Thursday, June 11, 2009

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula LeGuin

Last night I had the tremendous pleasure of reading Ursula LeGuin's A Wizard of Earthsea (which, sadly, appears to be completely out of print, but can likely be found at most used book stores).

I've only read it once before, more than 20 years ago, when I also read Isaac Asimov's Foundation trilogy and Eric Frank Russell's Wasp within the same 24 hours. The other two I've come back to many times over the years, but for some reason, I hadn't re-read LeGuin's novel until yesterday.

For what ever reason, last night I pulled this book off the shelf with the intention of reading a few chapters and then going to sleep early. Just like the previous time, however, I wound up devouring the book in one sitting! Beyond that, it was so good that I felt compelled to write about it, producing my first posting here in two years.

Although my edition clocks in at a slender 181 pages, this is a superb coming-of-age story about a powerful but undisciplined young wizard (LeGuin says that the book was in part a response to the image of wizards as ancient and wise, and to her wondering where they come from). Too often, juvenile fiction is either overly moralizing (as in C. S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia) or mindless adventure. Here, LeGuin has threaded that needle perfectly, producing a rivetting adventure story in which we see the protagonist overcome his hubris. Although it is a children's novel (probably most suitable for 6th grade and up, though appropriate for advanced readers as early as 3rd grade), adults will also find it quite engaging; this is a must-read for anyone who enjoys fantasy.

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