Wizard of Earthsea is one of those classic books that I remember reading as a young teen. Like An Abundance of Katherines, it is a coming of age story. But unlike the other two books that I read this past week from the same era (Goldfinger and Stainless Steel Rat) it did not feel dated.
At the end of the book, Le Guin commented about the history of the book. This was the first book that a publisher had asked her to write, and she was reluctant. She had not written a book specifically for teen before this. And while she had written fantasy, the idea of fantasy as a genre was very new.
Lord of the Rings had only recently been published in the US. And the idea of young adult fantasy was just getting started. Lloyd Alexander had won the Newberry Medal for the High King the year before A Wizard of Earthsea was written.
In Le Guin’s little history she noted that she was subtlety trying to tweak the establishment. She followed the basic structure of a young adult version of a wizard, but she made him non-white. In fact all of the good characters in the book are not white. The only explicitly White main character is one that we see as a young girl and later as a young woman. And both times she betrays Ged to try and steal his power.
And Le Guin breaks away from traditional fantasy in several other ways. Earthsea is not vaguely based on the British Isles like the Lord of the Rings or Alexander’s Book of Three series. But more importantly it is not focused around war. There are no armies. There are not armed fights. Ged fights, but it is either by hand or with magic.
The only dated part of the book is the psychological theory of Ged’s mission. In order to win his quest he has to come to know himself. This is classic coming of age story that is not unlike the theme of Taran Wanderer, but it very different from the modern coming of age stories like An Abundance of Katherines, where Colin is trying to find purpose amidst abundance or coming of age as sexual conquest like the American Pie style movies.
This is not an explicitly Christian book like Chronicle of Narnia, but it is implicitly a Christian worldview (like Lord of the Rings.) This is a book that is appropriate for younger teens, limited only by their reading level. There is no sex or language and the violence is very minimal.
This is a classic book I can highly recommend. The kindle version has dropped in price significantly last week. It went from $7.99 down to $4.65 and then back up to $4.76. For that price I think it is well worth picking up. The rest of the series has not similarly dropped.