Tuesday, March 31, 2020

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin

2016, first published 1968 

YA, Key Stage 4, Key Stage 5, ages 14-17, lower secondary, upper secondary, Bildungsroman, fantasy, classic, Le Guin Ursula,  

This is certainly a Bildungsroman, packed with symbolism.  

Duny aka Sparrowhawk aka Ged has to find himself. He has to come to terms with his magical powers and how best to hone and use them, he has to learn his true name (Ged) and he has to confront the shadow that pursues him and find out that this is his alter ego.  He has to do this without his mentor, Oigon and without his familiar, the little otak.  His friend Vetch accompanies him on the final mission in the book but Vetch is powerless to help him at the crucial moment.  He can only be a moral support.

We can recognise many of the tropes also employed by later writers; like Harry Potter he goes to a school for wizards and he has an animal that stays with him rather like the daemons in Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials trilogy. And as in many stories he finds that the hardest lesson is the one he learns at home.  Yes, he travels far and wide in pursuit of the shadow but the finds that the shadow is himself. 

Unlike 21st century novels for the young adult this does not include a love interest.   However there is the hint of a seductive goddess figure in Serren.  Vetch’s younger sister Yarrow shows him much affection and we are left wondering whether a close relationship may follow. 

It is a slightly short text for this age group – just 200 pages long. Since the turn of the century texts for young adults and teens, and even fluent readers have become longer.  Each chapter  is headed with a decorative icon. Ursula Le Guin uses a sophisticated Tolkiensque language.   

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