In this third book in the Earthsea series, darkness threatens to overtake Earthsea: The world and its wizards are losing their magic. But Ged Sparrohawk—Archmage, wizard, and dragonlord—is determined to discover the source of this devastating loss.
Aided by Enlad’s young Prince Arren, Ged embarks on a treacherous journey that will test their strength and will. Because to restore magic, the two warriors must venture to the farthest reaches of their world—and even beyond the realm of death.
With millions of copies sold worldwide, Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea Cycle has earned a treasured place on the shelves of fantasy lovers everywhere, alongside the works of such beloved authors as J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.
About the Author
Date of Birth:October 21, 1929
Place of Birth:Berkeley, California
Education:B.A., Radcliffe College; M.A., Columbia University, 1952
Read an Excerpt
The Farthest Shore
IN THE COURT OF THE fountain the sun of March shone through young leaves of ash and elm, and water leapt and fell through shadow and clear light. About that roofless court stood four high walls of stone. Behind those were rooms and courts, passages, corridors, towers, and at last the heavy outmost walls of the Great House of Roke, which would stand any assault of war or earthquake or the sea itself, being built not only of stone, but of incontestable magic. For Roke is the Isle of the Wise, where the Art Magic is taught; and the Great House is the school and central place of wizardry; and the central place of the House is that small court far within the walls, where the fountain plays and the trees stand in rain or sun or starlight.
The tree nearest the fountain, a well-grown rowan, had humped and cracked the marble pavement with its roots. Veins of bright green moss filled the cracks, spreading up from the grassy plot around the basin. A boy sat there on the low hump of marble and moss, his gaze following the fall of the fountain’s central jet. He was nearly a man, but still a boy; slender, dressed richly. His face might have been cast in golden bronze, it was so finely molded and so still.
Behind him, fifteen feet away perhaps, under the trees at the other end of the small central lawn, a man stood, or seemed to stand. It was hard to be certain in that flickering shift of shadow and warm light. Surely he was there, a man in white, standing motionless. As the boy watched the fountain, the man watched the boy. There was no sound or movement but the play of leaves and the play of the water and its continual song.
The man walked forward. A wind stirred the rowan tree and moved its newly opened leaves. The boy leapt to his feet, lithe and startled. He faced the man and bowed to him. “My Lord Archmage,” he said.
The man stopped before him, a short, straight, vigorous figure in a hooded cloak of white wool. Above the folds of the laid-down hood his face was reddish-dark, hawk-nosed, seamed on one cheek with old scars. The eyes were bright and fierce. Yet he spoke gently. “It’s a pleasant place to sit, the Court of the Fountain,” he said, and, forestalling the boy’s apology, “You have traveled far and have not rested. Sit down again.”
He knelt on the white rim of the basin and held out his hand to the ring of glittering drops that fell from the higher bowl of the fountain, letting the water run through his fingers. The boy sat down again on the humped tiles, and for a minute neither spoke.
“You are the son of the Prince of Enlad and the Enlades,” the Archmage said, “heir of the Principality of Morred. There is no older heritage in all Earthsea, and none fairer. I have seen the orchards of Enlad in the spring, and the golden roofs of Berila. . . . How are you called?”
“I am called Arren.”
“That would be a word in the dialect of your land. What is it in our common speech?”
The boy said, “Sword.”
The Archmage nodded. There was silence again, and then the boy said, not boldly, but without timidity, “I had thought the Archmage knew all languages.”
The man shook his head, watching the fountain.
“And all names. . . .”
“All names? Only Segoy who spoke the First Word, raising up the isles from the deep sea, knew all names. To be sure,” and the bright, fierce gaze was on Arren’s face, “if I needed to know your true name, I would know it. But there’s no need. Arren I will call you; and I am Sparrowhawk. Tell me, how was your voyage here?”
“The winds blew ill?”
“The winds blew fair, but the news I bear is ill, Lord Sparrowhawk.”
“Tell it, then,” the Archmage said gravely, but like one yielding to a child’s impatience; and while Arren spoke, he looked again at the crystal curtain of water drops falling from the upper basin into the lower, not as if he did not listen, but as if he listened to more than the boy’s words.
“You know, my lord, that the prince my father is a wizardly man, being of the lineage of Morred, and having spent a year here on Roke in his youth. Some power he has and knowledge, though he seldom uses his arts, being concerned with the ruling and ordering of his realm, the governance of cities and matters of trade. The fleets of our island go out westward, even into the West Reach, trading for sapphires and ox hides and tin, and early this winter a sea captain returned to our city Berila with a tale that came to my father’s ears, so that he had the man sent for and heard him tell it.” The boy spoke quickly, with assurance. He had been trained by civil, courtly people, and did not have the self-consciousness of the young.
“The sea captain said that on the isle of Narveduen, which is some five hundred miles west of us by the ship lanes, there was no more magic. Spells had no power there, he said, and the words of wizardry were forgotten. My father asked him if it was that all the sorcerers and witches had left that isle, and he answered, ‘No: there were some there who had been sorcerers, but they cast no more spells, not even so much as a charm for kettle-mending or the finding of a lost needle.’ And my father asked, ‘Were not the folk of Narveduen dismayed?’ And the sea captain said again, ‘No, they seemed uncaring.’ And indeed, he said, there was sickness among them, and their autumn harvest had been poor, and still they seemed careless. He said—I was there, when he spoke to the prince—he said, ‘They were like sick men, like a man who has been told he must die within the year, and tells himself it is not true, and he will live forever. They go about,’ he said, ‘without looking at the world.’ When other traders returned, they repeated the tale that Narveduen had become a poor land and had lost the arts of wizardry. But all this was mere tales of the Reach, which are always strange, and only my father gave it much thought.
“Then in the New Year, in the Festival of the Lambs that we hold in Enlad, when the shepherds’ wives come into the city bringing the firstlings of the flocks, my father named the wizard Root to say the spells of increase over the lambs. But Root came back to our hall distressed and laid his staff down and said, ‘My lord, I cannot say the spells.’ My father questioned him, but he could say only, ‘I have forgotten the words and the patterning.’ So my father went to the marketplace and said the spells himself, and the festival was completed. But I saw him come home to the palace that evening, and he looked grim and weary, and he said to me, ‘I said the words, but I do not know if they had meaning.’ And indeed there’s trouble among the flocks this spring, the ewes dying in birth, and many lambs born dead, and some are . . . deformed.” The boy’s easy, eager voice dropped; he winced as he said the word and swallowed. “I saw some of them,” he said. There was a pause.
“My father believes that this matter, and the tale of Narveduen, show some evil at work in our part of the world. He desires the counsel of the Wise.”
“That he sent you proves that his desire is urgent,” said the Archmage. “You are his only son, and the voyage from Enlad to Roke is not short. Is there more to tell?”
“Only some old wives’ tales from the hills.”
“What do the old wives say?”
“That all the fortunes witches read in smoke and water pools tell of ill, and that their love-potions go amiss. But these are people without true wizardry.”
“Fortune-telling and love-potions are not of much account, but old women are worth listening to. Well, your message will indeed be discussed by the Masters of Roke. But I do not know, Arren, what counsel they may give your father. For Enlad is not the first land from which such tidings have come.”
Arren’s trip from the north, down past the great isle Havnor and through the Inmost Sea to Roke, was his first voyage. Only in these last few weeks had he seen lands that were not his own homeland, become aware of distance and diversity, and recognized that there was a great world beyond the pleasant hills of Enlad, and many people in it. He was not yet used to thinking widely, and so it was a while before he understood. “Where else?” he asked then, a little dismayed. For he had hoped to bring a prompt cure home to Enlad.
“In the South Reach, first. Latterly even in the south of the Archipelago, in Wathort. There is no more magic done in Wathort, men say. It is hard to be sure. That land has long been rebellious and piratical, and to hear a Southern trader is to hear a liar, as they say. Yet the story is always the same: the springs of wizardry have run dry.”
“But here on Roke—”
“Here on Roke we have felt nothing of this. We are defended here from storm and change and all ill chance. Too well defended, perhaps. Prince, what will you do now?”
“I shall go back to Enlad when I can bring my father some clear word of the nature of this evil and of its remedy.”
Once more the Archmage looked at him, and this time, for all his training, Arren looked away. He did not know why, for there was nothing unkind in the gaze of those dark eyes. They were impartial, calm, compassionate.
All in Enlad looked up to his father, and he was his father’s son. No man had ever looked at him thus, not as Arren, Prince of Enlad, son of the Ruling Prince, but as Arren alone. He did not like to think that he feared the Archmage’s gaze, but he could not meet it. It seemed to enlarge the world yet again around him, and now not only Enlad sank to insignificance, but he himself, so that in the eyes of the Archmage he was only a small figure, very small, in a vast scene of sea-girt lands over which hung darkness.
He sat picking at the vivid moss that grew in the cracks of the marble flagstones, and presently he said, hearing his voice, which had deepened only in the last couple of years, sound thin and husky: “And I shall do as you bid me.”
“Your duty is to your father, not to me,” the Archmage said.
His eyes were still on Arren, and now the boy looked up. As he had made his act of submission he had forgotten himself, and now he saw the Archmage: the greatest wizard of all Earthsea, the man who had capped the Black Well of Fundaur and won the Ring of Erreth-Akbe from the Tombs of Atuan and built the deep-founded sea wall of Nepp; the sailor who knew the seas from Astowell to Selidor; the only living Dragonlord. There he knelt beside a fountain, a short man and not young, a quiet-voiced man, with eyes as deep as evening.
Arren scrambled up from sitting and knelt down formally on both knees, all in haste. “My lord,” he said, stammering, “let me serve you!”
His self-assurance was gone, his face was flushed, his voice shook.
At his hip he wore a sword in a sheath of new leather figured with inlay of red and gold; but the sword itself was plain, with a worn cross-hilt of silvered bronze. This he drew forth, all in haste, and offered the hilt to the Archmage, as a liegeman to his prince.
The Archmage did not put out his hand to touch the sword hilt. He looked at it and at Arren. “That is yours, not mine,” he said. “And you are no man’s servant.”
“But my father said that I might stay on Roke until I learned what this evil is and maybe some mastery—I have no skill, I don’t think I have any power, but there were mages among my forefathers—if I might in some way learn to be of use to you—”
“Before your ancestors were mages,” the Archmage said, “they were kings.”
He stood up and came with silent, vigorous step to Arren, and taking the boy’s hand made him rise. “I thank you for your offer of service, and though I do not accept it now, yet I may, when we have taken counsel on these matters. The offer of a generous spirit is not one to refuse lightly. Nor is the sword of the son of Morred to be lightly turned aside! . . . Now go. The lad who brought you here will see that you eat and bathe and rest. Go on,” and he pushed Arren lightly between the shoulder blades, a familiarity no one had ever taken before, and which the young prince would have resented from anyone else; but he felt the Archmage’s touch as a thrill of glory. For Arren had fallen in love.
He had been an active boy, delighting in games, taking pride and pleasure in the skills of body and mind, apt at his duties of ceremony and governing, which were neither light nor simple. Yet he had never given himself entirely to anything. All had come easily to him, and he had done all easily; it had all been a game, and he had played at loving. But now the depths of him were wakened, not by a game or dream, but by honor, danger, wisdom, by a scarred face and a quiet voice and a dark hand holding, careless of its power, the staff of yew that bore near the grip, in silver set in the black wood, the Lost Rune of the Kings.
So the first step out of childhood is made all at once, without looking before or behind, without caution, and nothing held in reserve.
Forgetting courtly farewells he hurried to the doorway, awkward, radiant, obedient. And Ged the Archmage watched him go.
GED STOOD AWHILE BY THE fountain under the ash tree, then raised his face to the sun-washed sky. “A gentle messenger for bad news,” he said half-aloud, as if talking to the fountain. It did not listen, but went on talking in its own silver tongue, and he listened to it awhile. Then, going to another doorway, which Arren had not seen, and which indeed very few eyes would have seen no matter how close they looked, he said, “Master Doorkeeper.”
A little man of no age appeared. Young he was not, so that one had to call him old, but the word did not suit him. His face was dry and colored like ivory, and he had a pleasant smile that made long curves in his cheeks. “What’s the matter, Ged?” said he.
For they were alone, and he was one of the seven persons in the world who knew the Archmage’s name. The others were the Master Namer of Roke; and Ogion the Silent, the wizard of Re Albi, who long ago on the mountain of Gont had given Ged that name; and the White Lady of Gont, Tenar of the Ring; and a village wizard in Iffish called Vetch; and in Iffish again, a house-carpenter’s wife, mother of three girls, ignorant of all sorcery but wise in other things, who was called Yarrow; and finally, on the other side of Earthsea, in the farthest west, two dragons: Orm Embar and Kalessin.
“We should meet tonight,” the Archmage said. “I’ll go to the Patterner. And I’ll send to Kurremkarmerruk, so that he’ll put his lists away and let his students rest one evening and come to us, if not in flesh. Will you see to the others?”
“Aye,” said the Doorkeeper, smiling, and was gone; and the Archmage also was gone; and the fountain talked to itself all serene and never ceasing in the sunlight of early spring.
SOMEWHERE TO THE WEST OF the Great House of Roke, and often somewhat south of it, the Immanent Grove is usually to be seen. There is no place for it on maps, and there is no way to it except for those who know the way to it. But even novices and townsfolk and farmers can see it, always at a certain distance, a wood of high trees whose leaves have a hint of gold in their greenness even in the spring. And they consider—the novices, the townsfolk, the farmers—that the Grove moves about in a mystifying manner. But in this they are mistaken, for the Grove does not move. Its roots are the roots of being. It is all the rest that moves.
Ged walked over the fields from the Great House. He took off his white cloak, for the sun was at noon. A farmer plowing a brown hillside raised his hand in salute, and Ged replied the same way. Small birds went up into the air and sang. The sparkweed was just coming into flower in the fallows and beside the roads. Far up, a hawk cut a wide arc on the sky. Ged glanced up, and raised his hand again. Down shot the bird in a rush of windy feathers, and stooped straight to the offered wrist, gripping with yellow claws. It was no sparrowhawk but a big Ender-falcon of Roke, a white-and-brown-barred fishing hawk. It looked sidelong at the Archmage with one round, bright-gold eye, then clashed its hooked beak and stared at him straight on with both round, bright-gold eyes. “Fearless,” the Archmage said to it in the tongue of the Making.
The big hawk beat its wings and gripped with its talons, gazing at him.
“Go then, brother, fearless one.”
The farmer, away off on the hillside under the bright sky, had stopped to watch. Once last autumn he had watched the Archmage take a wild bird on his wrist, and then in the next moment had seen no man, but two hawks mounting on the wind.
This time they parted as the farmer watched: the bird to the high air, the man walking on across the muddy fields.
He came to the path that led to the Immanent Grove, a path that led always straight and direct no matter how time and the world bent awry about it, and following it came soon into the shadow of the trees.
The trunks of some of these were vast. Seeing them one could believe at last that the Grove never moved: they were like immemorial towers grey with years; their roots were like the roots of mountains. Yet these, the most ancient, were some of them thin of leaf, with branches that had died. They were not immortal. Among the giants grew sapling trees, tall and vigorous with bright crowns of foliage, and seedlings, slight leafy wands no taller than a girl.
The ground beneath the trees was soft, rich with the rotten leaves of all the years. Ferns and small woodland plants grew in it, but there was no kind of tree but the one, which had no name in the Hardic tongue of Earthsea. Under the branches the air smelled earthy and fresh, and had a taste in the mouth like live spring-water.
In a glade which had been made years before by the falling of an enormous tree, Ged met the Master Patterner, who lived within the Grove and seldom or never came forth from it. His hair was butter-yellow; he was no Archipelagan. Since the restoral of the Ring of Erreth-Akbe, the barbarians of Kargad had ceased their forays and had struck some bargains of trade and peace with the Inner Lands. They were not friendly folk, and held aloof. But now and then a young warrior or merchant’s son came westward by himself, drawn by love of adventure or craving to learn wizardry. Such had been the Master Patterner ten years ago, a sword-begirt, red-plumed young savage from Karego-At, arriving at Gont on a rainy morning and telling the Doorkeeper in imperious and scanty Hardic, “I come to learn!” And now he stood in the green-gold light under the trees, a tall man and fair, with long fair hair and strange green eyes, the Master Patterner of Earthsea.
It may be that he, too, knew Ged’s name, but if so he never spoke it. They greeted each other in silence.
“What are you watching there?” the Archmage asked, and the other answered, “A spider.”
Between two tall grass blades in the clearing a spider had spun a web, a circle delicately suspended. The silver threads caught the sunlight. In the center the spinner waited, a grey-black thing no larger than the pupil of an eye.
“She too is a patterner,” Ged said, studying the artful web.
“What is evil?” asked the younger man.
The round web, with its black center, seemed to watch them both.
“A web we men weave,” Ged answered.
In this wood no birds sang. It was silent in the noon light and hot. About them stood the trees and shadows.
“There is word from Narveduen and Enlad: the same.”
“South and southwest. North and northwest,” said the Patterner, never looking from the round web.
“We shall come here this evening. This is the best place for counsel.”
“I have no counsel.” The Patterner looked now at Ged, and his greenish eyes were cold. “I am afraid,” he said. “There is fear. There is fear at the roots.”
“Aye,” said Ged. “We must look to the deep springs, I think. We have enjoyed the sunlight too long, basking in that peace which the healing of the Ring brought, accomplishing small things, fishing the shallows. Tonight we must question the depths.” And so he left the Patterner alone, gazing still at the spider in the sunny grass.
At the edge of the Grove, where the leaves of the great trees reached out over ordinary ground, he sat with his back against a mighty root, his staff across his knees. He shut his eyes as if resting, and sent a sending of his spirit over the hills and fields of Roke, northward, to the sea-assaulted cape where the Isolate Tower stands.
“Kurremkarmerruk,” he said in spirit, and the Master Namer looked up from the thick book of names of roots and herbs and leaves and seeds and petals that he was reading to his pupils and said, “I am here, my lord.”
Then he listened, a big, thin old man, white-haired under his dark hood; and the students at their writing-tables in the tower room looked up at him and glanced at one another.
“I will come,” Kurremkarmerruk said, and bent his head to his book again, saying, “Now the petal of the flower of moly hath a name, which is iebera, and so also the sepal, which is partonath; and stem and leaf and root hath each his name. . . .”
But under his tree the Archmage Ged, who knew all the names of moly, withdrew his sending and, stretching out his legs more comfortably and keeping his eyes shut, presently fell asleep in the leaf-spotted sunlight.
Reading Group Guide
A Reading Group Guide for
The Earthsea Cycle
By Ursula K. Le Guin
About the Earthsea Cycle
Earthsea is a fictional realm originally created by Ursula K. Le Guin for her short story "The Word of Unbinding," published in 1964. Earthsea became the setting for six books, beginning with A Wizard of Earthsea, and continuing with The Tombs of Atuan, The Farthest Shore, Tehanu, Tales from Earthsea, and The Other Wind. All are set in the world of Earthsea. Each novel in the series has received a prestigious literary award, including the 1969 Boston Globe –Horn Book Award for Fiction and the 1979 Lewis Carroll Shelf Award for A Wizard of Earthsea, the 1972 Newbery Honor for The Tombs of Atuan, the 1973 National Book Award for Children's Books for The Farthest Shore, the 1990 Nebula Award for Best Novel for Tehanu, and the 2002 World Fantasy Award for Best Novel for The Other Wind.
Book 1: A Wizard of Earthsea
About the Book
Ged, the greatest sorcerer in all Earthsea, was called Sparrowhawk in his reckless youth. Hungry for power and knowledge, Sparrowhawk tampered with long-held secrets and loosed a terrible shadow upon the world. This is the tale of his testing, how he mastered the mighty words of power, tamed an ancient dragon, and crossed death's threshold to restore the balance.
Introduce readers to the concept of the Bildungsroman, or coming-of-age story, and examples with which they may be familiar, such as Catcher in the Rye and David Copperfield. Explain characteristics of the Bildungsroman story and ask readers to identify them in the course of reading the novel.
Taoist philosophy is represented in all the books of the Earthsea cycle. Have students use print and electronic resources to research the origins of Taoist philosophy, its fundamental characteristics, and influences.
1. How would you describe Ged's personality based on his actions and the descriptions?
2. How would you describe the style in which the story is written?
3. What do you think Ogion means when he says, "[T]o keep dark the mind of the mageborn, that is a dangerous thing"?
4. How would you describe the setting of the story? What kind of world is it?
5. What is the first lesson Ogion wants to teach Ged, and why is it the most important?
6. What does Ged's question about the use of fourfoil reveal about his personality? What point is Ogion trying to make when he asks Ged, "What, after all, is the use of you? or of myself? Is Gont Mountain useful, or the Open Sea?"
7. How would you describe Ogion? What is Ogion's philosophy about magic? What does Ged find surprising about him?
8. What do Ged's actions and decisions further reveal about his personality?
9. What do you think of what the man in the town of Thwil says to Ged, "The wise don't need to ask, the fool asks in vain"?
10. How is the appearance of the School's door appropriate, given that it is a school for wizards? How is it representative of themes expressed in the story and in the lessons Ogion has taught Ged? Why must Ged tell the doorkeeper his true name to gain entrance to the School?
11. Why do you think Lord Nemmerle has Ged read Ogion's letter himself?
12. What is Ged's reaction to what the Master Hand tells him? What do you think the Master Hand mean when he says, "To light a candle is to cast a shadow"?
13. How would you describe Jasper? What are some examples of things Jasper does and says that make Ged angry or envious?
14. Why do you think the otak/hoeg is attracted to Ged?
15. How does Ged try to overcome his anger and envy toward Jasper, and his fear about certain spells of Summoning?
16. What does Jasper say that makes Ged decide to challenge him?
17. What changes does Ged notice when he reads the runes in the Book of Summoning in the darkness?
18. Why do you think Nemmerle sacrifices his life to save Ged?
19. Why is Gensher unwilling to accept Ged's fealty?
20. What is Gensher's explanation for why Ged's spell went wrong?
21. Why does Ged want to be alone? What future does he have in mind for himself?
22. What is the gift Vetch gives to Ged? What is the significance of his act?
23. What do you think the Master Summoner means when he says, "[T]he 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?"
24. Why do you think Ged must ask the Master Doorkeeper's name to win his freedom from the School—what lesson does this teach?
25. How does Ged feel about his assignment to go to Low Torning?
26. What effect does the world of the dead have upon Ged?
27. How is Ged brought back to consciousness? What effect does this have on his thinking?
28. What does Ged learn from his failure to save Ioeth?
29. What is the significance of Ged's decision to go to Pendor to confront the dragons?
30. How does Yevaud try to manipulate Ged? What does Ged's reaction to Yevaud's offer reveal about his character? What does he learn from his encounter with Yevaud?
31. What signs tell Ged that his shadow is not far from him?
32. Why do you think Le Guin decided to keep Ged from returning to Roke?
33. How would you describe the man who tells Ged to go to the Court of the Terrenon. What does the man say and do that is suspicious? How does the man react to Ged's suspicion? Why does Ged decide to take his advice?
34. What does the gebbeth do to Skiorh? Why does it lead Ged out into the desert before confronting him?
35. Why do you think the gebbeth is unable to catch Ged, even when he tires and can no longer run?
36. Why are Lord Benderesk and Lady Serret so hospitable to Ged? What is odd and suspicious about the Court of the Terrenon?
37. Why is Ged unable to "see things plainly" in the tower-keep?
38. What does Serret reveal about the powers of the Terrenon?
39. Why does Serret not believe Ged when he says he fears the Terrenon?
40. What do you think Serret means when she says: "He who throws away his power is filled sometimes with a far greater power"?
41. Why is the Terrenon unable to capture Ged's will?
42. Why is Ged unable to turn back into his human form? Why do you think he flies to Gont rather than Roke?
43. What does Ogion say that contradicts what Gensher told Ged? How do you think the shadow knew Ged's name? What advice does Ogion give him, and why?
44. Why does Ged want to meet the shadow on the sea rather than on land?
45. Why do you think the shadow turns and flees when Ged pursues it? Why doesn't it attack him when he is lying helpless on the beach?
46. How do the man and woman on the cay react to Ged? Why don’t they want to leave the island?
47. What does Ged's treatment of the man and woman reveal about his character?
48. What is ironic about the way the shadow tricks Ged into crashing into the rocks?
49. What effect does grabbing and holding the shadow have on Ged? What does he realize about his task after this?
50. What strange thing happens to Ged on Vemish? What explanation do you have for this phenomenon?
51. Why does Ged at first refuse to let Estarriol accompany him, and how does Estarriol persuade Ged to let him come? Why is it appropriate that Estarriol should be there?
52. What happened to Jasper? Why do you think he left Roke?
53. What possible future does Ged see that frightens him?
54. What explanations do Ged and Estarriol have for the strange behavior of the shadow—for its taking Ged’s form and its inability to defeat Ged by speaking his name?
55. According to Ged, what is the fundamental difference between summoning light and summoning an object? Why is it that summoning light does not upset Equilibrium, yet summoning an object does?
56. Why do Ged and Estarriol avoid using magic on this final voyage?
57. What brief vision does Ged have about where he will meet the shadow?
58. What fears does Estarriol have about their voyage?
59. What is your interpretation of the way in which Ged defeats the shadow?
60. How would you describe the place where Ged meets the shadow? How does it come into existence, and why does it suddenly disappear?
61. Were you surprised by what happens when Ged confronts the shadow? Would you say that his realization is true of all human experience?
62. What is the meaning of the lines quoted from the Creation of Éa: "Only in silence the word, only in dark the light, only in dying life: bright the hawk's flight on the dying sky"? How do these lines relate to the story?
Postreading Activities and Questions
1. Identify three examples of foreshadowing in the story.
2. Create profiles of the major characters in the novel: Sparrowhawk/Ged, Ogion, Vetch/Estarriol, Jasper, Ged’s shadow, and Lady Serret. What facts about each one are important to the story?
3. What are the main themes and messages of the story? Discuss how the characters, setting, and plot help develop these themes.
4. What aspect(s) of the story do you like best? Discuss why you find them appealing. Why is this world called Earthsea? How would you describe it? Why do you think LeGuin chose to set her story in such a world?
5. The language of A Wizard of Earthsea is often poetic. Comment on three sentences that you find particularly beautiful or moving. In what ways is a writer or artist like a wizard?
6. Compare the evil of the shadow with the evil of Terrenon. Are they evil in the same way? How do they differ?
Book 2: The Tombs of Atuan
About the Book
In this second novel in the Earthsea series, Tenar is chosen as high priestess to the ancient and nameless Powers of the Earth, and everything is taken from her—home, family, possessions, even her name. She is now known only as Arha, the Eaten One, and guards the shadowy, labyrinthine Tombs of Atuan. Then a wizard, Ged Sparrowhawk, comes to steal the Tombs’ greatest hidden treasure, the Ring of Erreth-Akbe. Tenar’s duty is to protect the Ring, but Ged possesses the light of magic and tales of a world that Tenar has never known. Will Tenar risk everything to escape from the darkness that has become her domain?
1. What do the priestesses mean when they say of Tenar: "Let her be eaten!"?
2. What does it mean when the girl is transformed from Tenar to the Eaten One?
3. How was Arha chosen?
4. How would you describe Arha's life in the Place of the Tombs of Atuan?
5. What is Penthe's relationship with Arha?
6. Why does Arha continue to be frustrated even after crossing into womanhood?
7. How does Manan show Arha new ways of seeing?
8. Why does Kossil fear the tombs?
9. Who are the prisoners in the tombs? For what reasons are they imprisoned?
10. What does Kossil say Arha will learn?
11. What does Arha find herself in agreement about with Penthe? What is it about Penthe's words that frighten Arha?
12. Why does Arha return to the cavern day after day?
13. What does Thar tell Arha about the labyrinth?
14. What is the Ring of Erreth-Akbe?
15. What is Kossil's view of the Wizards of the West?
16. How does Arha feel about Kossil's "unfaith"?
17. Why is Arha conflicted over how to deal with the intruder?
18. What is Sparrowhawk's purpose in coming to the Tombs of Atuan?
19. What does Arha mean when she says: "You know everything, wizard. But I know one thing—the one true thing!" What is the “one true thing”?
20. Why does Arha let Sparrowhawk live?
21. Why does Arha bring Sparrowhawk to the Undertomb?
22. What is the significance of Arha's dream of the birds?
23. When Arha says: "The gods are dead, the gods are dead," what is Sparrowhawk's response?
24. Why can't Sparrowhawk tell Tenar how he found her name?
25. How does Tenar's decision to go with Sparrowhawk set them both free?
26. What does Ged tell Tenar when she says: "The evil must be paid for. I am not free"?
27. The wizard, Ged, explains to Tenar that the Nameless Ones are the Tombs of Atuan, and cannot leave the Place. Why does Le Guin limit the dwellings of the dark powers to a single location in her fantasy world?
28. Le Guin emphasizes the Equilibrium of dark and light forces throughout the Earthsea Cycle. Does Le Guin justify Ged's argument that the dark powers should not be "denied or forgotten?" Why must they be equal with the light powers? How do the sentences that describe the small evils that exist in the world add to this argument?
29. Why does Le Guin make her dark forces nameless in a world where magic and power revolve around names?
30. Why do you think Le Guin describes the dark powers as "holy Powers"?
Book 3: The Farthest Shore
About the Book
In this third book in the Earthsea series, darkness threatens to overtake Earthsea: the world and its wizards are losing their magic. But Ged Sparrowhawk—Archmage, wizard, and dragonlord—is determined to discover the source of this devastating loss. Aided by Enlad’s young prince, Arren, Ged embarks on a treacherous journey that will test their strength and will. To restore magic, the two warriors must venture to the farthest reaches of their world—and even beyond the realm of death.
1. Sparrowhawk says to Arren: "When I was young, I had to choose between the life of being and the life of doing. And I leapt at the latter like a trout to a fly. But each deed you do, each act, binds you to itself and to its consequences, and makes you act again and yet again. Then very seldom do you come upon a space, a time like this, between act and act, when you may stop and simply be. Or wonder who, after all, you are." What prompts Sparrowhawk to share this with Arren? Why does Arren find it so surprising?
2. Who is the only creature capable of upsetting the great Balance and what is the cause?
3. Why do you think Le Guin italicizes the sentence, "Infinite are the arguments of mages . . . . "? What might she be trying to create or set up with this statement?
4. When Arren asks if dragons do great evil, Sparrowhawk replies, "Who am I, to judge the acts of dragons? . . . They are wiser than men are. It is with them as with dreams, Arren. We men dream dreams, we work magic, we do good, we do evil. The dragons do not dream. They are dreams. They do not work magic: it is their substance, their being. They do not do; they are". What do you think Sparrowhawk means when he says dragons are dreams? What is it that makes dragons wiser than men? How is this view of dragons different from how they are depicted in J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit or other fantasy stories?
5. What do Arren and Sparrowhawk find to be wrong with Hort Town?
6. What do you think Sparrowhawk means when he says of Hare, "For all his craft in sorcery, he has never seen the way before him, seeing only himself"?
7. Why does Arren look upon Sparrowhawk "with love, but also with fear"? What is the great gift of childhood?
8. What had Arren hoped was the reason for Sparrowhawk choosing him for the voyage?
9. What do you think Le Guin means when she writes: "To be one's self is a rare thing and a great one"? How does the idea of being one's self play out in the rest of the novel?
10. Why would Sparrowhawk consider immortality evil? Why is death a necessity?
11. What do Arren and Ged find on the Dry Land? How does Arren feel about what he sees?
12. Who is Cob and why does he refuse Ged's offer to give him death?
13. What is revealed in The Deed of Ged?
Book 4: Tehanu
About the Book
Years before, Tenar and Ged had escaped together from the sinister Tombs of Atuan—she, an isolated young priestess, and he, a powerful wizard. Now she is a farmer's widow, having chosen for herself the simple pleasures of an ordinary life. And he is a broken old man, mourning the powers lost to him not by choice. A lifetime ago, they helped each other at a time of darkness and danger. Now they must join forces again, to help another—the physically and emotionally scarred child whose own destiny remains to be revealed.
1. What has become of Tenar since leaving the Tombs of Atuan?
2. Why does Ogion send for Goha?
3. What do you think Goha means when she says she doesn't know what a wizard is but does know what one does?
4. What does Goha tell Therru about Ogion?
5. What are the disturbing rumors heard about the art of magic?
6. What does Ogion say has happened to Ged?
7. What does Ogion say about Therru?
8. Who will Ogion be known as in death?
9. How has Therru changed since coming with Tenar to Ogion's?
10. Why does Tenar wonder if fear is the bond she has with Therru?
11. Who does Tenar encounter on Gont Mountain?
12. What is the gebbeth?
13. What is Aunty Moss's reply to Tenar's question about what is wrong with men?
14. Who has Arren become?
15. What is significant about Therru staring at Ged?
16. What keeps Tenar from leaving Ogion's house?
17. What promise does Tenar make to Ged?
18. Why does Tenar resist Beech's suggestion about Therru?
19. What is Tenar's response to Ged's remark that no woman can be archmage?
20. What do you think will become of Ged, Tenar, and Therru?
Book 5: Tales from Earthsea
About the Book
The tales of this book, as Ursula K. Le Guin writes in her foreword, explore or extend the world established by her first four Earthsea novels. Yet each tale stands on its own. "The Finder," a novella set a few hundred years before A Wizard of Earthsea, presents a dark and troubled Archipelago and reveals how the school on Roke came to be. "The Bones of the Earth" features the wizards who taught the wizard who first taught Ged, and it demonstrates how humility, if great enough, can rein in an earthquake. "Darkrose and Diamond" is a delightful story of young courtship showing that sometimes wizards can pursue alternative careers. "On the High Marsh," from the brief but eventful time of Ged as Archmage of Earthsea, tells of the love of power—and of the power of love. "Dragonfly" shows how a woman, determined enough, can break the glass ceiling of male magedom. Taking place shortly after the last Earthsea novel, it also provides a bridge—a dragon bridge—to the next Earthsea novel, The Other Wind. The author concludes this collection with an essay about Earthsea's history, people, languages, literature, and magic, and provides two new maps of Earthsea.
1. "The Finder," is a novella that tells the story of Otter/Medra and the origins of the school of magic upon the "Isle of the Wise," the island of Roke. The story is set about three centuries before the time of Ged. "The Finder" tells of a dark and deeply troubled Archipelago and a time when magic and the wielders of magic were feared and mistrusted. How is this story important to understanding the history and mythology of Earthsea?
2. "The Bones of the Earth" is set on the island of Gont where Ged was born. The story centers on an old, stubborn wizard named Dulse and his apprentice, the mage Ogion, who will become Ged's first teacher in sorcery. How does this story depict a wizard's life? How does the story serve to further illuminate Ogion's character?
3. In what way does the romantic tale, "Darkrose and Diamond," show that wizards can choose to follow an alternative path to becoming one of the "people of power"?
4. In what way does "On the High Marsh" contrast the love of power and the power of love? How does this story explore the theme of redemption?
5. How does "Dragonfly" function as a link between the novels Tehanu and The Other Wind? In what way does the story show that even the greatest of the ruling mages of Earthsea is fallible and prone to errors of judgment?
6. In what ways are the stories and essays in this collection a reinterpretation of the world of Earthsea as it was depicted in the first four novels?
Book 6: The Other Wind
About the Book
The sorcerer Alder fears sleep. He dreams of the land of death, of his wife who died young and longs to return to him so much that she kissed him across the low stone wall that separates our world from the Dry Land—where the grass is withered, the stars never move, and lovers pass without knowing each other. The dead are pulling Alder to them at night. Through him they may free themselves and invade Earthsea. Alder seeks advice from Ged, once Archmage. Ged tells him to go to Tenar, Tehanu, and the young king at Havnor. They are joined by amber-eyed Irian, a fierce dragon able to assume the shape of a woman. The threat can be confronted only in the Immanent Grove on Roke, the holiest place in the world, and there the king, hero, sage, wizard, and dragon make a last stand.
1. Why did the Lord Patterner send Alder to Sparrowhawk?
2. What is Alder's training and abilities in magic?
3. What demands are the dragons making of King Lebannen?
4. What are the emissaries of the High King of the Kargs asking of King Lebannen?
5. Why does Tehanu agree to accompany the King on a mission to parley with the dragons?
6. What is at the root of the unbalancing of Earthsea?
7. What does Tenar mean when she says Tehanu is "the child of many and none"?
8. How is Tehanu freed from the burden of her childhood injury?
9. How is the spell that created the Dry Land broken?
10. In what ways is a new world order born in Earthsea?
11. How would you describe the roles of Sparrowhawk and Tenar in this story?
12. What do you think will become of Tehanu?
13. Identify examples of how the theme of reconciliation is addressed in this story.
Bernardo, Susan M. and Graham J. Murphy. Ursula K. Le Guin: A Critical Companion. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2006.
Cadden, Mike. Ursula K. Le Guin Beyond Genre: Fiction for Children and Adults. New York, NY: Routledge, 2005.
Coyote's Song: The Teaching Stories of Ursula K. Le Guin, Richard D. Erlich, SFRA, 2007. http://www.sfra.org/Coyote/CoyoteHome.htm
Ursula K. Le Guin’s Web Site
This guide was written by Edward T. Sullivan, a librarian and writer.
This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.