A Wizard of Earthsea: The Beginning

“Such a simple book,” my father said wistfully after I’d finished A Wizard of Earthsea the first time. “There’s not a lot to get the next time around.” My father and I pride ourselves upon plumbing the depths of books. There isn’t much to Wizard of Earthsea; what you see is what you get.

I did not intend to reread it. I still don’t know why I decided to, tell you the truth. But I’m glad I did. This book is more loaded with what’s not said than what is. Le Guin does not overload the book with lore. What she says is clearly the tip of an iceberg she decided was better hinted at than shown. And she was right. I don’t need the lays and epics of this world to understand Ged’s story. I don’t need all the history. Le Guin’s restraint is mastery itself. Her goal is just to tell the tale. Anything more she refuses to do.

So yes, this is a simple book. It means what it says, and no more. As I reread it a very different question came to me than I’m used to: have I really learned the lesson of Ged, all the way down? Have I really done it yet?

The answer is no, no I have not. Simple doesn’t mean insipid. The contrary, every word of this book is true, and has nothing more than necessary to stand on its own.

Have I really learned that only light drives out dark? That death is defeated by naming it and interiorizing it into myself? That tasks, no matter how badly they begin, cannot be abandoned, only finished differently than the original dark intention?

No.

Not all the way down. Not yet.

The genius of A Wizard of Earthsea is not that it presented me a new take, but an iron-clad reminder that I haven’t fully believed the truth yet. I still have not mastered the basic things. And, while I don’t hear that about rereads too often, I’m not surprised that it’s Le Guin I say that about.

Ultimately, I believe this little book was the beginning of not just Crescendo, but of an era of my life that I can feel is beginning to close. I began it with A Wizard of Earthsea, and now, here in the twilight of tumult and chaos, I return to it. I came back a stronger, wiser, and gentler person than when I first came upon it.

But I still do not believe it. Will I someday? God, I hope so.

And that’s enough for me, for the moment.

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