spin #14. It fell on number 1, which on my list was A Wizard of Earthsea. Though in a very different genre, it conveys a unique message on life.
I’m going to repeat what so many of us keep saying in The Classics Club: it befuddles me how long it took me to discover this classic! I generally do not read much fantasy, but this one is in straight line in the great tradition of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.This is great literature with a wonderful message on self-knowledge and life.
As a young child, Duny discovers he is unique and gifted to call animals and birds, even the elements, when he saves his village from disaster by hiding it from invaders by calling a spell on the fog.
The fame from this heroic act attracts a wizard who will end up giving me a new name, his real name, Ged, and takes him away to teach him deeper science.
I loved this old mage, with his cool name, Ogion the Silent, and his way of teaching Ged, more by silent behavior than by words, like the Desert Fathers of Christian Egypt in the 3rd century.
There are beautiful passages in this book, such as these:
Ged had thought that as the prentice of a great mage he would enter at once into the mystery and mastery of power. He would understand the language of the beasts and the speech of the leaves of the forest, he thought, and sway the winds with his word, and learn to change himself into any shape he wished. Maybe he and his master would run together as stags, or fly to Re Albi over the mountain on the wings of eagles.
He spoke seldom, ate little, slept less. His eyes and ears were very keen, and often there was a listening look on his face.
To hear, one must be silent.
As their eyes met, a bird sang aloud in the branches of the tree. In that moment Ged understood the singing of the bird, and the language of the water falling in the basin of the fountain, and the shape of the clouds, and the beginning and end of the wind that stirred the leaves: it seemed to him that he himself was a word spoken by the sunlight.
As a linguist, I particularly appreciated all the underlying emphasis on language, in which “things are named with their true names”. In an age when we tend to relativize everything and can no longer trust 100% the things we read or watch (online), it is quite refreshing to have a work focusing on such values.
The book is also full of great symbolism (the boat called The Shadow for instance).
And of course, Ged will need to go through riddles and challenges to reach adulthood and self-knowledge. He will meet friends and enemies, and people and creatures he will not be sure if he can trust or not.
Ged has the advantage to learn quickly. But it can be also a handicap if it leads you to being too self-assured, proud and cocky. Then you can get into real trouble…
When you start the book, there are lots of names, especially of places. There is a map at the beginning of the book, at least in this edition, but I think it’s ok if you don’t keep total track of what’s where. I didn’t pay 100% attention to the location of everything, but still managed to follow the story very easily.
I can’t tell you anything specific about the ending, it would spoil everything, but know it is FABULOUS. This was written at a time when fantasy could really give you a tremendous lesson in human psychology.
VERDICT: Essential classic with powerful message on self-knowledge and life
NB: did you notice? I’m trying to simplify my review format (just a Goodreads link, no synopsis, nothing about the author).
For books I receive for reviews, I will keep my usual format, with buying and social media links, synopsis, and picture and information about the author.
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