THE WIZARD OF EARTHSEA by Ursula LeGuin
I don’t remember how I encountered this short fantasy novel, but its theme speaks to me. LeGuin is a masterful writer, creating the world of Earthsea out of nothing but her imagination and filling it with beautifully described places and vivid characters on a par with Tolkien’s Middle Earth. But what sticks with me is her light and dark, sun and shadow, good and evil symbolism that pervades the Earthsea series but is fully realized in this first book.
The hero, Ged, is a young boy with enormous talent, sort of like Harry Potter, and when he’s discovered to have this power, he’s apprenticed to a wizard to learn the craft. However, Ged, unlike Harry Potter and more like Lord Voldemort’s young self, becomes impatient and wants to use the power he’s been given before he’s ready. When his master isn’t home, he pulls out the spell book and works a spell that tempts him. If only he’d learned from that disastrous encounter, but his ego won’t let him. His master reluctantly sends him off to wizard school, where he blossoms. That is, until his ego tempts him once too often and he spends the rest of the book trying to first escape from and then contain the evil he’s unleashed.
Heroes (and heroines) that commit grave errors of judgment in the beginning of a book and then spend the rest of the book trying to make up for their mistakes are frequently found in all genres. What impresses me here is LeGuin’s theme of acceptance played out by the very human capacity for both good and evil contained within one person who is neither fully evil nor fully good but capable of both. That’s what it means to be human—to accept both natures and find a balance between them.
THE WIZARD OF EARTHSEA isn’t a new book, but it should be on every writer of fantasy’s bookshelf.