A Wizard of Earthsea. first published in 1968, is the first of a series of books written by Ursula K. Le Guin and set in her fantasy archipelago of Earthsea. The other books in the story of Ged are The Tombs of Atuan, and The Farthest Shore, but Le Guin has written a number of other books set in the world of Earthsea.


Warning: Wikipedia contains spoilers!

In the novel, a young man, Sparrowhawk, comes of age on his home island of Gont. While saving his village from pirates, he discovers that he has the inborn aptitude to practice magic. He is given his true, secret name - Ged - and is apprenticed to the wizard Ogion the Silent.

Sparrowhawk then travels to the school of wizardry on Roke Island, masters his craft easily, and, in his hubris, summons a spirit of darkness that scars him and leaves him for dead.

After a painful and slow recovery, Sparrowhawk is sent out into the world as a wizard. He has a series of adventures, including surviving a confrontation with a dragon. At last he resolves to track down the foe he has released and destroy or banish it. The last part of the book details his quest and its outcome.


A Wizard of Earthsea is a coming of age story, written with an eye for a young adult audience. It won the Boston Globe-Hornbook Award for juvenile fiction in 1968.

It is, in effect, a fantasy Bildungsroman - the story of a young man's quest for wisdom and spiritual wholeness, written in a sparse and often achingly beautiful prose style.

LeGuin is famous for her science fiction and fantasy works; over her career she has received about an award a year[1], among them a total of ten of the most prestigious of them all, the Hugo and Nebula awards.

The immense popularity of the Harry Potter series, as well as the obvious parallels in plots and topic, make comparison unavoidable. Harry, like Sparrowhawk, is a young man learning to be a wizard at a school of magic. In both series, there is an intimate connection between language and the practice of wizardry. Sparrowhawk derives his power from knowing the true names of things in the ancient tongue of the dragons, which forces its human speakers to tell the truth. Similarly Harry casts spells by learning wording in an ancient language which sounds suspiciously like Latin.

There are, however, substantial stylistic differences. A Wizard of Earthsea is serious high fantasy, not the tongue-in-cheek, punning low fantasy of Harry Potter. Also, important parts of A Wizard of Earthsea take place before and after Ged's time as a student, and the later Earthsea books are not set at the school. Finally, Rowling's narrative is discursive and expansive, whereas Le Guin's stories are sparse and abstract. Although both series may be considered children's books, the Earthsea series is far more demanding.

Le Guin has said that the book was in part a response to the image of wizards as ancient and wise, and to her wondering where they come from.

A 2-hour radio adaptation of the book was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on December 26, 1996.

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