Wizard of the Earth Sea
When I was a teen like many others I enjoyed reading Harry Potter books and Lord of the Rings, which all came out as popular movies as well when I was a teenager, but my favourite fantasy book series of all time wasn´t about Hogwarts or hobbits. My favourite fantasy story was Ursula K. Le Guinn´s Earth Sea saga.
(the next sequence has spoilers of the first book)
Earth Sea- books appeared in the 1960s. The Series takes place in the mythical world of the Earth Sea. Earth Sea is an archipelago of hundreds of islands surrounded by uncharted sea and there are no large continents. The inhabitants of these islands vary in their religion, languages and skin colour and the majority of the population of the islands are described to have “brown skin” and the society´s advancements are similar to our Iron age.
LeGuin explained her decision for this as a wish to challenge the traditional look of a fantasy world taking place in an era that is similar to middle age and having mainly caucasian/white characters.
Magic is part of everyday life at the Earth Sea. Earth Sea has its own mythology and deities. The main mythology centres around the idea that humans and dragons were once related to one another. Magic in Earth Sea is mainly verbal and the wizards use the old language to make this happen and to control it.
The main character of the Earth Sea books is Ged/Sparrowhawk. Ged was born on the island of Gont is a son of a bronzesmith. When the island was attacked by the nearby Kardag tribes,12-year-old Ged was able to use his powers to protect his people. After this incident, he was sent to the island wizard, Ogion to learn magic and eventually to the school of magic to Roke Island. Later in the books, Ged rises to great fame and eventually becomes the school´s headmaster. In the Earth Sea, everything has two names. They have their given name and their magical name. The magical name is the “true name” and can be only be shared with people they trust the most because those who possess magic can use it to control you if they know your true name. Ged actually has three names. His childhood name was Duny and he became Ged when he became a wizard´s apprentice.
Ever since a young age Ged was able to summon Sparrowhawks and people started to call him “Hawk” or a “Sparrow Hawk”. Ged had the power to shapeshift himself into a Sparrowhawk. Earth Sea series has six books but I will focus on the plot of the first book. When Ged is 18 one of the village girls asks if he can summon the dead. Ged who is intoxicated with his powers summons a creature called “Shadow”. At first, the shadow seems harmless. It looks like a child covered in cloth. Over the years, the shadow continues to pursue him — first in dreams, and then in the flesh — while Ged frantically tries to figure out where the shadow has come from, what it wants from him, and what the rules of their careful yet violent dance truly are. The shadow comes to Ged in many forms: it comes as a whisper, a puppet, a vision.
Shadow in Earth Sea actually represents Ged´s own Hubris.
Carl G. Jung in Man and His Symbols describes the shadow as containing the hidden, repressed, and unfavourable tendencies of the conscious personality. Such tendencies form an ever-present and potentially destructive shadow to our conscious mind.
I was very interested in archetypes when I first read Earth Sea and remember being very impressed by it. It is only when Ged faces the “dark night of the soul” he can defeat the shadow because after all, it was his own shadow.
My Ged Painting
“There always was some hawk in him. Half man…half hawk”.
I had this quote in my mind when I painted Ged. I wanted to give him some Hawk like features. In the book, he is described to be a “thin, very handsome looking man, with brown skin and scars on his face”. I wanted my Ged to look very…dynamic. He is at the height of his powers.
Earth Sea is a very modern book series. Not only does it have a POC main character, but there are also lots of LGBTQ themes and Wizards themselves live in celibacy. It´s not mentioned in the novel (and the term didn´t even exist in the 60s) I always considered Ged as a demisexual and later in the book series he reunites with his first love but that´s another story.
Unlike Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, Wizard of the Earth Sea hasn´t been turned into a blockbuster movie… yet. There is a Ghigbli animation, but even LeGuinn herself was disappointed with it and one incredibly white-washed miniseries. I did read that the book rights were bought for streaming services, so maybe someday we will get an adaptation of Earth Sea saga that does the series justice.
Have you read the Earth Sea books and what do you think of my painting?
I want to become better at talking about my art so I am writing short-form stories of how I became an illustrator and stories behind my artworks. Subscribe to follow the journey.
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