Recommended Reads: The Earthsea Series

Harry Potterites look away now. In this post Reader magazine deputy editor Sarah Coley explains why she thinks Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea series has the best wizard.

I’ve been comfort reading children’s books, and in particular, Ursula LeGuin’s fantastic Earthsea series, full of dragons and world winds and mage winds, strange worlds, seas, and Ged, the harsh central character whom you hardly know, who slips further from you as you read into the books, seen increasingly through other’s eyes. Ged grows old in what seems an extraordinary mythlike acceleration–or perhaps it’s just that the books read so quickly. Before you’ve learned to overcome your dislike of his arrogant younger self, he’s a dark and mournable figure, older than you could have wanted, and glimpsed with longing after many pages with other characters; then, with another afternoon’s reading, he is old and suddenly you can imagine him dead. He’s there on the page with all of his restless energy and power, and it’s the thought of his loss that you’re most aware of.

But this is what kids’ books are like and were like when we were children too. There’s none of that deeper meaning for the adults that the Harry Potterites fool themselves in imagining they find. It’s the same trouble for the adult as for the child. The things that are close to you can die. (Who didn’t check from time to time to see if their parents were still breathing?) The comfort in the Earthsea series comes weirdly from comfortlessness and the distance that Le Guin preserves for her main character. The less you know him, the more in his element he is, and the more he belongs to his world, the better, the more fiercely free it all is.

Who in all of literature would you want to have met?  

It’s Ged for me.


By Sarah Coley

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6 thoughts on “Recommended Reads: The Earthsea Series”

  1. “There’s none of that deeper meaning for the adults that the Harry Potterites fool themselves in imagining they find.”

    What utter rubbish!

    The Harry Potter books are RIPE with hidden meaning. The later books, especially, mirrored politics in the real world with the imaginary ‘Ministry of Magic’ and Umbridge adopting all those ‘decrees’ reducing student’s freedoms was clearly in reference to the ‘War on Terror’ stepping on the toes of people’s civil rights in the real world.

    Then there are the obvious clues about Dumbledore’s sexuality – that are only obvious once we got told about them!

    The Harry Potter books are written on many different levels and to dismiss that fact means you’re clearly appraising them with blinkers on.

  2. Ah, I can see that you’re finding some other meanings in those seven long books, Roland, but further meanings are not necessarily deeper. I don’t think they help much. They seem like crutches, in a way, aids for when you’re less moved, or when you’re more in doubt about a book. Does it bring you closer to the characters or their predicament to ponder modern colonial politics, ID cards, or Dumbledore’s sexuality, however ripe the issues?

    But to let us both off the hook, I think you may have mistaken my drift. For me, it’s good to have that unshiftable difficulty with the central character that you have in Le Guin’s great trilogy. That the adult is no wiser than the child is right and important.


  3. Ah, you see I completely disagree. There’s nothing better than re-reading one your most beloved childhood books and suddenly discovering a whole other layer of meaning you were oblivious too when you first read it.

    It’s like reading a book you love for the first time, all over again.

  4. Couldn’t agree more, Roland – surely you don’t think Alice in Wonderland is ‘the same’ for an adult as for a child, ‘SC’? Just as moving, wondrous and enjoyable but definitely different! Even the humour is ‘altered by age’ and fresh layers discovered beneath the story on each reading.

    As Wilde says, ‘a book is well written or badly written, that is all’ and it does seem rather (dare I say it ) arrogant, to assume that those who see ‘more’/’other’/’deeper’ meanings than OURselves merely ‘fool THEMselves’ – maybe it’s ‘in the [inner] eye of the beholder’? Just a thought …

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