Study Guide

A Wizard of Earthsea Supernatural

By Ursula K. Le Guin


Now dread came into the Kargs' hearts and they began to seek one another, not the villagers, in the uncanny mist. (1.35)

Thankfully, our protagonist isn't one of these Kargs, because then the book would be mostly about them running away from unexplained supernatural things. But it's useful to start out the book with an example of someone (the Kargs) facing the supernatural and reacting as we probably would. Even when Ged gets betters at magic and is using it just for fun, it's good to remember that some people aren't so used to magic.

As he read it, puzzling out the runes and symbols one by one, a horror came over him. His eyes were fixed, and he could not lift them till he had finished reading all the spell. (2.40)

Even though Ged is a powerful magician, it's useful to remember that he's not totally in control of the supernatural business. Here, he starts to read a spell that forces him to finish reading it.

As their eyes met, a bird sang aloud in the branches of the tree. In that moment Ged understood the singing of the bird, and the language of the water falling in the basin of the fountain, and the shape of the clouds, and the beginning and end of the wind that stirred the leaves: it seemed to him that he himself was a word spoken by the sunlight. (3.13)

Language is a very important part of the supernatural in <em>A Wizard of Earthsea</em> – for instance, you have to know a true name to work a spell. Here's a moment where we see language sort of break out in a supernatural fashion – Ged seems to understand the language of the bird and the water. Later, when talking to Yarrow, Ged will describe the world as a word, so this is a slight foreshadowing of that idea.

It was not a ghost of human man, nor was it a creature of the Old Powers of Earth, and yet it seemed it might have some link with these. In the Matter of the Dragons, which Ged read very closely, there was a tale of an ancient Dragonlord who had come under the sway of one of the Old Powers, a speaking stone that lay in a far northern land. (4.106)

Ged tries to find out about the shadow monster while he's still on Roke, but it falls outside the usual categories – not a human, not a dragon, not even one of the Old Powers. Most of the other supernatural stuff has popped up in other fantasy works, but the shadow monster … not so much. So, in some ways, we're in the same position as Ged – the shadow monster is new to all of us.

The stars above the hill were no stars his eyes had ever seen. (5.21)

These are the stars in the land of the dead. We don't see the land of the dead too frequently in fantasy novels, but it's a pretty common thing in earlier mythologies. (For instance, Greek heroes are always going there.) This is another way in which Le Guin plays with our expectations of fantasy – instead of using the traditional fantasy stuff, she uses some earlier mythological stuff.

Just as he turned Ged saw a change in his face, a slurring and shifting of the features, as if for a moment something had changed him, used him, looking out through his eyes sidelong at Ged. (6.60)

We confess that we love when Le Guin describes someone's face as "slurring," which is a word we only use when describing someone who's slurring his or her words. Using it to describe a face blurs the line a bit between stuff and words – which is part of the supernatural in this world.

"I ran hot lead in the marrow of their bones, they will die of it." (7.70)

There's a lot of philosophical talk in this book about magic, so it's interesting to see some more traditional magic. And by "traditional," we mean this is a spell you could find in a video game. But notice also that it's the untrustworthy Serret who uses this magic. Do we ever see Ged and Vetch use magic like this? Or would that upset the Balance?

The creatures returned to the attack: botched beasts, belonging to ages before bird or dragon or man, long since forgotten by the daylight but recalled by the ancient, malign, unforgetful power of the Stone. (7.75)

A lot of the supernatural elements that Le Guin uses in this book are good old fantasy standbys (like dragons), but the Servants of the Stone are pretty original. They exist beyond the categories of bird, dragon, man (which might be the Earthsea equivalent of animal, vegetable, mineral). We're just not sure what they are. How does that affect the way you read about them?

"That is, I saw a presentment of you, or an imitation of you, or maybe simply a man who looks like you." (9.18)

We find this list from Vetch kind of hilarious since it moves from supernatural reasons to totally natural reasons. It's the kind of list you have to make when you have the supernatural in the world – that is, just because there are wizards and shadow monsters doesn't mean there aren't also non-supernatural reasons for a thing.

The sea had turned to sand, shadowy, unstirred. Nothing moved in the dark sky or on that dry unreal ground that went on and on into gathering darkness all around the boat as far as eye could see. (10.58)

In <em>A Wizard of Earthsea</em>, we see supernatural monsters and spells and people crossing over into the land of the dead. But here we also see the ocean turning into land. Does it get any more supernatural than ocean becoming land? (We might also make a connection between this scene and the <em>Creation of Ea</em>, the song that tells how Segoy made the islands rise out of the ocean.)

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