I’ve just finished reading Tehanu by Ursula Le Guin. It’s the fourth book in the Earthsea series. The first book, A Wizard of Earthsea, has to be one of my all-time favourite books. I love the characters, the magic, the endless descriptions of this fictional world Earthsea, and all the songs and stories and deeds that permeate the main plot.
The first book tells the story of a goatherd, Duny, who has great power in him. After a demonstration of that power, he is given his true name, Ged, by the mage Ogion the Silent and started on the path to becoming a wizard. However his pride is his downfall and he unleashes an evil that haunts him long since. The whole book is about his journey through fear, hope, friendship, hatred, and ultimately death. Death plays a big role in all the books and the description is one of the best I’ve read yet. The land where the stars never set..
As the main character in A Wizard of Earthsea, Ged is fascinating. He earns the nickname Sparrowhawk for the bird that is usually seen to alight on his wrist. He has made an appearance in all four books so far but my heart still lies with the first book as I first read it years ago at school. I found it again thanks to Google=)
Sparrowhawk doesn’t have such a big part in the third and fourth books as the main character is Tenar who we are introduced to at the start of the third book, but their relationship develops from then and we see more sides to Sparrowhawk’s character because of this.
The fourth book is by far the most saddening. I tend to absorb the feeling of the chapter i’m reading and take on that mood unintentionally. I was pretty angry around the time we were introduced to Regin in the Black Magician Trilogy (Another fantastic read, by Trudi Canavan), and the end of the fourth Harry Potter book left me feeling pretty depressed.
I find it interesting to see the different take authors have on wizardry. In both the Earthsea and Harry Potter books there is a school for wizards, however the Earthsea novels are more grown up, at times more grown up than the Black Magician trilogy too. In Harry Potter wizards have wands, in Earthsea staffs, and in the Black Magician trilogy just their bare hands. The terms are different too – in Harry Potter “wizard” is used alot, Earthsea “wizard”, “mage”, “witch” and “sorcerer”, and in the Black Magician books “magician”.
Dragons play a big part in the Earthsea books too, as they do in another brilliant book, Eragon by Christopher Paolini, however they are described in more depth, being more human-like than beast like in their goals. I especially liked the description of a dragon’s eye being full of laughter. They are greedy, proud, strong creatures, centuries older than mankind. Saphira the dragon in Eragon is certainly more compassionate, but the dragons in Earthsea are not evil, and often perform favours for the Dragonlord Sparrowhawk when it suits them.
I got A Wizard of Earthsea on Ebay a few years ago after Googling a description of just one passage I remembered from the book (I couldn’t remember the name). Falling recently got me the first four in a big book The Earthsea Quartet. There is no description on the back of the book as to what it’s about so I guess it’s aimed at people who know what Earthsea is all about. I would recommend reading the first book first. I read the other three secretly hoping Sparrowhawk would be in all three and thankfully he was. I adore him as a hero.
Falling also got me The Other Wind which is the fifth book in the series. Having just read the back of the book I’m pleased to see both Sparrowhawk and Tenar make a reappearance (this was hinted at at the end of Tehanu aswell) but I’m not sure how much of one as Ursula Le Guin is both kind and cruel to her characters (read the books, you’ll see what I mean). I’ll start that book tomorrow. It shouldn’t take too long to read as I only started reading Tehanu on monday and that was only on the buses to and from work (about 2 hours a day). If a book is engrossing I can charge through it – i’m still sad to finish it though!
I would recommend anyone to read the Earthsea books – definately A Wizard of Earthsea – if fantasy is your thing. Alot of attention to detail has gone into describing this fictional world, with maps and names for everything (magic is all about names afterall) and despite being fiction, it does strike a chord with today’s society. It’s also a story of heros and heroines, kings and common folk, and evokes a passionate response from this reader. To be able to experience all the variety and colour in the rich world of Earthsea through the eyes of such an intriguing character as Sparrowhawk is Ursula Le Guin’s greatest gift to everyone who reads the books.
“Tolk” is the true name for a stone in the Old Speech.