This children's book is about a young boy, Ged aka Sparrowhawk, of unusual talents who grows up as the son of the smith on an island in an archipelago and is apprenticed to a wizard. Then he goes to the wizarding school on the Island of Roke. He is clever but he is full of pride and summons a spirit of the dead. This brings Ged's own shadow which then seeks to hunt him and to kill(?) him. It is the story of his quest to overcome this monster and right the wrong that he has done.
Classic hero quest. Classic fantasy. Wizards and peasants. OK. So its sounds a little bit Harry Potter. A little bit Star Wars. But it is clearly informed with the anthropological understanding of the author's father which gives it a reality; not a gritty reality, no grit, but a reality rooted in fertile soil.
And this book is written with such lyrical prose, like the sound of the waves on the sea, and with such perfect descriptions, that it has a beauty which far transcends any attempt to pigeonhole it. The sentences are long, with many clauses, but there are rhythmic and rounded and this seems to carry one through. The vocabulary is extensive, far beyond what one would normally expect for a children's book, and this of course excludes the neologisms invented within the context of this alien, faraway and enchanted world, but this adds to the magic. I was, from time to time, lulled by the insistence of the tides of the prose, and found myself nodding off, but most of the time the beauty of this work wrapped me in its spell.
"Nameless and naked he walked into the cold springs ... He crossed to the far bank, shuddering with cold but walking slow and erect as he should through that icy, living water." (p 22)
"There was a silence, as if Ged was keeping back something he had to say. Then he said it: 'But I haven't learned anything yet!' 'Because you haven't found out what I am teaching.'" (p 25)
"In a land where sorcerers come thick ... you may see a raincloud blundering slowly from side to side and place to place as one spell shunts it on to the next, till at last it is buffeted out over the sea where it can rain in peace." (p 26)
"It seemed to him that he himself was a word spoken by the sunlight." (p 46)
"Even foolery is dangerous ... in the hands of a fool." (p 57)
"No shadow came crawling through the moonlight seeking the rent through which it might clamber back into its own domain." (p 78)
"Go to bed; tired is stupid." (p 87)
"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." (p 89)
"past the wharves of Nesh, the rainy pastures of Dromgan, the malodorous oil-sheds of Geath..." ([p 115)
"Only shadow can fight shadow. Only darkness can defeat the dark." (p 142)
"He knew now, and the knowledge was hard, that his task had never been to undo what he had done, but to finish what he had begun." (p 177)
"Before the springs of the open sea, beyond the source, behind the gates of daylight." (p 204)
"A man: who, knowing his whole true self, cannot be used or possessed by any power other than himself, and whose life is therefore lived for life's sake and never in the service of ruin, or pain, or hatred, or the dark." (p 216)
"Only in silence the word, only in dark the light, only in dying life." (p 216)
Wonderful and wise but most of all beautifully written. January 2017, 218 pages
The tale of Sparrowhawk and Earthsea continues with:
- Having reviewed over 1100 books on this blog, I have now written one myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. It is available on Kindle through Amazon. Read it and find out whether this critic can write. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57