I completed my second reading of Ursula K. Le Guin’s “A Wizard of Earthsea” Saturday night. A young wizard named Ged struggles with the consequences of his early, untutored, foray into magic. I am aware, though uncertain how, this tale is considered groundbreaking for it’s non-white main character. Or maybe it’s just considered a good story and happens to have a non-white character.
The first time I read the story I found it passable but not compelling. Despite being set in an extensive and (we’re told) diverse archipelago the plot clings tightly to the young wizard. Essentially Ged’s story is a quest unencumbered with a motley troupe of characters and nothing unexpected occurs. Sure, Ged overcomes a trial or two, but in the end he whacks the big evil on the head and lives to make book two.
I describe Ged as non-white, because I know Le Guin told me her character possessed dark skin, but I never got a definitive picture of what exactly that meant. I know people who develop a mental image of folks they’ve only met over the phone: blonde, slightly overweight, and jovial. I don’t do that, to me the voice is the person. My style of reading mirrors my phone style. It accounts mostly for plot, dialogue, tempo, and emotion but it doesn’t linger on what color a dragon is, how long a sword might be, or the subtle difference between glowing magefire or gleaming magefire.
In any case, Ged’s color played no part in the story. Maybe that’s the groundbreaking part. I don’t know.
I read the book a second time for three reasons: it wasn’t bad the first time, it was short, and I was convinced that I might come to understand the importance of the book. It still wasn’t bad, it still was the same length, I still don’t comprehend. I feel bad about the last one, but I’m not sure what more I can do.
All this is really preamble for me to tell you that I’m now finally reading that book I bought a couple weeks back: the complete short stories of John Steinbeck.