Study Guide

A Wizard of Earthsea Education

By Ursula K. Le Guin

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Much of her lore was mere rubbish and humbug, nor did she know the true spells from the false. (1.19)

This is Ged's aunt – and it could be Ged if he were left alone, just to learn by himself or from other minor witches and wizards. This kind of makes it seem like this book has a pro-education stance.

"When you know the fourfoil in all its seasons root and leaf and flower, by sight and scent and seed, then you may learn its true name, knowing its being: which is more than its use. What, after all, is the use of you? or of myself? Is Gont Mountain useful, or the Open Sea?" Ogion went on a halfmile or so, and said at last, "To hear, one must be silent." (2.15)

Education is tied up with several of the other issues, like language and identity. That is, in order to cast his spells, Ged needs to learn true names for all the things in the world – he has to understand what they are, not what they're good for. Ogion also reminds Ged that he needs to be a little more patient, which is not exactly Ged's strong suit at school.

So bolstering up his pride, he set all his strong will on the work they gave him, the lessons and crafts and histories and skills taught by the grey-cloaked Masters of Roke, who were called the Nine. (3.54)

Le Guin comes out and tells us very clearly about the school and how it's set up – which is good because it's not like she can just say, "Oh, it's just like the magic school you went to." Because we've never been to magic school, she has to tell us that there are nine masters and what they teach. (Which is why it's so funny to us when she's describing the Master Patterner and says that no one knows what the Patterner teaches (4.107).)

The more he learned, the less he would have to fear, until finally in his full power as Wizard he needed fear nothing in the world, nothing at all. (4.5)

Ged has a very particular reason for wanting an education: power. The more he learns, the more powerful he'll be. But notice that Ged isn't thinking about what sort of awesome stuff he'll do with his power – he's thinking that he won't have to fear anything.

All he knew of it was that it was drawn to him and would try to work its will through him, being his creature. But in what form it could come, having no real form of its own as yet, and how it would come, and when it would come, this he did not know. (5.34)

This stretches our understanding of education, but it's important to notice that what makes the shadow so frightening to Ged is that it's largely unknown. Again, we see a connection between ignorance and fear.

"You are from Roke," he answered. "The wizards of Roke give a dark name to wizardries other than their own." (6.40)

As we learn later, this guy is actually a liar – he's an ex-wizard who's been taken over by the Stone or by Serret. (It's not exactly clear.) But what a moment this is, because we don't know if he's right. After all, we're not from Earthsea, so there might be other magic traditions besides the school on Roke. For a moment, Ged's uncertainty about magic on Earthsea matches our own uncertainty.

Ged paced on a while, and then suddenly turned, and kneeling down before the mage he said, "I have walked with great wizards and have lived on the Isle of the Wise, but you are my true master, Ogion." (7.113)

It's interesting that Ged has to go home to get the sort of advice that he couldn't get at the Roke magic school. (Seriously, if you compare Ogion's advice to the advice of Archmage Gensher, well, Ogion comes out looking like a genius.)

He knew now, and the knowledge was hard, that his task had never been to undo what he had done, but to finish what he had begun. (8.59)

Some of Ged's education occurs outside of school, and this is perhaps the biggest part of that. By the time Ged has become the hunter, he seems to have learned something very important: that the shadow is not something to be defeated, but accepted. That's certainly not something he learned at school.

"Little sister," Ged said, "it is I that have no skill explaining. If we had more time  –" (9.73)

Only some people can do magic, but everyone can understand magic since it's is part of the natural world. At least, that's the way it seems to us when Ged talks to Yarrow, Vetch's little sister. But there's another reason why we pulled this quote: Ged seems to have switched over from being a student to being a teacher.

"I'd rather not," said Vetch – "that is a disagreeable part of the world, they say, full of bones and portents." (10.8)

What does this have to do with education? Well, Ged and Vetch are both highly educated (for Earthsea) – not only do they know magic but they can also read, which is a skill that's probably as rare as magic. But still, notice that Vetch and Ged are interested in stories, and Ged doesn't want to sail somewhere because of stories "they say." This is a nice reminder of the world they live in, with its emphasis on oral culture and storytelling.

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