The Plot

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Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 536

Earthsea begins on the island of Gont, a land famous for wizards. There, a young goatherd named Ged, called Duny as a boy and called Sparrowhawk familiarly, overhears his aunt using a common, rustic spell on the animals. Ged duplicates the words, but without any understanding of them. The spell works, and the goats come running around Ged. He is terrified, because he has no knowledge of how to undo the spell.

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The event is revealing. Ged has powers, but as a teenage boy he is naïve about those powers. He has no knowledge and thus no mastery, and power without knowledge is a dangerous thing. At first, Ged is in love with power itself. The island Mage, Ogion, recognizes the power within Ged and attempts to nurture it with understanding.

Restless in his training, Ged eventually is sent to the island of Roke, the spiritual locus for all Earthsea and training ground for mastery of magical power. Ged learns it all too well. In his competition with an older student, Jasper, Ged succumbs to the use of his arts for mere personal power. In an effort to summon the spirit of a dead woman, he unleashes a shadowlike creature into the world of Earthsea. The creature comes to represent the dark uses of magical power as a shadow self of Ged himself, lured to personal glorification. A Wizard of Earthsea concludes with Geds defeat of the shadow. The defeat is only a temporary abeyance of its threat, however, for Ged has neither fully understood its significance nor mastered its nature.

The second novel, The Tombs of Atuan, shifts in point of view from Ged to a young priestess, Tenar. Renamed Arka, the Eaten One, Tenar serves the ancient powers of Earth among the desert tombs of Atuan. She traps Ged, on a quest to find the Ring of Erreth-Akbe, in the labyrinth beneath the temple. Ged tells her her true name and identity, and she decides to join him on his quest. They succeed, but at the cost of the temples destruction. Tenar returns with Ged to Gont, where she will live with Ogion.

The second novel reveals Geds growing mastery of magical arts and his increasing power through them. The power enables him to know the true things and hidden essences veiled within an outward nature. The increasingly complicated riddle is whether he truly knows his own essence, particularly in relation to the shadow.

In The Farthest Shore, Ged is now Archmage, the most powerful magician in Earthsea. His power has deepened with knowledge. He receives a message from a young prince named Arren, the narrator of the story, that increasingly people are rejecting the beliefs that grant their lives wholeness. Ged discovers that a wayward Mage has opened a hole in the earth, letting disharmony flood the land. Geds quest is to close that gap, to confront the shadows of disharmony, and to use his power to restore Earth’s balance. He must finally confront and master the shadow of his own nature. As is so often the case in fantasy literature, the ultimate quest is for self-understanding. Succeeding in his quest, Ged returns to the peace of Gont among the goats.

Bibliography

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Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 160

Bittner, James W. Approaches to the Fiction of Ursula K. Le Guin. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Research Press, 1984.

Bloom, Harold, ed. Modern Critical Views: Ursula K. Le Guin. New York: Chelsea House, 1986.

Cadden, Michael. Ursula K. Le Guin Beyond Genre: Fiction for Children and Adults. New York: Routledge, 2005.

Davis, Laurence, and Peter G. Stillman. The New Utopian Politics of Ursula K. Le Guin’s “The Dispossessed.” Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2005.

Reid, Suzanne Elizabeth. Presenting Ursula K. Le Guin. New York: Twayne, 1997.

Rochelle, Warren. Communities of the Heart: The Rhetoric of Myth in the Fiction of Ursula K. Le Guin. Liverpool, England: Liverpool University Press, 2001.

Spivack, Charlotte. Ursula K. Le Guin. Boston: Twayne, 1984.

Ursula K. Le Guin’s Web Site. www.ursulakleguin.com/UKL_info.html

Wayne, Kathryn Ross. Redefining Moral Education: Life, Le Guin, and Language. San Francisco: Austin & Winfield, 1996.

White, Donna R. Dancing with Dragons: Ursula K. Le Guin and the Critics. Columbia, S.C.: Camden House, 1999.

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