Study Guide

A Wizard of Earthsea Power

By Ursula K. Le Guin

Power

The boy could not speak, but he laughed.

Then his aunt was a little afraid of his strength, for this was as strong a spell as she knew how to weave. (1.16-7)

<em>A Wizard of Earthsea</em> follows the first rule of young adult novels: at first, its main character is more powerful than almost anyone he knows. Here we have a clear demonstration of that. Though untrained and childish, Ged can still break his witch aunt's most powerful charm. Now that's some wizarding potential if we've ever seen it.

For he hungered to learn, to gain power (2.16)

As we mentioned in "Writing Style," Le Guin comes out and tells us what we need to know about a character. It's like she's saying, "Meet Ged. He wants power." Does Ged sound like a hero here?

With voice and hand he made the Opening spell which his aunt had taught him long ago; it was the prize among all her stock of spells, and he wove it well now. But it was only a witch's charm, and the power that held this doorway was not moved at all. (3.6)

His aunt taught him this powerful spell and Ged is very powerful himself, but the power of the mages on Roke is just too much for him. This might be the first time we see Ged try to do something and fail.

"You have great power inborn in you, and you used that power wrongly, to work a spell over which you had no control, not knowing how that spell affects the balance of light and dark, life and death, good and evil. And you were moved to do this by pride and by hate. Is it any wonder the result was ruin?" (4.78)

Archmage Gensher lays out the problem for Ged: sure, you're powerful, but you're not totally in control. Plus, being powerful isn't enough – you have to be a little more thoughtful (that is, less of a proud jerk). This might be part of Ged's coming of age.

Ged's voice shook as he spoke the name, yet he spoke it clear and loud. At the sound of it, the old dragon held still, utterly still. (5.77)

After Ged releases the shadow in Chapter 4, he has a few failures: he can't save Ioethe, and he's constantly worried about the shadow. After those defeats, it's nice that we see him overpowering a dragon.  This is a total confidence-booster, and a good reminder that Ged is really powerful. But notice also how Ged overpowers the dragon: he doesn't use brute force – he uses his education.

But little by little, though Ged kept up the spell, the magewind slackened, growing feebler, until the ship seemed to hang still on the waves for a minute, her sail drooping, amid all the tumult of the rain and gale. (6.11)

Ged's magical power is not enough to face the magical power of the Nine Masters and their spells. If we were riding high on Ged's triumph over Yevaud the dragon, here we're faced with another situation in which Ged isn't powerful enough.

Ged most often faces human power (and some dragon power, which isn't totally different), but here he comes up against something totally different. We've heard little hints about the Old Powers before, but here Ged faces it and eventually escapes it.

Ged most often faces human power (and some dragon power, which isn't totally different), but here he comes up against something totally different. We've heard little hints about the Old Powers before, but here Ged faces it and eventually escapes it.

"He who throws away his power is filled sometimes with a far greater power," she said, smiling, as if his fears and scruples were childish ones. (7.53)

This is Serret trying to convince Ged that he should accept the power of the Stone of the Terrenon. (She'll also try to convince him that you should fight shadow with darkness.) Now, we know that Serret has her own purposes (she wants to make a slave of Ged), but does her theory of power hold up in this book?

And all at once he shouted out aloud, "I am here, I Ged the Sparrowhawk, and I summon my shadow!" (8.10)

When Ged takes Ogion's advice and starts to hunt the shadow, the balance of power shifts. Ged uses his true name here, which might be part of the power, but we think that most of his power actually comes from taking the lead.

"All power is one in source and end, I think. Years and distances, stars and candles, water and wind and wizardry, the craft in a man's hand and the wisdom in a tree's root: they all arise together." (9.77)

Ged tries to explain magical power to Murre and Yarrow, Vetch's siblings. (Which raises a question: if they're so interested in magic, why doesn't their brother tell them? Oh well, at least this gives us an opportunity to see what Ged thinks.) Now, if you think about it, this is a radically different position than we had in one of the quotes above, where Ged hungered for magical power. At the end of the novel, Ged seems to think his own power has a particular place in the universe – that his power is part of the universe. In other words, he doesn't stand outside the world like a god, but takes part in it like a human being.