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Significant Themes In Earthsea Novel

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The Coming of Age

EarthSea, a novel by Ursula K. Le Guin contains several themes that frequently appear in other works of fantasy. For example, dark vs. light, good vs. evil, worthiness, knowledge, self-discovery, etc. Although these are important themes in the novel, the theme that is most prominent in the story is the Coming of Age. The main character of the novel faces many common coming of age problems, where he struggles with pride, patience and immaturity as he grows from a boy to a man. The Coming of Age theme show’s how Ged’s ignorance, pride, and lack of patience lead to his downfall.

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The book begins with focus on the young Ged, formerly called Duny. Ged is a boy from the land of Gont. He began to discover the use of magic when he overheard his aunt calling out to a goat with a strange rhyme, and watched the goat come to her with ease. Ged’s growing ignorance is first shown when he used this same rhyme on a herd of goats, who then chased him throughout his town. It was this day that Ged learned of his ability to use magic, and the beginning of his growing ignorance. He begged his aunt to teach him more chants, thus beginning his long path of magery.

Young Ged later in time saved many of his town members from the attack of the Kargs who had burned his town and killed some of his people. Ged used a spell that shrouded his village in fog, which allowed many of his people escape and hide. This scene is where the author shows Ged’s growing capability. Ged’s magery then gained the attention of a wise wizard, Ogion which may have spared his intense pride. That day, Ged left his village to study as the apprentice of Ogion The Silent.

Ged’s re-occurring impatience makes another appearance soon after leaving his village. This is where the theme of coming of age begins to become clearer. Days after beginning his apprenticeship with Ogion, Ged claimed that he wasn’t being taught anything, to which Ogion denied. Ged hungered to be taught powerful spells and enchantments; He was too eager to impress. He couldn’t be content with taking small steps and learning slowly. This impatience is one of Ged’s ultimate downfalls. Months later, while collecting herbs for Ogion, Ged came across the daughter of the lord of Re Albi. When she questioned Ged’s powers and abilities, he naturally became eager to show off his magic and protect his pride. Ged impulsively had taken one of Ogion’s lore books, and read a summoning spell. He had become too eager to prove himself, too impatient to learn powerful spells, and thus brought something evil into his master’s house. It was then that Ged’s master knew that he was too impatient to be under his apprenticeship. Ogion offered for Ged to be sent to Roke Island where he would attend school; Ged agreed and left the following day.

Ged’s impatience and pride was tested again after arriving at the island of Roke. When faced with the doorkeeper of the school, Ged felt mocked, for he couldn’t figure out how to enter through the doorway; “Once more he stepped forward, and once more he remained standing outside the door. The door keeper, inside, watched him with mild eyes. / Ged was not so much baffled as angry, for this seemed like a further mockery to him” (Le Guin, 45) This situation solidifies Ged’s need to feel superior, and his impatience with making mistakes. Shortly after coming to the school, Ged is introduced to an older student; Jasper. Ged felt immediately threatened by Jasper and treated him rather rudely. Jasper was definitely trying to get under Ged’s skin, but Ged didn’t know how to handle himself maturely in situations where he feels inferior. At this point in the novel, Ged isn’t a very likeable character, although he is skilled.

After some time at the school, Ged once again gets impatient with his teachings: “‘I’m sick of juggling,’ he said, ‘sick of these illusion-tricks, fit only to amuse idle lords in their castles and Domains’” (60) He then continues to complain about the magic he had been taught, comparing it to “mere foolery”. This complaint is what led to another small argument with Jasper. The rivalry between the two mages continues to augment throughout the story, causing tension as the reader can feel an impending dispute. Both characters are immature and similar in ways, which is what causes their dislike towards each other.

A turning point in Ged’s attitude and maturity occurs around the time of a celebration at the school. Jasper, being older than Ged had achieved the title of Sorcerer. Jasper brings up the fact that Ged is not his “equal”. Naturally, this infuriated Ged, causing a challenge to occur between the two. Unfortunately, because of Ged’s weak pride, he claimed that he will summon a spirit; a display of powerful magic. Unfortunately, Ged once again summoned a shadow, an evil being. The shadow immediately attacks Ged’s face, putting his life at risk, “And though that bright misshapen breach clambered something like a clot of black shadow, quick and hideous, and it leaped straight out at Ged’s face” (84) When Ged is attacked, the fellow students that were watching fled from the scene. Only Vetch, Ged’s acquaintance, tried to stop the shadow from killing his friend. Although the Archmage Nemmerle ends up saving Ged, he loses his life. When Ged awakened inside of the school, everything had changed, and his pride had diminished. Although Ged’s situation was tragic, it seemed to be the only way to put him in his place and gain maturity.

Covered in scars, speechless and weak, Ged had finally began to grow up. He spent many months in the healing chamber of the school, having his wounds tended to. Left to drone on his own impulsivity and immaturity, and the fact that he had caused the archmage to die. After this event, Ged’s personality began to change. Ged became fearful, scared for his life, and finally understood and accepted just how weak he actually was compared to the shadow he summoned. His pride had left, and his desire to impress others had lessened. He avoided those he knew, hiding his face from many. Ged knew the shadow was still out there, and that it would eventually come for him again. When Ged spoke to the doormaster again, it was clear that he had a new perspective on himself, “‘I cannot take your name from you, not being strong enough, and I cannot trick your name from you, not being wise enough.’”(102) As Ged’s life goes on, he began to take great risks in order to help others, rather than to prove himself. He gained the bravery to approach and talk to powerful dragons, ultimately saving a city from their wrath. Ged then becomes a hero, a man known to many children from stories and songs. This is the point where Ged has grown up, his moment of “coming of age”.

Ged had to experience true fear and great loss to gain the maturity and patience to ultimately become a dragonlord and archmage, where he finally received the admiration he longed for when he was young. Although Ged faced tragedy and absolute horror to gain the reputation he longed for, he became a stronger character from his adversity and hardships during his coming of age. When the book ends, Ged is a completely different character from the beginning and is respected by the reader. He is noble and wise, yet modest and patient. A Wizard of EarthSea clearly shows the theme of coming of age through Ged; Once an ignorant, impatient and prideful young boy, who completely shifts and changes through his hardships.

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