Book Cover
Title The Rule of Names
Author Ursula K. Le Guin
Cover Art Todd Lockwood
Publisher Night Shade Books - 2010
First Printing 1964
Book Cover
Title The Word of Unbinding
Author Ursula K. Le Guin
Cover Art ---
Publisher ---
First Printing 1964
Book Cover
Title A Wizard of Earthsea
Author Ursula K. Le Guin
Cover Art Ed Dillon
Publisher Science Fiction Book Club - 2005
First Printing 1968
Book Cover
Title The Tombs of Atuan
Author Ursula K. Le Guin
Cover Art ---
Publisher Science Fiction Book Club - 2005
First Printing 1970
Book Cover
Title The Farthest Shore
Author Ursula K. Le Guin
Cover Art ---
Publisher Science Fiction Book Club - 2005
First Printing 1972
Book Cover
Title Tehanu
Author Ursula K. Le Guin
Cover Art Dominic Harman
Publisher Atheneum - 2012
First Printing 1990
Book Cover
Title Tales of Earthsea
Author Ursula K. Le Guin
Cover Art Jed Share
Publisher Ace - 2002
First Printing 2001
Book Cover
Title The Other Wind
Author Ursula K. Le Guin
Cover Art Cliff Nielsen
Publisher Harcourt - 2001
First Printing 2001
Category High Fanatasy
Warnings None
Main Characters Ged/Sparrowhawk, Tenar, Arren, Tehanu, Alder, Azver
Main Elements Wizards, Dragons
Website www.ursulakleguin.com/




With a host of literary honours and awards to her credit, Grand Master Ursual K. Le Guin has long been a mainstay of science fiction and fantasy. But of all her nineteen novels and one hundred plus short stories, she is perhaps best known for the critically-acclaimed Earthsea cycle. A gorgeously written, deeply perceptive tale, this high-fantasy classic deserves a space on your shelf alongside the heroic epids of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.

Click to read the summaryA Wizard of Earthsea

Click to read the summaryThe Tombs of Atuan

Click to read the summaryThe Farthest Shore

Click to read the summaryTehanu

Click to read the summaryTales of Earthsea

Click to read the summaryThe Other Wind




This year I gave myself a goal of filling in some of the big holes in my fantasy repertoire, those older classics that ones must read. I had most of the Earthsea saga already, missing only Tehanu, so thought I would start with that one.

I went in knowing nothing at all about them other than the fact that the world consisted of a number of islands in a large sea. I ended up really enjoying these stories. This is not an epic Lord of the Rings. No saving the entire world (or even when it is, it still really isn't). These are character stories, small snapshots into the history of a much larger realm. While the events could have world changing effect depending on the outcome, each story is self contained with no more than two main characters and spanning a period of rarely more than a couple months. While song and stories were written about Sparrowhawk the great wizard, as you read the stories you realize that he was just a man, a powerful wizard yes, but not someone you'd think would go down in history...he's so, well, normal in a way. He doesn't go around slaying dragons, defeating invading armies or accomplishing the other great things one would expect. Most of the time he's just floating around in his little boat, the Lookfar, a gift from a grateful fisherman. We build up our heroes such that they seem invincible, but Ged nearly dies in every story, his magic generally less than impressive, only used in under the most dire circumstances.

In the first story, we meet Ged as a young boy, and how his arrogance and power nearly destroyed him, and made him what he was to become. The second story is really Tenar's, the high Priestess to the ancient gods who are not what they seemed. Ged is there, an accomplished wizard by this time, but we see him from her point of view. The third story is Arren's, an young Prince with an unexpected destiny. Ged once more provides continuity but he is now an old man.

In a way, Ged's aging through the three short novels was a bit jarring. There are references to his other great deeds, but we only get to see these three. And yet somehow it made me enjoy the stories more, the fact that they were snapshots and not a full biography from start to end. It leaves plenty of room for Le Guin to fill in the blanks in the future. I'm glad that of this writing I have three more books to go, and possibly some short stories to be dug out of other anthologies.

May 2013

I have since finished the rest of the series. Tehanu, though named for the young girl adopted by Tenar, is really about what happens after the epic events have passed. When the great and powerful have to learn to live just like the rest of us. It had an overly feministic tone, and I understood why so many reviews I read had a negative tone to it. It didn't have the same feel as the first three novels, written nearly 20 years before. And in fact, I wasn't all that happy that the mystery left at the ending of the third book is answered. I liked how the legend ended as legends do, altered by time and told in different ways by different people, and what is truth becomes something a little bit more. So overall, I found this to be the weakest of the series.

Tales from Earthsea covered a wide range of times and characters. You learn about the founding of Roke, the saving of Gont from the great Earthquake by Ogion (mentioned in one of the earlier books), a simple tale of true love, a glimpse into the time when Ged was Archmage, and the girl who was a dragon...or is it a dragon that was a girl? This last story is really a prelude to The Other Wind. While it too was different from the original trilogy, as it involved virtually every character mentioned in the other books, it had the same simple, magical feel to it. It also explained some of the strange things we encountered in the other books, such as the origins of the dragons, and what exactly is the Dry Land. It very much concluded the series, giving it true closure. I don't know if it will be le Guin's last foray into the world of Earthsea, but if so, it is a worthy ending (insofar as any story can truly end).

Finally, I was lucky enough that by complete chance I happened to have a reprint of one of two original short stories which Earthsea was based on, found in a dragon anthology I just recently acquired called Wings of Fire. The Rule of Names is clearly written earlier, before Le Guin finalized all the rules that bind Earthsea (such as dragons only speaking the Old Speech) but I was pleasantly surprised when one of the characters turned out to be a character which appears in the trilogy! And a rather unexpected one too! If you are a fan of the series, it is worth tracking this story down.

Now to see if I can track down the final story, The Word of Unbinding...


Posted: February 2013

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