The Earthsea Trilogy

A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, & The Farthest Shore

Ursula K. LeGuin

In Earthsea, magic works and there are wizards and dragons but this is not like Harry Potter's world: it is not a version of our own, but a complete fantasy world created by noted science fiction author Ursula K LeGuin. The Earthsea Trilogy consists of three books set in a fantasy world with a large archipelago of islands in a world spanning ocean. The books tell the story of Sparrowhawk, whose secret name is Ged.

Although the books are aimed at what is called the Young Adult age group they are enjoyable by anyone who likes well told fantasy stories. I first read them in my early 20s and enjoy rereading them from time to time, just as I do Ransome's books. LeGuin's writing is clear and well paced, her plots while sometimes intricate are clearly laid out. Her imagination has devised a logical and consistent fantasy world where magic is an important foundation but not a quick fix for all problems. She peoples Earthsea with many different characters, both good and evil, and has created the overwhelming dragons. Ged, although a wizard, uses his common sense and intelligence as much or more than his magic to accomplish his tasks, and there is no real swordplay though there are scary scenes and deaths. And at least for practical Ransome lovers, there is a lot of sailing between the islands and the hero becomes known as a great sailor.

The original three books, A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, and The Farthest Shore, were published in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Since then two more sequels have been published in 1990 and 2001 and are not covered in this review. The original three books are often found published as a one volume trilogy.

The following synopses do contain mild plot spoilers

A Wizard of Earthsea is a coming of age novel. Ged is found to have magical powers and is trained by a wizard on his native island until he is ready to go to Roke the mystical island where all wizards are trained in the various arts of magic. Ged proves to be a powerful wizard in the making but his pride leads him to overextend himself and try a spell beyond his powers. This haunts him for the rest of the first book until he is able to face down his enemy in the far distant ocean following a long voyage beyond all known land.

The second book, The Tombs of Atuan, starts with the story of a young girl dedicated to the ancient Nameless Ones and made to live in a labyrinth known as the Tombs. One day she finds an intruder who we learn is Ged and she traps him. However, Ged persuades her to help in his quest to find an important lost heirloom. They escape from the high priestess who really controls the Tombs and the discovery of the lost heirloom initiates a new era of peace and prosperity among the islands.

At the start of the third book, The Furthest Shore, we find that Ged is now the Archmage or chief wizard on Roke. News reaches him of a mysterious failure of magic in the outlying islands. In company with a young prince, Ged investigates, sailing into the affected area and nearly losing his own life until he is helped by a dragon to find the cause. In an epic journey Ged and his companion pass through the land of death at the expense of losing his magical powers. By doing this, the young prince is confirmed as the true king of all Earthsea and assumes his throne while Ged drops from from sight.

Reviewed by Adam Quinan, May, 2011

This article is ©2011 by Adam Quinan, and posted on All Things Ransome with permission.

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