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Literature / A Wizard of Earthsea

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A Wizard of Earthsea (1968) is the first book of Earthsea.

The book is about a young mage named Ged, born in a village on the island of Gont. He displays great power while still a boy and joins a school of wizardry, where his prickly nature drives him into conflict with a fellow student. During a magical duel, Ged's spell goes awry and releases a shadow creature that attacks him. The novel follows Ged's journey as he seeks to be free of the creature.


  • Abusive Parents: Ged's father beats him.
  • The Apprentice: Ogion takes Ged as his apprentice, but it's Deconstructed when the arrangement lasts less than a year. Ged is a hotheaded youth who thirsts for power and glory, and isn't content to hang out with a quirky old man who lives a slow, quiet life and is a Bunny-Ears Lawyer of a mage.
    Ogion: Ged, my young falcon, you are not bound to me or to my service. You did not come to me, but I to you. You are very young to make this choice, but I cannot make it for you. If you wish, I will send you to Roke Island, where all high arts are taught. Any craft you undertake to learn you will learn, for your power is great. Greater even than your pride, I hope. I would keep you here with me, for what I have is what you lack, but I will not keep you against your will. Now choose between Re Albi and Roke.
    Ged: Master, I will go to Roke.
  • The Blacksmith: Ged's father is a bronze-smith.
  • Child Mage: Ged is this at the beginning of the book. His aunt, a witch, notes that he has unusual magical power, and when he was eight or nine, he saved his entire village from the Kargs using a spell he essentially made up on the spot. Some time after, he goes to Roke, which, as it's a wizarding school, is also full of child mages.
  • Deserted Island: Ged is sea-wrecked on a very small one.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The gebbeth that Ged unleashed.
  • Encyclopedia Exposita: It begins with an Epigraph from The Creation of √Ča:
    Only in silence the word,
    only in dark the light,
    only in dying life:
    bright the hawk's flight
    on the empty sky.
  • Enemy Without: The shadow.
  • Evil Counterpart: The shadow to Ged.
  • Familiar: Ged has an otak, a very shy, rodentlike creature similar in size and disposition to a weasel. He tames it in the wild using the Old Speech, and it follows him around everywhere after that. It will tolerate almost no one else. When he's attacked at one point, it tries to protect him, screaming (this is notable because otaks have no voices). Ged is heartbroken when it dies.
  • Fantasy-Forbidding Father: Ged's father, a smith, is always telling him his fantasies will do him no good, and that learning to make a living as a smith is the only realistic way for Ged to get by in the world. He's proven wrong when Ged becomes a wizard.
  • Farm Boy: Ged starts out as a goatherd, son of a bronze-smith, on a very rural island out on the edge of civilization.
  • Head Pet: Ged's otak familiar likes riding on his shoulder or resting in his hood.
  • Job Title: The protagonist of A Wizard of Earthsea is a wizard of Earthsea.
  • Living Shadow: What Ged summons up and then must deal with.
  • Magical Seventh Son: Downplayed to the point where it's easy to miss, mentioned only in a single line, but Ged is a seventh son.
    Duny's six brothers were older than he by many years and went one by one from home to farm the land or sail the sea or work as smith in other towns of the Northward Vale
  • Muggles Do It Better: Magic that creates real objects, as opposed to creating illusions or calling upon environmental powers, is extremely labor-intensive and difficult. So if you need an ordinary object, like a boat or a pie, it's easiest to just make it the ordinary way. When Ged wills a boat together out of some scraps of wood and magic, it serves fine in the short-term, but he has to constantly monitor the spell to keep the boat from dissolving—he can't even take a nap or the magic will start failing, so he ends up having to stay awake for several days straight—and he's relieved to get a regular craft.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Some of Ged's teachers, with the best of intentions, teach him advanced lessons even though his emotional maturity hasn't caught up to his magical power, which enables his disastrous summoning on the knoll.
  • Ominous Fog: The boy who will grow up to be Sparrowhawk uses a fog control/illusion spell to confuse invaders and save his village.
  • Privileged Rival: When Ged arrives at Roke Island, he gains a rival in Jasper, the son of the Lord of the Domain of Eolg on the Isle of Havnor. Ged is a Farm Boy and the son of a smith, and is rubbed the wrong way by Jasper, who he thinks is a Spoiled Brat. This is a Culture Clash. Jasper is extremely polite, which is culturally alien to Ged, so he interprets it as condescending. He responds with brusqueness that Jasper thinks is rude. The first day, Jasper expects Ged to know more than he actually does, which Ged reads as Jasper trying to embarrass him. This appears to all just be a misunderstanding. Vetch (a good judge of character) is friends with Jasper. However, Jasper and Ged are too pissed off and too proud to try to reconcile the misunderstanding, so they just keep sniping at each other until Ged loses his temper over one goatherd joke too many and escalates into a tragedy.
  • Rite of Passage: The mage Ogion the Silent gives Duny his True Name of "Ged" in a coming of age Naming Ceremony.
  • Shadow Archetype: Ged accidentally raises an evil spirit representing the darkness in himself, which is actually called the Shadow in the text. It follows him everywhere until he can call it by its true name—which is Ged.
  • Shoulder-Sized Dragon: The harekki Yarrow keeps as a pet, possibly the very first example.
  • Sorcerer's Apprentice Plot: In Ged's youth, his Fatal Flaw is his desire to prove himself good enough by showing off, as well as a rash belief that he's more powerful and skilled than he really is. It gets him into the same trouble — dealing with a Summoning Ritual and a Living Shadow — twice, because Youth Is Wasted on the Dumb and he doesn't sufficiently learn his lesson the first time. The first is a Downplayed rendition and the latter Exaggerated.
    • At the age of 13, when Ged is the apprentice of Ogion, he goes through his master's lore books without permission while his master is gone. He finds a spell for summoning the spirits of the dead. He finds himself magically unable to look up from the book until he reads to the end of the spell. When he does, he's filled with vague dread, and there's a Living Shadow of something crouching in the corner of the room, whispering indistinctly to him. Then Ogion bursts into the room, banishes the shadow, and fixes everything.
    • A few years later, at 15, while studying at Wizarding School on Roke, Ged gets into a competitive challenge with his classmate Jasper. He attempts to summon the spirit of a long-dead legendary queen. A deadly Living Shadow ends up being looses into the world. It promptly tries to kill him. Archmage Nemmerle (head of the school) has to save Ged—and he used so much energy doing so that he dies soon afterwards. Ged has to spend a month in sickbed afterwards. The shadow is only run off for a time, and it then stalks Ged for the next several years trying to finish him off. He had to spend the rest of the book taking responsibility for his action by hunting down the shadow and dealing with it.
  • Turning Back Human: Ged spends too much time in the form of a hawk (and focused on nothing but survival), so he has to be turned back into human by his teacher and even then it takes a couple of days before his mind is back to normal.
  • When You Snatch the Pebble: To graduate from the School on Roke as a fully-fledged wizard, a student must find out what the Master Doorkeeper's name is. Since a wizard will always protect the secret of his name, Ged thinks long and hard about what form of magic he could use to wrest the information from the vastly more powerful Master Doorkeeper. Eventually he goes before the master and admits he must give up, but only after asking one question: "What is your name?" The Master Doorkeeper cheerfully gives him the answer: politely requesting his name was in fact the solution to the test.
  • Stern Chase: Ged gets chased from island to island by a creature from the shadow realms.
  • Summoning Ritual: Ged decides to show off by summoning the spirit of Queen Elfarran from the dead. He succeeds, but also inadvertently calls a "Shadow", which promptly tries to kill him, then stalks him for the next several years trying to finish him off.
  • That's No Moon: Ged once goes to an island to fight off dragons. The first dragons are relatively small and easy to defeat... then the castle on the island moves and it's the main dragon.
  • Unusual Pets for Unusual People: Ged ends up with an otak as his familiar. It's explicitly noted that otaks are not easily domesticated at best, and it is shown when his otak nearly bites some of the other students at his school.
  • Wizard Classic: Inverted Trope. Some details are turned on their head — rather than an old white man, Ged is a young brown man. Other aspects are played straight: wizards are all male, and carry staffs.
  • Wizard Duel: Ged's attempt to outdo a schoolyard rival with flashy demonstrations of magic led to tragedy.
  • Wizarding School: The school for magic on Roke, which only admits men, and which is portrayed pretty much as the center of the magical world. May be the Trope Maker.
  • Youth Is Wasted on the Dumb: The young students are showing off their spellcraft when Ged foolishly casts a dangerous and powerful spell to show off. He nearly dies himself, the Archmage does die, and a creature is unleashed.