This beautiful book contains all the world of Earthsea that Ursula Le Guin has set down in writing. Complete with prefaces, afterwards, maps, background in the different continents and islands, the volume has everything you might want to know about this magical world of mages, magic, humans and dragons.
It begins with what was published as a novel for young adults, A Wizard of Earthsea, which introduces us to Ged and the world of magic as we follow his life from childhood into young adulthood. He travels from his home of Gont, to Roke and the seat of the great mages where he unleashes something from the darkness that takes a whole series of novels to fully explore.
As Ursula Le Guin’s writing and confidence grows, so too does her imaginary world that reveals to her and to us the battles between men, magic and dragons. We struggle to balance love, desire and magic, men and women, mages and witches. The beautiful sight of dragons flying on the wind uplifts the human spirit, evoking a lost desire for freedom that holds the seed of history fallen into myth which these novels slowly unpick and bring to flower.
It’s a fantasy world that remains deeply tethered to our real one, doing all the wonderful things that contemporary realism can’t always achieve. You can be taken into a new world of magic, but the concerns of our world do not fall away and instead find themselves carefully unpicked amongst the patterns of light and shadow that shift endlessly in the infinite grove that connects all forests and woods and trees and holds the true key to the world beyond humanity.
Why Earthsea isn’t as prevalent in our culture as Middle Earth, I’m not sure. Perhaps there are too many women (though interestingly not initially)? Too few wars? A focus on wisdom above intellect?… Read it and see for yourself. If you enjoy a long journey into new lands, this collection of the Earthsea novels and stories is definitely one for you.
I’ll be reviewing Piranesi by Susanna Clarke next.