(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Duny is the last of seven sons of the bronzesmith of the village of Ten Alders, on the island of Gont. His mother dies before he is one year old, and his much older brothers have already left the village. Neglected by his father, Duny runs wild, but his life changes when he hears his aunt use a mysterious word to call a goat off a roof. When Duny uses the word, all the goats in the village follow him and refuse to go away until his aunt gets rid of them. She is the village witch, and she realizes that Duny has an affinity for magic. She explains to him that the mysterious word he used was the true name for goats; everything and everyone in Earthsea has a true, hidden name, and an everyday “use name,” and magic is the art of finding and using true names to exert power over things and people.

Duny’s aunt teaches him everything that she knows and encourages him to believe that his skills will bring him wealth and power. She does not tell Duny that his skills are far beyond her own. When the island is invaded by Kargish soldiers, Duny uses his power to protect Ten Alders by cloaking it in fog. In doing so, he overstretches himself, falling ill as a result. He is healed by Ogion the Silent, the mage (wizard) of the town of Re Albi, who recognizes Duny’s potential and offers to teach him. Later in the year, Ogion gives Duny his true name, Ged (Ged will be known to most people by his adult “use name,” Sparrowhawk). Ged returns with Ogion to Re Albi.

Ged is initially disappointed in Ogion’s teachings. While his aunt taught him spells and charms and promised him greatness, Ogion performs no unnecessary magic and teaches Ged very little of immediate, obvious value. Instead, the wizard attempts to teach Ged to see the world as a set of interrelated parts and to show him that magic has consequences of which every mage must be aware. Names represent power, and spells should not be used lightly. However, Ged is impatient to achieve great things. As a result, he is tempted by the daughter of the lord of Re Albi into finding a spell to summon the spirits of the dead. When Ged secretly consults Ogion’s books of spells, he finds the right spell, but even while simply reading it, he seems to have summoned a mysterious black shadow. The shadow is dispelled by Ogion’s arrival home, but Ogion realizes that Ged is hungry for overt training in spellcasting and sends him to the School for Wizards on Roke.

At Roke, Ged begins his formal education in the “art magic.” Again he learns quickly, his abilities are recognized, and he makes swift progress. He has few friends, however, and his pride makes him quick to see an insult when none is intended. Most of the other students avoid him, but he does not mind. However, what starts as a light-hearted magical duel one night turns to tragedy when Ged believes that he has been mocked by Jasper, another of the students. Ged agrees to summon a dead spirit and uses the spell he first read in Ogion’s book. Although he briefly summons the spirit of Elfarran, a beautiful heroine of legend, Ged also releases the black shadow into the world, and it attacks him, severely injuring him physically and mentally. The Archmage Nemmerle repairs the resulting hole in the fabric of the world, but he dies as a result. Ged is ill for many months, and when he recovers sufficiently to resume his studies he has changed greatly, desiring only peace and solitude to study and make amends for his actions.

When Ged finishes his training and becomes a wizard, he is sent to Low Torning, a place under threat from the dragons of Pendor. He lives peacefully in the village until, while trying to save a dying child, he confronts the shadow once again. From then on, it haunts his dreams, and he knows that he must find it. First, he goes to Pendor to remove the threat to the village in his charge. He is able to negotiate a peace with Yevaud, the Dragon of Pendor, because he has learned its true name. Although Yevaud offers to tell him the name of the shadow, he puts the good of the villagers ahead of his own and instead makes the dragon promise that it and its offspring will not bother the people of the Archipelago ever again.

Ged then begins a journey across the Archipelago, trying to discover the nature of the shadow that haunts him. He is led to the Court of the Terrenon on Osskil, where he meets Serret, who is married to the lord of the Terrenon. The Terrenon is a stone that contains an ancient and evil spirit, and Ged fears for the woman’s safety, until, belatedly, he recognizes her as the daughter of the lord of Re Albi, who plans to use Ged and the Terrenon for her own ends. Ged escapes, returns to Ogion at Re Albi, and finally sets out to hunt the shadow. On the way, he is shipwrecked on an island where an old man and an old woman abandoned there since childhood live in extreme poverty,. They help him, and the old woman gives him part of a ring as a gift. Finally, traveling with his old friend, Vetch, Ged meets the shadow and subdues it by calling it by his own name, having realized that it is...

(The entire section is 2067 words.)

Earthsea Trilogy Bibliography

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Further Reading

Bernardo, Susan M., and Graham J. Murphy. Ursula K. Le Guin: A Critical Companion. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2006. A useful introduction to Le Guin’s fantasy and science-fiction writings; includes discussions of individual volumes of the Earthsea Trilogy.

Bloom, Harold, ed. Ursula K. Le Guin. New York: Chelsea House, 1986. Contains a wide range of essays on Le Guin’s work, including the Earthsea Trilogy.

Cummins, Elizabeth. Understanding Ursula K. Le Guin. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1993. Contains a substantial chapter on the Earthsea novels.

Le Guin, Ursula K. Conversations with Ursula K. Le Guin. Edited by Carl Freedman. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2008. A compilation of interviews with Le Guin, conducted over a period of twenty-five years, in which the writer discusses many aspects of her writing.

_______. Dancing at the Edge of the World. New York: Grove Press, 1989.

_______. The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction. London: Women’s Press, 1989. Two classic collections of the writer’s own essays and articles, which discuss many of the issues raised in her fiction.