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They wait at the corners of time Greater than people Who can pronounce them. They lie on the dumb earth Heavier than life's bones Death could not carry them away As his dowry. No one can lift them No one can strike them down. Falling stars hide their heads In the shadows of his words.

It started to calculate itself. It divided multiplied itself Subtracted and added Itself But it always remained alone. It stopped calculating And shut itself up In its round sunlit purity. The glowing tracks of its calculations remained outside. They began to chase each other in the dark To divide themselves while multiplying To subtract themselves while adding. Then the sallow oval between Ged's arms grew bright. It widened and spread, a rent in the darkness of the earth and night, a ripping open of the fabric of the world.

Through it blazed a terrible brightness. And through that bright misshapen breach clambered something like a clot of black shadow, quick and hideous, and it leaped straight out at Ged's face. Vetch alone ran forward to his friend. So only he saw the lump of shadow that clung to Ged, tearing at his flesh. It was like a black beast, the size of a young child, though it seemed to swell and shrink; and it had no head or face, only the four taloned paws with which it gripped and tore. Gioia: The Archmage Nammerle arrives and works a mighty spell to chase off the shadow and save Ged's life. But in confronting such a massive and dark power, the old Archmage dies.

Ged himself barely survives the violent encounter with the shadow. Card : So when the shadow shows up, the shadow is being called by the most dangerous aspects of Ged's personality. That shadow would not have come into the world if Ged had been a milder person, if Ged had not hungered for power. Chabon: It's while engaging in this exercise of overweening pride of an excess of impatience in tampering with things that he ought to know better than to tamper with.

Mosley: His arrogance is his darker side, and in giving in to it, he brings evil into the world. Iyer : The kid thinks mastery is action, decision, going out there and taking on the world and defeating it.

A Wizard of Earthsea | NEA

And Ged has to learn that mastery is patience—waiting, observing, listening, taking things in and then adjusting yourself to the larger scheme of the universe rather than thinking that you as an individual are going to be master of the world. Gioia: For many months, Ged is confined to bed. When he's finally strong enough to resume his studies, he must re-learn even the most basic skills and spells, having been badly scarred and deeply wounded by the shadow. At winter's end he returned to the Great House.

He was made sorcerer then, and the Archmage Gensher accepted at that time his fealty. Thenceforth he studied the high arts and enchantments, passing beyond arts of illusion to the works of real magery, learning what he must know to earn his wizard's staff. The trouble he had had in speaking spells wore off over the months, and skill returned into his hands: yet he was never so quick to learn as he had been, having learned a long hard lesson from fear. Yet no ill portents or encounters followed on his working even of the Great Spells of Making and Shaping, which are most perilous.

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He came to wonder at times if the shadow he had loosed might have grown weak, or fled somehow out of the world, for it came no more into his dreams. But in his heart he knew such hope was folly. The months went by, and at last on a day of spring Ged returned to the Great House, and he had no idea what would be asked of him next.

Le Guin: He wrote the Handbook of the Indians of California, and he spent decades traveling all over California, talking to often the last one or two or three members of a people. It was genocide in California, that's all there is to it. Dirda : Her mother later became known as the author Ishi on account of the last wild Indian in California.

Gioia: Le Guin's fiction was strongly influenced by the distinguished intellectual careers of her parents. Iyer: She very early on was picking up the universal cycles and customs and patterns that join all conscious together. But to absorb all that is one thing, as many an anthropologist tries to do, but then to create this whole universe that plays out and dramatizes these archetypal patterns is another.

Le Guin: I don't know if it really is the same thing to study real cultures and make them up, but there's obviously some of the same impulse behind it. Card: Le Guin, writing this for publication in , was at the crest of the success of the Civil Rights Movement. But racism was still a serious problem. She was consciously trying to break down our preconceptions of race. Le Guin: That was one of the few conscious decisions of that sort that I remember making. Le Guin: The people of the Archipelago varied from copper brown to black. And the kind of marginal people are white.

Card: She harked back to an earlier time. When she presented a race that was absolutely white, it was the invaders from the northeastern islands. And they were savages, blond savages. But that's Vikings. So she wasn't lying about any race. She was reminding us that any race can be at any level of civilization. Mosley: This is a world filled with real people, and those people are not defined by race. And that's the important thing. It doesn't matter really who they are or what they look like. Le Guin: And when I realized that this was so, and it simply sort of was so as it came to my imagination, I thought, "Okay, fantasy has been so lily white, it's been so Northern European let's just turn it on its head.

Chabon: That's part of the greatness of Ursula K. Le Guin is that her imagination is so powerful that it is not limited by any perceived ideas or preconceived notions about, for example, in this case about what fantasy is. Le Guin: It's only quite recently, strangely enough, that I have heard from people, some of them are just kids now, some of them are remembering back when they first read the Earthsea books, people of color, telling me that that was the first fantasy they'd ever felt they were included in and what it meant to them. And I tell you, it really, it moved me very much.

It was a more powerful effect than I had actually expected it to be. Gioia: When Ged leaves Roke, he accepts a job on the small southwestern island of Low Torning, where the inhabitants fear an eminent attack from dragons. Ged is brought in to protect the island. Stine: Well, first, I love the idea that every island has its mage, that that's a profession. And these guys go to school, and they learn how to do this.

And then they have job placement, and they all go off to their islands. Card: He wanted to fulfill that responsibility, but he understood that his presence there brought danger to everybody. Stine: Because the shadow is going to be relentless. And it's going to come after him, and it could harm the people that he's supposed to take care of. Gioia: Unwilling to put the people of Low Torning in danger, Ged knows he must leave but he refuses to abandon his duty.

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Card: Because he still has his pride. But now we're gonna see the good side of his pride. He's willing to die. But, he knows that to fulfill his responsibility to these people he needs to protect them. And the best protection now is not to sit and wait for the enemy to come to him, it's to go and attack the enemy. Stine: And so he sets off on this, something he's never done before, a terrifying voyage to confront the dragons. Gioia: At the nearby island of Pendor, Ged battles against the many offspring of an ancient dragon. After killing two young dragons, three more fly towards him from the island.

Ged quickly works a spell of changing, temporarily transforming himself into a dragon shape. The black wings flurried and black dragon-blood dropped in thick drops into the sea. The Pendor dragon tore free and flew low and lamely to the island, where it hid, crawling into some well or cavern in the ruined town. At once Ged took his form and place again on the boat, for it was most perilous to keep that dragon-shape longer than need demanded. His hands were black with the scalding wormblood, and he was scorched about the head with fire, but this was no matter now.

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He waited only till he had his breath back and then called, "Six have I seen, five slain, nine are told of: come out, worms! No creature moved nor voice spoke for a long while on the island, but only the waves beat loudly on the shore. Then Ged was aware that the highest tower slowly changed its shape, bulging out on one side as if it grew an arm. He feared dragon-magic, for old dragons are very powerful and guileful in a sorcery like and unlike the sorcery of men: but a moment more and he saw this was no trick of the dragon, but of his own eyes.

What he had taken for a part of the tower was the shoulder of the Dragon of Pendor as he uncurled his bulk and lifted himself slowly up. Stine: When he goes to confront the old dragon, and there's no way he can defeat this massive dragon, which is so beautifully portrayed and he's evil and wise at the same time. How does Ged defeat such a foe? Gioia: Once Ged has the upper hand, he and the old dragon negotiate. The dragon offers him an attractive deal. Link : The dragon says, "I can tell you the name of your shadow. I can help you defeat the enemy who's pursuing you.

Dirda: Because he recognizes his greater obligation in this instance is to the village. Link: And says, "I want you to swear that you will go no farther than Pendor, that you'll leave the islands of man alone. Dirda: And this kind of denial of egotism, of thinking of others, this sort of self-sacrifice is another step on his journey to maturity.

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Gioia: After Ged deals with the dragon of Pendor, he travels over much of Earthsea, fleeing from the shadow and afraid for his life. Dirda: Having been cocky and sure, and gung-ho, he runs away. But eventually, the shadow will track him down. Chabon: Once he realizes the awesome might of this bad thing, his first impulse is to try to get away from it, it's only by turning to it, by actually facing it and embracing it whatever may come of that, that he's able to finally resolve and in some way ameliorate what he has done.

Gioia: After Ged decides to face the shadow, he pursues his enemy into the unknown waters of the East Reach until they finally meet again over the sea. No wizardry would serve him now, but only his own flesh, his life itself, against the unliving.


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He spoke no word, but attacked, and the boat plunged and pitched from his sudden turn and lunge. And a pain ran up his arms into his breast, taking away his breath, and an icy cold filled him, and he was blinded: yet in his hands that seized the shadow there was nothing-darkness, air. He stumbled forward, catching the mast to stay his fall, and light came shooting back into his eyes.

He saw the shadow shudder away from him and shrink together, then stretch hugely up over him, over the sail, for an instant. Then like black smoke on the wind it recoiled and fled, formless, down the water towards the bright gate between the cliffs. Ged sank to his knees. He could not tell if this weariness were a sorcery laid on him by the shadow as it fled, or came of the bitter coldness of its touch, or was from mere hunger and want of sleep and expense of strength; but he struggled against it, forcing himself to raise up a light magewind into the sail and follow down the dark seaway where the shadow had fled.

Stine: Well, it's been read for 40 years, the book. And I think it will be read for a long time, because it's a perfect story. It's brilliantly written. The world it creates is wonderful. It's so specific and so real. Yes, I think this book will be read for many, many years.

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Card: She sees into the human heart. She tells the stories that are powerful to us better than almost anyone else. Mosley: You need to read this book, because it's an important part of your culture that you don't know. And you need to read it with an open heart. Card: It transcends all genre boundaries.

Everybody can read A Wizard of Earthsea and know that something really important and truthful is going on. All power is one in source and end, I think. My name, and yours, and the true name of the sun, or a spring of water, or an unborn child, all are syllables of the great word that is very slowly spoken by the shining of the stars.

There is no other power. No other name. Gioia: Thanks for joining The Big Read. It was written and produced by Dan Stone. Music composed especially for this program by Mark Weingarten of Beeftech Studios. Instrumental selections from the original score to the film Brick by Nathan Johnson and the Cinematic Underground.

Used with permission of Nathan Johnson. Used with permission of Ondine, Incorporated. Other original music composed by Philip Brunelle. Production Assistant: Adam Kampe. Research Assistant: Pepper Smith. Reed: For more information about The Big Read, go to www. That's www.

It shares a few elements very loosely with Hogwarts, a big dining hall with tables and magic being sort of prankishly practiced by all the students who are all boys, it has to be said. Special thanks to WFMU. Author Michael Chabon discusses the plot of Ursula K.

Le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea. I will confess the cold and rain all but had me in despair in the early hours of that morning. But by the time the parade arrived and hundreds of people stood together, wet and laughing, in a place that once signified the division of our community, love for my town and gratitude for the NEA nearly overwhelmed me. Here be dragons! A dragon symbolized A Wizard of Earthsea events around town.

Photo by Madeline Drury, courtesy of Albion College. It enabled us to have one of the most honest and sophisticated conversations I have been a part of about the challenges that white and black Albion students face when they go from the predominantly black Albion Community School to the predominately white Marshall High School. The conversation was deeply moving and could not have happened without the Big Read—not just because it was the occasion that brought us together but because in sharing a book we were able to find trust and a common language that made such a conversation about the complicated issues of difference and identity possible.

Another larger program that we added was a blacksmithing demonstration given by our partner organization Glidden Homestead. Geocaching was so highly received that the Library and Attleboro Land trust are planning to conduct Spring Geocaching Storywalk in Meanwhile, the Oak Knoll Audubon let us know that they had the highest ever turnout for a night time walk during the Big Read.

Skip to main content. Introduction to the Book Ursula K. Le Guin Ursula K. DS : For what age group did you write this book?


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What are some characteristics of a young-adult novel? Why is this world called Earthsea? Why might Le Guin have decided to set her story in such a world? On the first page of the novel, we learn that Ged will eventually become Archmage and dragonlord. Doesn't this undercut a certain amount of suspense? Why would Le Guin tell us this? The language of A Wizard of Earthsea is often quietly poetic. Comment on three sentences that you find particularly beautiful or moving.

In what ways is a writer or artist like a wizard? The young Ged tends to be impulsive, getting into trouble like the sorcerer's apprentice. Point out occasions in the book when Ged loses control of himself or his magic. Why do Ged and Jasper quarrel? Who is to blame? Why do Ged and Vetch become friends? There are several mentions of shadows even before Ged's attempt to raise the dead Princess Elfarran. List them. What do these various shadows suggest about Ged? Discuss the meaning of Ged's two encounters with the Doorkeeper of Roke.

Compare the evil of the Shadow with the evil of the Stone of Terrenon. Are they evil in the same way? How do they differ? What does Ged learn from his encounter with the dragon Yevaud? Why do Ged and Vetch avoid using magic on their last voyage? Were you surprised by what happens when Ged confronts the Shadow?

Would you say that his realization is true of all human experience? Novelist Michael Chabon. Gioia: Author R. Gioia: Writer Pico Iyer. Gioia: Writer Kelly Link. Gioia: R. Gioia: Writer Orson Scott Card. Kelly Link. Michael Dirda : The world is run by magic. Gioia: Book critic Michael Dirda. Gioia: Michael Dirda. Michael Dirda. Chabon: He knows he has a gift. Gioia: Michael Chabon. Gioia: Writer Walter Mosley. Michael Chabon. Orson Scott Card. Gioia: Pico Iyer. Gioia: Ursula K. Pico Iyer. Gioia: Orson Scott Card. Gioia: Walter Mosley. Stine Stine: When he goes to confront the old dragon, and there's no way he can defeat this massive dragon, which is so beautifully portrayed and he's evil and wise at the same time.

Download audio guide:. Michael Chabon on Earthsea Plot.