Ursula K. Le Guin, A Wizard of Earthsea. (London: Penguin Random House, 2016). ISBN: 9780241956878. Paperback.
This book I wish I read as a young girl. Arguably, it is one of the most accomplished YA novels written. The structure works for all its intent and purposes. All chapters down to word-level hit home. Even if the style might seem archaic nowadays, and we are used to fast-paced stories, there is not a word too many or too little. There is beauty in style and story.
As soon as you finish, you might have the sneaky feeling you have just read the source of Harry Potter. Indeed, Le Guin has made remarks about this in the past. Yet, regardless either writer’s comments, both clearly created their worlds by relying heavily on mythologies and the wealth of literary geniuses before them.
Norse Mythology in Earthsea
The world of Earthsea came to me long after I read the HP series and watched the movies. An animated movie also exists of the Tales of Earthsea, produced by Studio Ghibli. It is a triumph. The deceiving simplicity of Ghibli’s style underlines the deceiving simplicity of the wizard’s story so well. In the movie, Ged is a grown man and the volume in this review is A Wizard of Earthsea is his coming-of-age story.
On the surface, it seems a straightforward tale about wizards and dragons. Yet, it is elevated by its message and meaning. And Ged is very much a three-dimensional character. His inner conflict drives the story and influences the external one, and vice versa. Despite being wizardry lowest, he shows us there is hope in the darkest corner of our soul. He lives through the steepest character arch, from being an obnoxious brat with raw talent and a bad temper to a humble, self-doubting, powerful wizard. That this transition looks completely natural and not ridiculous is down to the genius of Le Guin.
And then there is this (to me unexpected) strong connection with Norse mythology. Ged leaves Gont in a longboat, he visits a place called Havnor and encounters the quintessential dragons. There is even the sacred element of trees. It will take me another couple of re-reads to filter and analyse it. Meanwhile, I leave you with an article in Mythlore to explore. For Le Guin’s own ideas about Norse mythology, read her review of Neil Gaiman’s rendition in The Guardian. Or, this interesting interview with her on Lithub.
Verdict: top-notch, keep on going past this first 2-3 pages and you’re in for a treat.