“A Wizard of Earthsea” by Ursula K. Le Guin was the most recent book for the Wall Street Journal Book Club. I very infrequently find myself picking up fantasy novels although there are three fantasy series that I can remember reading (Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling, The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, and Alosha by Christopher Pike). So when I realized that the book that had been picked for the WSJ Book Club was a fantasy novel, I was a bit skeptical. When I looked more closely at the title I realized that I already owned the entire series but had never got around to reading it. And I knew the author too, she has written poetry also and I remember really enjoying some of it. To add to the list, Margaret Atwood is the author that picked this book and as I love her work, I found myself looking forward to reading “A Wizard of Earthsea”.
The book is short but powerful and in my opinion, one of the more complex and intricate novels that I have read. It was definitely an interesting read. “A Wizard of Earthsea” follows the greatest sorcerer in all Earthsea: Ged, before he comes into his power and gains the knowledge necessary to harness that power. It was very interesting to read about Ged navigating his way through life, while trying to learn the strength and danger of his powers. One of the themes that is stressed throughout “A Wizard of Earthsea” is the dangers of power and more so of using said powers frivolously. Ged’s first interaction with magic happens when he observes a witch as a child. “There is a saying on Gont, weak as woman’s magic, and there is another saying, wicked as woman’s magic. Now the witch of Ten Alders was no black sorceress, nor did she ever meddle with the high arts or traffic with Old Powers; but being an ignorant woman among ignorant folk, she often used her crafts to foolish and dubious ends. She knew nothing of the Balance and the Pattern which the true wizard knows and serves, and which keep him from using his spells unless real need demands. She had a spell for every circumstance, and was forever weaving charms.” (A Wizard of Earthsea, pg 5).
Even in Ged’s first glance at magic, the foundation is set for the readers that using magic for everything is dangerous and that Balance is important. The consequences of allowing yourself to be seduced by power is repeated again and again in “A Wizard of Earthsea”. There are warnings expressed to Ged multiple times, but he lets his pride overshadow his sense and he faces dire consequences because of this.
Another warning that he is given is about change, and again – balance. “To change this rock into a jewel, you must change its true name. And to do that, my son, even to so small a scrap of the world, is to change the world. It can be done. Indeed it can be done. It is the art of the Master Changer, and you will learn it, when you are ready to learn it. But you must not change one thing, one pebble, on grain of sand, until you know what good and evil will follow on that act. The world is in balance, in Equilibrium. A wizard’s power of Changing and of Summoning can shake the balance of the world. It is dangerous, that power. It is more perilous. It must follow knowledge, and serve need. To light a candle is to cast a shadow….” (A Wizard of Earthsea, pg 44). I really liked this quote as it paints a picture of how Ursula K. Le Guin writes and is a good example of the warnings that Ged is given.
Would I recommend this book? Absolutely – I think that there is great appeal in this novel for a wide range of readers. I would never label myself a fan of the fantasy genre, but after reading “A Wizard of Earthsea” I may have to broaden my horizons even more. I am very glad that I already have the rest of the series in my possession. I may even have to try reading “The Lord of the Rings” now.