Why My Nonexistent Kids Will Read A Wizard of Earthsea (Ursula K. Le Guin)

February 25, 2015

Got a kiddo? Get him/her this book.
Yesterday I shared a few books I was probably too young to read. It only feels appropriate that today I'm writing about a book that was not at all written for my age group (though, I have to admit, being a twenty-something sometimes feels as confusing as being a teenager).

After an awesome buddy read of Ursula K. Le Guin's The Lathe of Heaven with Julianne, I wanted to try out another of the feminist sci-fi writer's works. The Left Hand of Darkness has come recommended more than a few times, but I ended up checking out A Wizard of Earthsea, the first in Le Guin's young adult fantasy quartet about a young wizard named Ged. I gulped it down in under 24 hours, and my first thought upon finishing it was that my children will have this book on their shelves (or, more likely, the chips implanted in their brains).

I don't even want kids. At this point in my life (and maybe forever), I'd much prefer to read this to my cat. Even so, I couldn't shake the feeling of wanting to shove a copy of it into the hands of every 8- to 13-year-old I see (but not on my Kindle, do you know how grubby kids' hands are? I do; I work with them. Sorry to any children who read this blog).

Anyway, here's three reasons why AWoE rocks (watch out for spoilers!):

1. The moral is awesome. In a nutshell, this is a story of Ged discovering the extent of his own power, and how he can use it for all kinds of ends that aren't so cut and dry as "good" and "bad." There is no "war" against the "bad guys," no vanquishing of light over dark. In fact, the story ends with Ged confronting his own shadow (which he unknowingly released in a moment of pride) and accepting the darkest parts of himself. Corny, simplified? Maybe, but I would also say it's an altogether better message to take away than "good conquers all." What does that even mean? Almost nothing in life can be neatly split into a good and bad binary, least of all complex, contradictory human beings. Another point here is that the darker parts of ourselves don't magically disappear if we ignore them; if we really want to grow and change as people, we first have to figure out what kind of people we are in the first place. And this relates to my next point:

2. Self-acceptance wins the day here. In Earthsea, everyone has their "true name" (one they should keep to themselves and only share with those who will not exploit it) and their "use name" (the name they go by in daily life). This was a great metaphor for a few different ideas: recognizing that you mean different things to different people, that it's perfectly acceptable (even good!) to establish personal boundaries with others, and that you are the only one who can know yourself best. Sometimes I think that self-knowledge and personal growth get muddled in with romance/finding the "one person who really gets you" in YA. There wasn't a single drop of romance in this novel, and it really opened the door for Ged to, in Le Guin's words, "learn to be Ged." I want my hypothetical kids to do their best to know themselves before trying to know (and please) anyone else.

3. This book is chock full of people of color. Most of the citizens of Earthsea we meet in this book have dark complexions, and Le Guin challenges racist stereotypes by inverting them. For example, the Kargish men who raid Ged's village at the start of the story are explicitly described as having "white faces." Obviously, reversing the black vs. white dichotomy isn't doing a whole lot to destroy the "us vs. them" dichotomy itself, but it was still super refreshing, especially for a book published in 1968. I'm reminded of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's TED talk about "the danger of a single story." I think the younger we can introduce diverse narratives, the better.

If you haven't read A Wizard of Earthsea, take a few hours to do so. It's available for free through the Kindle Lending Library. I'm off to fan-girl over Ursula K. Le Guin and build a bookshelf for my cat. Fur babies need education, too.

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  1. If I had a cat, I'd read to her/him as well. Seeing how I have kids instead, and one fits into the age group you mention, I'll go check this out. (The kid just asked to read Harry Potter; I'm so excited about that!)

    1. Now I just need my cat to be patient enough for a novel...

      YAY! That must have been such an awesome moment. I'd even recommend it for older teens—I'm 23, and I still got a lot out of it. :)

  2. This book has just recently entered my radar, and now again! So funny how that happens sometimes. I'm going to try and get to this on a sooner side of life! I've just recently discovered your blog, so I'm going to go now and do a little back-reading :) https://bookishtendencieskatie.wordpress.com/

  3. This sounds great! I don't have (or want) kids either, but now I want to give a copy of this to my boyfriend's middle-school-aged sister! (My cat hates snuggling, so I don't think he would sit with me long enough for me to read this to him.)

  4. Yes! All the love for this series. I don't have (or want) kids either, but luckily work does give me the chance to put it in the hands of many 8-13-year-olds :D Have you read Le Guin's Annals of the Western Shore? I think I love it as much as Earthsea, possibly more (gasp).

  5. URSULA IS A GODDESS. Love this. When I'm back in Minnesota next I'll grab this and bring it to Chicago. Did you like it more than Lathe of Heaven?

  6. Amanda @ The Zen LeafMarch 5, 2015 at 4:10 AM

    I really, really need to read something by this author!

  7. Yes, do! It's such a lovely little book, and short to boot.

    Thanks for the visit!

  8. But he must! Cats need to learn to go to school and pull their own weight. They can't nap ALL day.

    And oh, I think it'd be great for a middle-schooler! Let me know if you end up getting it for her. :)

  9. Yay! Keep putting it there. :)

    And I haven't! There are oodles of Le Guin novels/series I hope to get to soon. I think next on the list is going to be The Left Hand of Darkness.

  10. I actually did, but it's hard to compare the two. Lathe was clearly written for adults whereas the Earthsea series is meant for kids/pre-teens. I want to read some more of her adult work to see if I find something in that realm that measures up to Earthsea.

  11. Hahahaha,.. I love this post. Just keep in mind. KIDS ARE A TRAP. (Just sayin' from someone who knows. ;) )

  12. Hehe, I'm glad! This was such a good read for me. And I've still got my eye out for a copy of The Left Hand of Darkness.

    My fur baby was enough of a trap, and she's one I can leave alone for a couple of days with a full food bowl and not worry too much! Very occasionally I get all melty over a baby, and then I think of all the sleep and free time I'd give up, and I'm back to nope nope nope. ;)