A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin
A Wizard of Earthsea is a classic of high fantasy; high as in dragons, lords, ladies, wizards and dark magic. It tells the story of Ged, a young boy who would grow up to become a very famous wizard, as he leaves his home on the island of Gent (which is itself famous for wizards, as well as goat-thieves and sea-pirates) to study at a special school on the island of Roke. For Roke is the Isle of the Wise, where the nine Masters of Wizardry teach the art of magic to young apprentices.
At first Ged is very clever and proud of his skills. He learns how to control a thing through the use of its name, how to speak to the wind and the rain, how to create illusions and work changing spells. But he also learns about the dangers of magic. All light casts a shadow. Every act of power or change has a plausible reaction that must be accounted for to maintain the balance, the great equilibrium of the world.
And so when Ged, boastful and angry, summons a spirit from the dead a nameless shadow is set loose that seeks to destroy him, to possess him, and to work through him terrible evil.
It’s a story I wish I had read sooner. At once it feels both familiar and ground-breaking, which is I think the very essence of a classic. The history of magic in Earthsea revolves around language and the power of the spoken word; to know the true name of a man is to hold his life in the palm of your hand. There are moments in which Ged grasps at higher meaning, citing power and existence as mere syllables of a great word. Magic and theology and linguistics intertwine gloriously, and not only does it feel real, but also ancient. I believe with all my soul in the power of words and of the word, whatever it may be. Because magic is wonderful, and somehow it just makes sense.
What astounded me in A Wizard of Earthsea was the imagery – the archipelago and the diversity of the isles, the living ocean, the temper of the winds, the threshold into the land of the dead, and alien stars, the possibility of deep unknown things. The world is strange, and so it should be. There are mysteries in the wild that even a wizard cannot fathom.
Reading A Wizard of Earthsea is an uncanny experience because as a classic of the fantasy genre so much that has come before and after can be found, in varying different forms, in the story of Ged. A wonderful book, and a tale that will stay with you for years to come.