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The Earthsea Quartet

Updated on June 23, 2014

An enthralling fantasy series from Ursula LeGuin

The Earthsea Quartet is a book very dear to my heart - I don't remember when I first read it, only that I was young (perhaps ten?). It stood up against The Hobbit, Duncton Wood, Gerald Durrell's autobiographies, the handful of Pratchett's Discworld books I'd found, Duncton Wood, and Antonia Fraser's Robin Hood - all my childhood classics... And furthermore, it has retained its magic with age and maturity.

Ursula LeGuin has the gift of clear speaking, of imagination and of common sense. Her stories delve into dreams, dragons, politics, raiders, coming of ages, feminism, and the darker side of mistakes. Her books are generally High Fantasy - and often compared to Tolkien. This book is a must-read for everyone who likes fantasy of any kind, from the ages of eleven up.

One of the greatest fantasy series around. LeGuin's writing is clear and enthralling.

The Earthsea Quartet - A four-books-in-one fantasy series by Ursula LeGuin

There are four stories in this book - old versions of the original 'Earthsea Trilogy' still exist, as the last one was written much later. The story follows Sparrowhawk - or Ged - as he goes from islander, to apprentice, to survivor to student - to haunted mage, travelling the world to discover and destroy the evil he unleashed. Earthsea is a world of small islands, invasions, magic, tombs and oceans. Names have power in Earthsea...

The Wizard of Earthsea tells the tale of young Ged the goat boy, as he grows, leaves his home, becomes a wizard called Sparrowhawk and unleashes a terrible evil on the world. It is by far the best and strongest book.

"Until that moment Vetch had watched him with an anxious dread, for he was not sure if this was Ged in the boat with him, and his hand had been for hours ready to the anchor, to stave in the boat's planking and sink her there in midsea, rather than carry back to the harbours of Earthsea the evil thing that he feared might have taken Ged's look and form. Now when he saw his friend and heard him speak, his doubt vanished. As he began to see the truth, that Ged had neither lost nor won but, naming the shadow of his death with his own name, had made himself whole: a man: who, knowing his whole true self, cannot be used or possessed by any power other than himself, and whose life therefore is lived for life's sake and never in the service of ruin, or pain, or hatred, or the dark."

The Tombs of Atuan tells the tale of his adventures in the land of Earthsea - but the main protagonist, at least initially, is Tenar. Tenar is a girl preparing to become High Priestess of the Tombs of Atuan... and the writing of her entrapped and increasingly disillusioned character is extremely vivid -a nd the relief at the appearance of doleful Ged perfectly timed.I liked this one a great deal, and the setting (an underground labyrinth in a desert) was suberbly done

"She put her head down in her arms and cried, and her cheeks were salt and wet. She cried for the waste of her years in bondage to a useless evil. She wept in pain, because she was free. What she had begun to learn was the weight of liberty. Freedom is a heavy load, a great and strange burden for the spirit to undertake. It is not easy. It is not a gift given, but a choice made, and the choice may be a hard one."

The Farthest Shore follows Sparrowhawk to the farthest shores of the ocean, the bones of dragons and into the depths of dream... until he final finds and confronts the dreadful terror that he is resonpsible for, and learns the truth of his shadowy demon.

"Death and life are the same thing - like the two sides of my hand, the palm and the back. And still the palm and the back are not the same... They can be neither separated, nor mixed."

Tehanu, the final book, was written years later and is my least favourite. The focus has shifted to young Tehanu, a girl who crosses paths with Ged in his old age. In this book everything changes, and LeGuin attempts to alter or subvert the earlier lines...

'There is a saying on Gont, Weak as woman's magic, and there is another saying, Wicked as woman's magic.'

The Earthsea Quartet (Puffin Books)
The Earthsea Quartet (Puffin Books)

A superb four-part fantasy, comparable with the work of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, the "Earthsea" books follow the fortunes of the wizard Ged from his childhood to an age where magic is giving way to evil. As a young dragonlord, Ged, whose use-name is Sparrowhawk, is sent to the island of Roke to learn the true way of magic. A natural magician, Ged becomes an Archmage and helps the High Priestess Tenar escape from the labyrinth of darkness. But as the years pass, true magic and ancient ways are forced to submit to the powers of evil and death.


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"...until with a roar of noise and a glory of daylight, and the bitter cold of winter, and the bitter taste of salt, the world was restored to him and he floundered in the sudden, true and living sea."

The best line ever:

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.

More books by Ursula Le Guin - Vote for your favorites, or add any I missed.


In The Aeneid, Vergils hero fights to claim the kings daughter, Lavinia, with whom he is destined to found an empire. Lavinia herself never speaks a word. Now, Ursula K. Le Guin gives Lavinia a voice in a novel that takes us to the half-wild world of ancient Italy, when Rome was a muddy village near seven hills.Lavinia grows up knowing nothing but peace and freedom, until suitors come. Her mother wants her to marry handsome, ambitious Turnus. But omens and prophecies spoken by the sacred springs say she must marry a foreignerthat she will be the cause of a bitter warand that her husband will not live long. When a fleet of Trojan ships sails up the Tiber, Lavinia decides to take her destiny into her own hands. And so she tells us what Vergil did not: the story of her life, and of the love of her life. Lavinia is a book of passion and war, generous and austerely beautiful, from a writer working at the height of her powers.

Powers (Annals of the Western Shore)
Powers (Annals of the Western Shore)

Young Gav can remember the page of a book after seeing it once, and, inexplicably, he sometimes "remembers" things that are going to happen in the future. As a loyal slave, he must keep these powers secret, but when a terrible tragedy occurs, Gav, blinded by grief, flees the only world he has ever known. And in what becomes a treacherous journey for freedom, Gav's greatest test of all is facing his powers so that he can come to understand himself and finally find a true home. Includes maps.

Cat Dreams
Cat Dreams

Bestselling author Ursula K. Le Guin and acclaimed illustrator S. D. Schindler are together again with a sleepytime picture book for the youngest cat-nappers. Climb into a cat's dreamland with irresistible painting by S. D. Schindler and a lyrical purring text by Ursula K. Le Guin.

Lao Tzu: Tao Te Ching: A Book about the Way and the Power of the Way
Lao Tzu: Tao Te Ching: A Book about the Way and the Power of the Way

Ursula K. Le Guin, a student of the Tao Te Ching for more than fifty years, offers her own thoughtful rendering of the Taoist scripture. She has consulted the literal translations and worked with scholars to develop a version that lets the ancient text speak in a fresh way to modern people, while remaining faithful to the original Chinese. Avoiding scholarly interpretations and esoteric Taoist insights, she has revealed the Tao Te Ching's immediate relevance and power, its depth and refreshing humour, in a way that shows better than ever before why it has been so loved for more than 2,500 years. Included in this work are Le Guin's own personal commentary and notes on the text. The book also features two audio CDs of the entire text read by the author, accompanied by the musical talents of Todd Barton.

Gifts (Annals of the Western Shore)
Gifts (Annals of the Western Shore)

Scattered among poor, desolate farms, the clans of the Uplands possess gifts. Wondrous gifts: the ability--with a glance, a gesture, a word--to summon animals, bring forth fire, move the land. Fearsome gifts: They can twist a limb, chain a mind, inflict a wasting illness. The Uplanders live in constant fear that one family might unleash its gift against another. Two young people, friends since childhood, decide not to use their gifts. One, a girl, refuses to bring animals to their death in the hunt. The other, a boy, wears a blindfold lest his eyes and his anger kill. In this beautifully crafted story, Ursula K. Le Guin writes of the proud cruelty of power, of how hard it is to grow up, and of how much harder still it is to find, in the world's darkness, gifts of light. Includes a reader's guide and a sample chapter from the companion title Voices.


Postscript of utmost importance

If you buy any of the books recommended above, this page automatically makes a donation to the incredible nonprofit, Donors Choose, which helps provide classrooms and students in need with resources that our public schools often lack.

Which was your favourite? Do you like High Fantasy?

Reader Feedback - Have you read any of the Earthsea series?

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    • Chocolatealchemy profile image


      6 years ago from London, United Kingdom

      Great Lens and thanks for the reminder about Ursula Le Guin - I read her books years ago and loved them. time for a re-read I think!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I have loved Earthsea since childhood but haven't read it for years. And now I find out from this lens that there's a fourth book! I had no idea, even if it's not as good as the first three, so thank you so much for creating this lens.

    • greenspirit profile image

      poppy mercer 

      8 years ago from London

      Hi Flynn, I cut my philosophical teeth on Ged and the Earthsea Trilogy in the seventies, and it still has a special place in my heart. Best wishes and 5* to you.

    • RhondaAlbom profile image

      Rhonda Albom 

      9 years ago from New Zealand

      I was never into fantasy books, but my girls love to read fantasy. I will be sure to have them check out the earthsea quartet. Good lens, hope traffic increases.

    • Kate Phizackerl1 profile image

      Kate Phizackerl1 

      9 years ago

      Years since I read these. Together with Alan Garner they got me interested in a whole genre. 5*

    • Kylyssa profile image

      Kylyssa Shay 

      9 years ago from Overlooking a meadow near Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA

      I couldn't say that I had a favorite in this series. I love most types of fantasy.

      Great lens and great topic!


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