Saturday, May 02, 2009

Book: A Wizard of Earthsea

It's very difficult to write a review of such a well-loved classic, so I won't even try. I'll just write my reactions.

First, I do love Ursula K. Le Guin. I think the first book I read by her was The Left Hand of Darkness, which was excellent and darkly disturbing. I've never read the Earthsea trilogy, however, and since it's Once Upon A Time III season, thought I would give it a try. After all, there is a wizard, a dragon, AND a castle on the cover.

It's always interesting to me how good writing can make any subject enjoyable. I have a pile of so-so fantasy/fairytale books from the library by my bed, and I can't get into any of them. The writing is so predictable and conventional and overwrought, and since high-fantasy isn't my favorite genre, I can't just forgive the boring writing and get into the story. However, from the first paragraph I knew that this book would be worth reading; either the story would be great, or I could just enjoy the good, straightforward prose. However, I was rewarded with both.

While I think that traditional wizarding tales are generally ho-hum, I have a secret love for dragons (particularly the wise, tricksy European Smaug-style dragons) so I enjoyed the dragon-besting part. I also liked the little Harrekki (palm-size dragons) and of course immediately wanted one of my own. I cried when little Hoeg died (why do they always kill the cute animals in these books? Geez!)

Poor Ged. He has quite a time in this book. And can I just say that A-Ha!, J.K. Rowling, I have discovered your inspiration for Hogwarts? Roke is certainly a model of the School of Wizarding. A long table where everyone eats? A boy wonder, destined for greatness (but with a terrible shadow-darkness to fight)? And old, charming powerful Archmage? Hello, Harry Potter and Dumbledore!

Anyway. Ged gets worked over pretty well. He's munched by the shadow creature, shredded by dragons, sickened by death-travels, almost drowned a few times, nearly frozen a few other times, etc. I was surprised he made it to the end of the book. Each chapter, it was like, what Terrible Event will befall him this time? But they were all nicely handled, deceptively simply and unencumbered by too much high-minded pontification (something which always bugged me about LOTR -- shut up, already!).

So. Even though it has a dragon, a wizard AND a castle on the front of the book, I really enjoyed this and will definitely complete the series. And will probably read some more Le Guin, because she's just fantastic. And another down for OUATIII!


Nymeth said...

I'm so happy you enjoyed it so much! This book seems to get mixed reactions. Sometimes people dislike it so much they give up on the series, which really makes me sad because they get better and better! My favourite is the very last one, The Other Wind. That book is just perfect.

You know, I'm not sure if I'd even call Earthsea high fantasy. It has elements of that for sure, but the books have a much more personal feel than most high fantasy. You'll probably see what I mean when you get to The Tombs of Atuan or Tehanu.

Masha said...

So interesting to see a fresh opinion about a book I've read so many times. I also loved the passages you picked out - especially the conversation with the dragon.

You will enjoy the others as well. They get quite dark, though!

Cath said...

I adored this series, the first four anyway, I still have to read the rest. My favourite was The Tombs of Atuan. And my favourite Le Guin, apart from these, is her anthology, Birthday of the World. So far anyway...

Stefanie said...

I love the Earthsea books and Le Guin! There are more than three now but I have only read the three. So good! And Le Guin was rightly peeved when all the fuss was being made of J.k. and how original Harry Potter was.

Eva said...

I think I read this one at the same time as you! My favourite part was the dragon too. But in the end, I didn't love it. :/ It felt too detached for me. I think I'll try out Lefthand of Darkness next!