A Wizard and His Shadow
A Wizard of Earthsea is American novelist Ursula K. Le Guin’s first book in the Earthsea series (written in 1968) about a legendary wizard, Sparrowhawk. I’ve always been a huge fan of fantasy stories, but I’d never heard of the author until I saw a video about her on Facebook. She’s been in the spotlight lately due to her unfortunate passing on January 22nd of this year at age 88. She wrote mainly within the fantasy and science fiction genres. She is well known for her diverse characters and empowering female leads, “an immensely popular author who brought literary depth and a tough-minded feminist sensibility to science fiction and fantasy with books like The Left Hand of Darkness and the Earthsea series” (New York Times).
The first chapter sets the stage for a great adventure. Within the first few lines of A Wizard of Earthsea, the reader learns that they will be embarking on a journey following a legendary wizard. Born on the island of Gont, known for famous wizards, Sparrowhawk was a bit of a wild child. His mother passed away before he was a year old and his father was not a ‘warm’ man. LeGuin describes him as a “grim, unspeaking man.” Without much guidance, Sparrowhawk is a boy who is “loud and proud and full of temper”.
Eventually, a wizard from another island, Ogion, hears of Sparrowhawk’s powers and wants to mentor him. However, the young apprentice, only 13 years of age, grows impatient at his master’s style of teaching and decides to leave him and attend the school for wizards. Little does Sparrowhawk know that the name of the boat he sails off on, Shadow, is a premonition of things to come.
A Challenge for Sparrowhawk
Sparrowhawk is impatient with his studies. The young wizard wants to learn everything about magic as quickly as he can. Upon arrival at the school for wizards, an older boy who goes by the name of Jasper taunts him to wake someone from the dead. Vetch, Sparrowhawk’s best friend, tries to calm his friends’ anger. But unfortunately, no one can stop Sparrowhawk from casting his spell. His temper gets the best of him and he awakens something unnatural, a dark shadow. This ‘being’ attacks Sparrowhawk and nearly kills him. His friend, Vetch, not yet powerful enough to intervene, watches helplessly.
It’s days before Sparrowhawk wakes up from his attack. The wizards at the school watch over him and heal his wounds. Soon after he awakens he discovers that the old wizard who greeted him upon his arrival at the school, Archmage Nemmerle, was killed saving his life. Sparrowhawk, weak and filled with regret, decides to continue with his studies. But the aftermath of the attack has taken a toll on his soul and Sparrowhawk has lost confidence in himself and his abilities.
At the age of 19 he graduates and is sent to the island of Low Torning to watch over the people. There are many islands of Earthsea and each one has a wizard to help protect and enrich the lives of the villagers. But Sparrowhawk knows “the unnamed thing, the being that did not belong in this world” will never stop haunting him.
Will Sparrowhawk be able to outrun his past? Is he powerful enough to capture and rid the world of the evil he brought into it? If you love mythical creatures, spells, and the open seas then you won’t be disappointed. Ursula K. Le Guin weaves an incredible story through the islands of Earthsea. Her imagination is limitless. Get to reading and leave us a comment! We’d love to hear your thoughts about the story.