Back when wizards were mysterious ancient men with scraggly beards, Ursula LeGuin wrote a story about the brash young Ged, who grows up to be the greatest sorcerer of Earthsea. Upon showing promise in magic during his youth, Ged apprentices under Ogion the Silent, before enrolling in a school for wizards on the island of Roke. Ged’s natural skill sets him apart from his classmates, and with great pride studies magic beyond his level, ignoring warnings to respect the Balance. When Ged challenges a fellow student to a duel, Ged casts a powerful spell he can’t control, and learns the consequences of arrogance and overconfidence.

One of my favorite aspects of Earthsea magic is language, in particular the treatment of someone’s or something’s true name. Words are power. Knowing a true name gives a wizard total control over the named person or thing; giving out one’s true name requires complete trust. A powerful magician can also say, “I am an eagle”, proving his false statement true through universal persuasion, and become an eagle. LeGuin’s narrative style gives the impression that this story is some long-lost folklore, not a separate imaginary fantasy world. Unlike LOTR, readers enter a fantasy world without significant history or construction of the world.

This is an intricately woven metaphysical tale of a boy’s wizard school and dragon adventures, but more importantly, shows a young man’s long road to a wisdom the likes of Gandalf or Merlin. Not only is this a story about fighting the darkness in the world, but it’s a morality tale about accepting the darkness within. Recommended for fans of young adult wizard origin stories! Ged’s journey is lonelier than Harry’s and more spiritual than Kvothe’s, so be prepared for a more introspective take on the traditional fantasy adventure story. 5 stars!

“You thought, as a boy, that a mage is one who can do anything. So I thought, once. So did we all. And the truth is that as a man’s real power grows and his knowledge widens, ever the way he can follow grows narrower: until at last he chooses nothing, but does only and wholly what he must do.