Written fifty years ago, I believe that A Wizard had been a source of inspiration for many coming-of-age stories, and of wizard schools. Way before Hogwarts, we have the School on Roke where potential sorcerors are trained in the powers of Summoning, Changing, Binding, and Patterning, just to name a few. Similarly, decades before Name of the Wind, here we have the ultimate power around the mastery of Names; of true names to weave the magic contained in every single thing in existence.
"It is no secret. 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. My name, and yours, and the true name of the sun, or a spring of water, or an unborn child, all are syllables of the great word that is very slowly spoken by the shining of the stars. There is no other power. No other name."
Earthsea is a world of islands and archipelagos, where seafaring is a common mode of travelling and wizards, with their command of mage-wind, are superb sailors and hence well-known voyagers. Our main protagonist, Sparrowhawk, or Ged, which is his true name, was the son of a goatherder who at a young age was discovered to be unusually powerful and thus travelled to the School on Roke for his training. Ged demonstrated an innate ability to learn faster than most, but he was far from perfect. An impetuous, arrogant, power and knowledge-hungry young man then, he unwittingly unleashed an evil onto the world, a shadow that may in time possess Ged and become an even more dangerous foe to the humankind of Earthsea.
"You thought, as a boy, that a mage is one who can do anything. So I thought, once. So did we all. And the truth is that as a man's real power grows and his knowledge widens, ever the way he can follow grows narrower: until at last he chooses nothing, but does only and wholly what he must do..."
Despite being a story of Ged's growth into being the most powerful sorcerer of Earthsea, there are no epic battles of sorcery to be had in this novel. The reader is instead partaking in the personal journey of self-discovery of this young man in his quest for wisdom, humility and the courage to face his biggest fear. Its classical narrative carries a more omniscient style, and hence I felt less engaged with the character. Fortunately, the simple scope of the story enabled a somewhat more intimate sense of the journey undertaken by Ged. Below is a quote from the author's Afterword which I made me value this classic work more:
"To be the man he can be, Ged has to find out who and what his real enemy is. He has to find out what it means to be himself. That requires not a war but a search and a discovery. The search takes him through mortal danger, loss, and suffering. The discovery brings him victory, the kind of victory that isn't the end of a battle but the beginning of a life."
A Wizard of Earthsea is a short book by modern standards, with simple yet elegant writing which befits the classics. The brevity of the story to cover Ged's developing years could also be the reason the engagement I felt throughout my read was not on par with fantasy novels of today. Nonetheless, I believe fantasy fans could benefit from reading this influential work to appreciate the foundation of what eventually evolved into modern fantasy. Another point to note is that even before racial diversity became de rigueur in fiction (both literary and genre), Le Guin's main protagonist is of copper-brown skin.