Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Speaking in Sweden in 1989, Ursula K. Le Guin explained why she found it necessary to write Tehanu: The Last Book of Earthsea (1990). She said that she conceived of the Earthsea trilogy, of which A Wizard of Earthsea is the first book, as a subverted heroic tale. In the 1960’s, when she was composing the stories, she thought of herself as transcending gender insofar as she was a woman successfully writing in a masculine genre for children, but she came later to see that, to a significant degree, she was writing as an “honorary or artificial man.” Furthermore, she realized that by giving her lead male characters dark skins, she was doing more than simply subverting the Anglo-European conventions of heroic fantasy; she also was associating her heroes with that other, larger group from the cultural margins, women.

A Wizard of Earthsea is a heroic fantasy told as a historical legend. As a young child, Ged shows an extraordinary talent for magic and soon attracts the attention of an obscure opposing force, associated finally with the Stone of Terrenon on the island of Osskil. Characters connected with this stone tempt Ged, during various stages of his training, to gratify his vanity and pride by summoning the spirits of the dead to appear among the living, thus exerting power over death. The story of his coming to terms with the dark side of himself, his shadow, may be seen as structured by temptations and crises.

The first major temptation during his boyhood comes from a young girl, the daughter of an enchantress from Osskil. She encourages him to try a spell of transformation, but when he goes to Ogion’s books in search of the spell, he is transfixed by one for summoning, and this first evokes his shadow. He...

(The entire section is 723 words.)