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A Wizard of Earthsea

A Wizard of Earthsea

by Ursula K. Le Guin

Birds

Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

After shadows (which are everywhere – Ged's main enemy is a shadow, after all), birds may seem like pretty small potatoes in this book. But still, they're pretty common:

  • Ged summons falcons to him, which is why people call him Sparrowhawk;
  • Ogion lives in Re Albi, which means "Falcon's Nest" (2.17);
  • When Ged meets Archmage Nemmerle, he seems to understand the singing of the birds (3.13);
  • Vetch imagines Ged flying high like a hawk (4.94);
  • Serret turns into a gull to escape the Servants of the Stone (which doesn't so much work for her), while Ged turns into a falcon to fly back to Ogion (which does work, except that he can't turn back into a human); and
  • A few more here and there. (Like Vetch's brother Murre, who's also named after a bird, but not a bird that we care about. Like, some people have folklore about ravens, but who tells stories about murres?)

Hmm. Why birds? Why not dragons or dolphins? Or otaks? Well, as much as we love otaks and dolphins, birds have two special qualities: first, they're real rather than mythical, so we all know about birds, and it's easy to picture them. Second, birds fly, which is something that humans can't do. Dolphins swim, but Ged can swim too (or sail, to get over the water), so turning into a dolphin would be neat but not totally new. Flying, on the other hand, is something entirely new for people – people can't fly unless they're wizards or live in a post-Industrial Revolution and post-Wright Brothers world. So the bird-human connection reminds us that wizards are a special. And can also get a bird's-eye view of things.

Ooh, let's not forget that birds sing, which brings us to our third symbol …

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