Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 744
Ged, or Sparrowhawk, the title character. Over the course of the novel, he learns the true meaning of wizardry, its limits as well as its capabilities. As a youth on the Isle of Gont, Ged shows potential as a wizard. He also displays overconfidence and a willingness to try magic beyond his skill. Earthsea is a world of widely scattered islands, some sophisticated and some modest and plain. When Ged goes to the school for wizards on Roke Island, he feels that he does not fit in. His home island is isolated and backward, and many of the students on Roke are from wealthy and sophisticated families on important islands. Because he feels inferior, Ged attempts wizardry for which he is not yet prepared. Jasper, a fellow student, taunts Ged into attempting a dangerous summoning of a dead spirit. Ged’s attempt fails; he summons a mysterious shadow. Ged’s release of the shadow upsets the balance of Earthsea, which wizards are charged to preserve. The shadow pursues Ged across Earthsea. Ged must deal with it or die. In his desperate efforts to deal with the shadow, Ged matures, eventually becoming the most powerful wizard on Earthsea.
Ogion, Ged’s first tutor in wizardry. Living as a hermit on the Isle of Gont, Ogion teaches Ged wizardry, but not as much as Ged would like to learn. Ogion has to straighten up the messes Ged makes while trying to guide him toward maturity. When Ged releases a malign spirit unintentionally, Ogion must dispel it. Ogion insists that a wizard should use his powers sparingly and never for selfish reasons.
Vetch, Ged’s best friend. Vetch and Ged meet at the school for wizards on Roke. In contrast to Ged, Vetch is calm and easygoing. He has neither the sheer natural ability of Ged nor Ged’s pride and ambition. Like Ged, Vetch comes from an island outside the main centers of trade and culture on Earthsea, but unlike Ged, Vetch does not feel inferior to the wizards from the larger and more sophisticated islands. When Ged begins pursuing the shadow, rather than fleeing it, he meets Vetch in the East Reach, on Iffish. Vetch insists on accompanying Ged on his voyage to a final confrontation with the shadow. Even though Ged has to face the shadow alone, Vetch’s friendship gives him needed support in his quest.
Jasper, a student, from the important island of Havnor, at the school for wizards. He expresses contempt for Ged, whom he considers crude and ill-mannered. Jasper seems also to envy Ged’s powers and goads him into using them on several occasions. On the last occasion, Ged frees the shadow. Jasper spurs Ged on his way to maturity by taunting and provoking him.
Nemmerle, the warder of the school for wizards and an archmage. Nemmerle frees Ged from the initial attack of the shadow, but he loses his life in the process. Because of the guilt he feels over Nemmerle’s death, Ged leaves Roke for Low Torning to be the people’s wizard and, eventually, to confront the shadow.
Serret, who tries to use Ged for her own ends. As a girl, she provokes Ged into summoning the spirit that Ogion must dispel. As a woman, she welcomes Ged to the Court of the Terrenon on the island of Osskil, hoping he will free a spirit trapped in a stone. Ged, who is becoming wiser, recognizes this spirit as a terrible danger and refuses.
Pechvarry, a boatmaker who becomes Ged’s friend. After loosing the shadow, Ged flees to Low Torning, one of the Ninety Isles, where he meets Pechvarry. Ged’s time on this island helps him recover from the trauma of releasing the shadow. Ged again encounters the shadow while trying to heal Pechvarry’s dying son. This encounter motivates Ged to try to deal with the force he has set loose. Ged learns boatmaking from Pechvarry, a skill that stands him in good stead in his voyages, first...
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