Earthsea Trilogy

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

A now classic series of novels by Ursula K. Le Guin:

  • A Wizard of Earthsea
  • The Tombs of Atuan
  • The Farthest Shore

Three later books by LeGuin were set in the same universe:

  • Tehanu
  • Tales from Earthsea
  • The Other Wind

And various other short stories. These books might be considered the multi-cultural equivalent of Tolkien. Set on a sprawling archipelago, at the center of which are the largest islands, Havnor with the capital and Roke with its school of magic.

In many ways the first book in the series represented a radical departure from the then dominant view of fantasy in featuring a wizard as the main character. Previously magic users had generally been mentor figures or villains playing second fiddle to sword wielders, but A Wizard of Earthsea established a precedent for spellcasting fantasy heroes. In addition, Earthsea was the first high fantasy novel to feature a hero who was not white.

Tropes used in Earthsea Trilogy include:
  • Anti-Villain: Cob in The Farthest Shore.
  • The Bronzesmith: Ged's father.
  • Celibate Hero: Ged, in the first three books.
  • Curse: Arha lays one in The Tombs of Atuan
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Arha/Tenar fits this trope very much in The Tombs of Atuan, although there is a subversion in that while the protagonist, Ged who plays the role of dashing adventurer in the novel, does not "defrost" her through sex as often happens, but rather helps her develop a sense of morality and reconnect with her buried humanity.
  • Con Lang: More than one of them.
  • Creator Backlash: Le Guin has made no secret of the fact that she has hated virtually every adaptation of Earthsea to date. She has been somewhat more kind to the Studio Ghibli rendition than the others. Go here to read what she and others have had to say on this subject.
  • Deserted Island: Ged is sea-wrecked on a very small one during the first book.
  • Deus Ex Machina: At the end of Tehanu.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The Nameles Ones, as well as whatever it is Ged unleashed.
  • Expanded Universe: Le Guin's Earthsea short stories, some of which were compiled into Tales From Earthsea.
  • Evil Counterpart: The shadow to Ged.
  • Famed in Story: The Wizard of Earthsea is explicitly described as being about Ged when he was young and not famed in story; in it, a friend declares he will make a song so his deeds will be rememember, but either he didn't or the song was lost (only distorted pieces survive). However, by The Farthest Shore, Ged is indeed famed.
  • Fantasy-Forbidding Father: Ged's fether.
  • Fantasy World Map: One of the more famous examples.
  • Functional Magic: the magic taught in Roke seems to cover the gamut pretty widely, though with an unusual caveat of geography: the further one gets away from Roke, the less reliable the magic that Roke teaches becomes. Vetch, grown up in the East Reach, says that certain spells he learned at home are useless at Roke, while some spells taught to him in Roke lose their potency in the East Reach.
Additionally, the way magic works in Earthsea is that it's impossible for anything said in the true speech, the dragons' tongue, to be a lie. Anything you say in the true speech is true, even if physical reality has to change to make it so.
    • Not entirely true: Men are actually bound to speak the truth when using the true speech, wheras Dragons can lie at will. If you make an illusion that a rock is a dimond, using the true name for rock will break the illusion. There is a way of changing the rock to a diamond, but it is incredibly dangerous as if you make a mistake you could turn all rocks to diamonds.
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars: Ged, after unleashing a never-exactly specified evil into the world, is scratched up rather terribly by the thing on one side of his face, and scarred for life. However, in that same book someone says approvingly that the scars indicate him as a true hero - and more importantly they are a sign of his kinship with the Nameless Ones, which Tenar is priestess of.
    • He's actually not aware that anyone thinks his scars are heroic. The guy who thinks this is very young, and very awed by Ged, and he thinks the scars are the tracks of a dragon's claws, since Ged is known for having vanquished an important dragon early in his career.
  • He-Man Woman Hater: Oh so very much in the fourth book.
  • Hero Antagonist: Ged to Tenar in The Tombs of Atuan.
  • Humans Are White: Averted. White humans (Kargish) are rare in Earthsea. Most people we encounter are Ambiguously Brown, with Le Guin having said that they look vaguely Native American, or black. Ged has red-brown skin, Tenar has white skin. In contrast to that Scifi miniseries.
  • Human Sacrifice: Done (and threatened to be done) quite often in The Tombs of Atuan.
  • I Know Your True Name: The name is the thing, and the truename is the true thing. Know the truename, and you can control the thing. This power is limited in that there are literally countless numbers of names in the world, and no human, at least, can ever learn them all. You can't control the sea, for example, for to control you the sea you have to know the name of every shore it touches, something impossible for a man to do in one lifetime.
  • It Was a Gift: Ged's half of the Ring of Erreth-Akbe.
  • Language of Magic: It even has regional dialects!
  • Language of Truth: The Old Speech. Except for the dragons. Well, dragons can't lie, but they can certainly omit, obfuscate and otherwise mislead. [1]
  • Living Legend: "His life is told of in the Deed of Ged and in many songs, but this is a tale of the time before his fame, before the songs were made."
  • Living Shadow: What Ged summons up and then must deal with in the first book.
  • Magic Versus Science: Tenar (the priestess) is ironically disbelieving that Ged can actually perform magic until she sees him actually cast a spell. This is because of her Kargish upbringing--the Kargad are magically uninclined and take a rather arrogantly atheistic view of the western world's magical abilities.
  • Man in the Iron Mask: The brother and sister on the deserted island.
  • Meaningful Name: Ged's "use name" is Sparrowhawk. What's the other common name for a sparrowhawk? Merlin.
  • Meaningful Rename: Every human gets a new secret name when they come of age, and adapt a publicly-used nickname.
  • Medieval European Fantasy: Totally averted. Most of the characters are dark-skinned/non-white (with great care taken to distinguish between the various shades of brown), and if any era of actual history matches Earthsea, it's ancient times, not the Middle Ages.
    • If you're having a hard time figuring this out, just envision the settlements as looking Middle Eastern or Indian or perhaps Polynesian (and yes, African), and you'll probably end up freeing yourself from the chains of this trope forever.
    • The first edition cover appears to be Mayan-inspired.
  • The Nothing After Death: the land of the dead is presented as a dry sunless place where the dead keep their names, but not their spirits. This is later revealed to not actually be the real afterlife but a barrier to reaching the real one, established because the first human wizards wanted access to the true names and thus power. Nice job breaking it, wizards.
  • The Obi-Wan: Ged has three of them: his aunt, Ogion, and Archmage Nemmerle. Only Nemmerle dies.
  • Ocean Punk: One of the classic and most refined examples.
  • Ominous Fog
  • Our Dragons Are Different: The intelligent and deadly Tolkien variety, at least in the Dragon Run corner of the far West Reach. When one approaches the East Reach, the farthest islets of Earthsea, there are still dragons... but they're about the size of housecats, and completely harmless and unintelligible.
  • People of Hair Color: The Kargs.
  • Powers That Be: The Nameless Ones in The Tombs of Atuan. Their actual existence is up for debate until the point where Ged pisses them off and they retaliate by trying to collapse the great labyrinth around him and Tenar.
  • Reality Warper: A wizard can do this, if he changes something's true name, or otherwise changes something's nature.
  • Royal Blood: Why the God-Emperor did not just kill the prince and princess but instead stranded them on an island where Ged ran into them.
  • Sacred Hospitality
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: Most EldritchAbominations are this. some are locked in tombs, one is bound into a rock... doesn't stop them from causing a good deal of trouble.
  • Shapeshifter Mode Lock: Ged almost loses his personality once. It is stated that one wizard spent so much time as a bear he lost his humanity and killed his son. He had to be hunted down afterwards.
  • Shoulder-Sized Dragon: The harekki Yarrow keeps as a pet in A Wizard of Earthsea, possibly the very first example.
  • Space Whale Aesop: While probably not intended to be a simple Aesop, Ged's explanation to Arren about life and death and how Cob's actions disturbed The Balance may look like one: "Do not desire eternal life, or else words will loose their true meanings and everyone will eventually go mad".
  • Spoiled Brat: Jasper
  • Together in Death: Averted hard. There are no emotions in the afterlife.
  • Trilogy Creep: Additional volumes were very belatedly added to the original three.
  • Unfamiliar Ceiling: Turns up suprisingly little, given Ged spends an absurd amount of time being generally passed out. This specific trope only occurs once, at Osskil.
  • Weather Dissonance: Wizards like controlling it. It's the first ability that Ged manifests. But it's not always wise.
  • Wizarding School: the school for magic on Roke, which only admits men, and which is portrayed pretty much as the center of the magical world. May be the Trope Maker.
  • White and Grey Morality: LeGuin dislikes unambiguously evil characters.
  • World Building: LeGuin and her creation of Earthsea.
  1. Or, you know, set you on fire and eat you.