From Academic Kids

Earthsea is a fictional realm that was created by Ursula K. Le Guin for her short story "The Word of Unbinding", published in 1964, but became more famous in her novel A Wizard of Earthsea, first published in 1968.



The world of Earthsea is one of sea and islands: a vast archipelago of hundreds of islands surrounded by uncharted ocean. It is uncertain whether or not there are other landmasses, though reference is made to lands "beyond the west" where the dragons have their realm.

The word "Archipelago" is used by characters in the books to refer only to the central grouping of islands around the small Inner Sea. The outlying islands are loosely grouped into four "Reaches" by points of the compass, and the Kargad Lands (four large islands to the north-east inhabited by the war-like nation of Kargs). Some of the islands described in the stories include Havnor and Roke in the Inner Sea; Gont in the North Reach, perilously close to the Kargad Lands; and Atuan, one of the islands of the Kargs. (See the map in External links.)



The Creation of a is a 31-stanza poem, the oldest part of Earthsea's oral tradition. It describes how Segoy raised the islands of Earthsea from the Ocean by naming them in the true speech. (The name a is coincidentally similar to J. R. R. Tolkien's "E".)

Little is known of the original inhabitants of Earthsea, but scattered legends suggest that both humans and dragons descend from the same race. The ancient Pelnish lore and Kargad legends suggest that there was an agreement between dragons and humans to separate called the Vedurnan or Verw Nadan.

The first Kings

The Dark Years

Magic in Earthsea

One of the most distinctive aspects of the Earthsea universe is Le Guin's magic system. Magic is a central part of life, and magic appears in all parts of Archipelago civilisation, from weather workers on ships, fixers who repair boats and buildings, entertainers and court sorcerors, and most important of all, the stave-carrying Wizards who are trained on Roke. In general, magic is usually the result of inborn talent, and with the exception of witches, mostly restricted to men.

Le Guin imagined the magicians of Earthsea as purveyors of an unknown science, and a strong theme of the stories is the connection of power and responsibility. There is often a Taoist message: 'good' wizardry tries to be in harmony with the world and to right wrongs, whilst 'bad' wizardry, such as necromancy, is unbalanced and must be resolved or lead to catastrophe.

Magic on Earthsea is verbal: all objects have a true name, in an old language related to the Dragon-tongue. By using this language, it is possible to have power over an object or living thing. Accordingly, most characters have two names: one for everyday use and one, the true name, known only to close friends and family. For example, Ged is known only as Sparrowhawk to most people.

One vital aspect of magic is that it is impossible (for a human) to lie in the old language, so that magic works by forcing the universe to conform to the words spoken by the magician. For example, to say "I am an eagle" in the old language means that the speaker becomes an eagle, so that the statement is no longer false. The consequences of this are dealt with in the most recent Earthsea novel, The Other Wind.

Examples of magic in the Earthsea series include:

  • Quelling an earthquake
  • Calling animals to command
  • Transforming into a dragon or bird
  • Preventing an individual from moving
  • Walking in the land of the dead
  • Conjuring a magical wind

The School of Magic on Roke Island

Roke island is the magical heart of Earthsea and is protected by potent spells and a magical wind and fog that ward off evil. It contains several places of power, such as Roke Knoll and the Immanent Grove.

The school of Roke was set up by Elehal and Yahan of Roke, and Medra of Havnor, as a centre of learning against feuding warlords who used magicians to do harm. The school rapidly grew in power and influence, until it effectively acted as a central government for the Archipelago. By gathering young people with magical potential and teaching them magic, the school controlled and guided their powers. With the new king, Lebannen, the school has waned in strength.

Teaching in the school is carried out by a variety of Masters, each with a speciality:

  • Master Windkey, who teaches weather control
  • Master Hand, who teaches illusions
  • Master Herbal, who teaches healing
  • Master Changer, who teaches transformation
  • Master Summoner, who teaches calling
  • Master Namer, who teaches the True Speech
  • Master Patterner, who teaches meaning and intent
  • Master Finder, who teaches seeking and returning
  • Master Doorkeeper, who watches the gates and protects the school
  • Archmage, who leads the school

The position of Finder was abolished by the first Archmage, Halkel, and replaced with that of Chanter, who teaches music and chanted spells. Halkel also banned women from the school.

To be written:

The world of the dead – "The Dry Land"

This is a place where it is always night. Although the sky is filled with stars, they are small, cold, and do not move. People cross over from the land of the living to the land of the dead by stepping over a low stone wall on the crest of a hilltop. On the other side the souls of the dead wander eternally, never recognizing one another. At the bottom of the valley of the dead (known as the dry land) is the dry river, and beyond that lie the mountains of pain, the only way back to the land of the living.

It is later revealed that the world of the dead was a failed attempt by a mage to seek immortality for all. The mage stole land from the dragons and attempted to prevent souls of the dead from leaving the land of the living to the afterlife, thus guaranteeing eternal life as no one could now properly "die". Instead, the souls are now trapped in "the world of the dead", a living nightmare of the damned in between. In one of the final scenes of the cycle, the wall around the world of the dead is destroyed, allowing the lost souls to journey on to the afterlife ("fly on the other wind" in dragon terms).

Dragons and wizards

The dragons usually keep to themselves, but sometimes they attack inhabited islands and must be driven back by wizards. In the first book of Earthsea, Ged forces a dragon to promise not to attack people again, because he has guessed the dragon's true name. One connection between Dragons and Wizards is that Dragons speak only in the true tongue, the language of wizardry. Moreover, they are able to tell lies in it, the only beings able to do so. They have a strange connection to the true tongue, and one Wizard described that they live in it as a fish lives in water.

Religion in Earthsea


The Earthsea canon

Short stories


Earthsea in other media


A BBC-produced two-hour radio dramatisation of A Wizard of Earthsea was originally broadcast on Radio 4 on 26 December 1996. This adaptation was narrated by Dame Judi Dench and used a wide range of actors with different regional and social accents to emphasize the origins of the Earthsea characters (for instance, Estarriol and others from the East Reach were played by actors with Southern Welsh accents). The adaptation was highly praised and was subsequently released on audio cassette.


The U.S.-based Sci Fi Channel broadcast a four-hour loose adaptation for television of A Wizard of Earthsea and The Tombs of Atuan in December 2004. Entitled Legends of Earthsea, even before its transmission it angered Earthsea purists with the announcement that Ged would be played by a Caucasian and with the dramatis personae posted on the official website (see below), which featured "The Archmagus" and "King Tygath", the definitely non-canonical trio of "Diana", "Penelope", and "Marion", and several references to "Kargide" (not Kargad, Karg, or Kargish) characters.

Le Guin was not involved in the production in any way. She did, however, publish the following remarks on her website:

I can only admire Mr [Executive Producer Robert] Halmi's imagination, but I wish he'd left mine alone... I wonder if the people who made the film of The Lord of the Rings had ended it with Frodo putting on the Ring and ruling happily ever after, and then claimed that that was what Tolkien "intended..." Would people think they'd been "very, very honest to the books? [1] (

Miscellaneous notes

The name "Tolkien" looks like a compound word in the Earthsea old tongue, composed from "tolk" (rock) and "-ien" (from "inien", the sea), presumably meaning "rock of the sea". The word "tolkien" never actually appears in any Earthsea book, but the word "sukien" (composed from "suk", feather, and "-ien", meaning "feather of the sea") does, and thus it is easy to theorise the existence of the word "tolkien".

The similarity between this word and J.R.R. Tolkien's surname is most probably pure coincidence, although it would make for an interesting way for Le Guin to pay homage to another famous fantasy writer.

External links

de:Erdsee fr:Terremer ja:ゲド戦記 pl:Ziemiomorze


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