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Earthsea: The First Four Books: "A Wizard Of Earthsea"; "The Tombs of Atuan"; "The Farthest Shore"; "Tehanu" (Puffin Books) Paperback – 24 Jun 1993
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About the Author
Ursula Le Guin was born in Berkley, California, in 1929, daughter of the writer Theodora Krober and the anthropologist Alfred Krober. Her published work includes twenty-one novels, eleven volumes of short stories, three collections of essays, twelve books for children, six volumes of poetry and four of translation. Among her novels are the The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed, both winners of the Nebula and Hugo awards, Always Coming Home, winner of the 1985 Kafka Award, and Four Ways to Forgiveness. In 2009 she won her sixth Nebula award for Powers.
Penguin/Puffin published the first volume of the Earthsea books, A Wizard of Earthsea, in 1971. The Earthsea books have been translated into many languages around the world and are global bestsellers.
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The world of the original trilogy is based around the relationship between language and reality (anyone with an interest in literary theory will soon see why Fredric Jameson became interested in Le Guin's work). Everything and everyone has a true name, hidden from all but the most trusted because the possession of the individual's name brings power over them. The language of true names is that of creation and is the source of magical power.
The first novel, 'A Wizard of Earthsea', is a satisfying adventure that focuses upon the youthful career of Ged, the future Archmage of Earthsea. It's a fairly conventional doppleganger story in the tradition of 'Faust' and 'Jekyll & Hyde', though it has enough battles, magic and dragons to keep the story moving along.
The trilogy really takes off in 'The Tombs of Atuan'. Much darker than the first book, this is an adventure of Ged's adult life seen through the eyes of Arha, a young priestess of dark powers. The philosophy starts to become more complex here as Le Guin explores the relationship between faith and power.
'The Farthest Shore' is, for me, the high point of the series. Magic is disappearing from Earthsea and Ged, now Archmage, must find out why. The story explores the longing for immortality and the need for death in order to bring meaning to life. There is still plenty of action, but this is Le Guin at her thought-provoking best.
'Tehanu', unfortunately, abandons most of the earlier themes as Le Guin moves into a story of feminist resistance against patriarchy. Nothing wrong with that in itself, but here it feels imposed upon a world that wasn't built to take that agenda. These issues of female oppression have not been flagged up in previous books and seem to appear from nowhere in the fourth. Characterisation is also a problem: I had difficulty in seeing consistency with the Ged and Tenar of the earlier novels. 'Tehanu' is not a bad novel by any means, but it should really be treated as a stand-alone text rather than as the fourth part of a quartet.
That aside, however, this volume is worth buying for the original trilogy, which remains a high point of fantasy writing.
The first book is the story of Ged a small boy who is recognised as being gifted in the art of magic and so is sent to a school on Roke to master the arts. Here through Geds own pride he releases an evil of which only he must defeat. The remainder of the story is Geds pursuit of this monster.
The second book concentrates on a small priestess who is heir to a small labrynth within the tombs of Atuan. The story develops her as a character and introduces Ged only at the end of the story.
The third book explains Geds travels with a prince in search of a magic draining evil. This leads both across the Earthsea map and places them in direct danger.
The fourth book returns to the focus to the priestess Tenar and a child she saves named Theru.
I am 23 at the time i read these books and i have mixed reactions about them. I was immediatly shocked at the brief writing style of Ursula; areas, characters, conversations, and manerisms etc are all kept to an absolute minimum leaving the reader to imagine the rest.
I found the first book a real treat, a steadily moving plot which explored Earthsea; The second read like an interlude which i found really boring but the third book again peaked with excitment and adventure forcing you to read the next chapter. Having read the third book the Earthsea trilogy was wonderful and complete untill i read Tehanu.
This fourth book seems to completely distroy all that has been achieved in the previous books. Even the main character Ged is turned from the happy archmage in book three to a blubbering wreck. This may be understandable given the circumstances but this completely contradicts his character from the previous books and remains enforced throughout the remainder of the book.
To summarise i have to praise the world of Earthsea as it is engaging in many areas, however the brief writing style, awkward character development and limited story progession in some of the books make them very hard to read and believe. It is as though the whole quartet has no lasting effect on the Earthea world and because of that doesnt make the reader happy once the story has been completed.
Having read these books i would recommend them on the basis that they are a classic which should be read and appreciated. I however started losing interest in them as i progressed through the books, so much so that dare i say i may not be reading any more books from the Earthsea trilogy. My next adventure will be in the world of Dragonlance (chronicles to start) and i will write a review when i get the opportunity.
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