Sunday, November 02, 2008

Review: A Wizard of Earthsea

After reading Le Guin's complaints about the TV adaptation of her works, and reading about the Miyazaki Jr adaptation of Earthsea, I had to go back and re-read this beautiful novel.

For those used to the mega-volume works of today's fantasy, A Wizard of Earthsea comes as a breath of fresh air. It's short but it is so beautifully written --- this is how I want to be able to write when I grow up. Passage after passage delights the mind's ear:
At first all his pleasure in the art-magic was, childlike, the power it gave him over bird and beast, and the knowledge of these. And indeed that pleasure stayed with him all his life. Seeing him in the high pastures often with a bird of prey about him, the other children called him Sparrowhawk, and so he came by the name that he kept in later life as his use-name, when his true-name was not known

Le Guin mentioned that Ged, like all the Gontish in the novel is black, and it amazes me that I missed that completely when I read the novel for the first time --- of course I was but a child when I read it, and reading is all in the head in any case. As an adult and on second reading, I can definitely see that emphasis. Nevertheless, the trappings are that of a European fantasy novel, since bread, wine and cheese seem to be what folks dine on.

The theme of the novel, like all other young-adult novels, is self-discovery and acceptance. We are told up front that Ged will become the most storied of all Wizards, but Le Guin portrays his youthful pride as his downfall without any sentiment whatsoever. What's impressive is that Le Guin manages not to pound you over the head with any overt messages or morals, and her school of wizardry is so deftly sketched with so few words, yet wonderfully imagined, that I wonder how I ever could stand to read Harry Potter.

I guess I now have to read the rest of the series, having remembered how beautiful the first novel was. If you've never read the Earthsea series, you need to. Highly recommended.
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