Review: A Wizard of Earthsea

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Whenever I heard about this series, there are two things I heard about it:

1) “Studio Ghibli really screwed up their adapdation”
2) “Harry Potter is a huge ripoff of this book and I don’t believe that JK Rowling had never heard of it when she wrote Harry Potter.”

I can’t speak to the first one. But the second one is WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY overblown. At least, based off of this first book in the series they are almost nothing alike. I saw MUCH, MUCH greater similarities between Battle Royale and The Hunger Games. For starters, the first Harry Potter book is a children’s book (or at most a Middle Grade book) written in a very British kid’s book sort of plot. And as a whole it’s more of a children’s boarding school genre than fantasy or magic for large portions of various books (except the last one or two). By contrast, UKLG was tasked to write what we would now call a YA book. There is no focus on the school except as a setting for our young protagonist to act like a young man and be pressured by his rival into doing something stupid. We then spend the rest of the book with Ged (our protagonist) as a young man – they may have said his age at one point, but basically 17-19 years old or thereabouts. It has nothing in common with HP other than the fact that the main character attends a wizarding school.

Stepping away from that, as UKLG says in the afterword, this is a standard hero’s journey type of book with a few subversions – like most of the characters being people of color, rather than white and not having some kind of epic war. The main conflict is just an internal conflict made external – Ged’s actions as a teen cause him to have to come to terms with himself and his actions. Metaphor made literal and living.

The book was written in the last 1960s and so it had a very interesting tone to it. It wasn’t quite the purple prose of JRR Tolkien, but it’s not at all like modern fantasy writing either. It struck a middle ground that gave it a bit more gravitas than it might have with the modern writing style and yet did not have the effort of reading Shakespeare (which is how I sometimes felt when reading The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings – at least certain passages).

I found the book to be a rather quick read and I had fun reading it. It was ground-breaking at the time (back before Fantasy was the genre it is today) and now it just reads as a nice little throwback to simpler times with simpler plots. No grimdark (nothing wrong with that), no epic scale (again, nothing wrong with that). Can easily be put into the hands of any kid who is ready for the pacing – no profanity, sex, or anything else that anyone could find objectionable (unless you’re the type of person who finds mere magic to be objectionable).

I’m going to continue with the series (the next book seems not to have anything to do with this one, just exist in the same universe), but I’m now also going to seek out some of UKLG’s adult books as well.

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