Everything's still coming up Harry Potter these days, especially with the new movie based on the first of J. K. Rawling's novels ready to open in a few weeks. Most teenagers, though, have moved on from these books and are ready for something more, for a more difficult degree of wizardry. And that's when they should be introduced to Ursula LeGuin's wizard, Ged, the hero of the first of her four-book series about a place called Earthsea, and another wizard's school, this one on an island that is guarded and surrounded by powers that old Hogwarts has yet to conjure up.
In A Wizard of Earthsea, which was published in 1968 and is still in print, we meet Ged, who is a talented, cocky young man, a teenager, who has innate skills with wizardy and is sent to the school to study this ancient and demanding discipline. But Ged also has problems with his temper and with his pride, which lead him to commit one of the fundamental mistakes of an apprentice wizard -- through spells that he does not understand, he unleashes forces that he can not control and that threaten to destroy not only the delicate balance of his world, but that world itself. Yet it is precisely these shadowy forces that he must learn to master if he is to survive and not lose his soul. Ultimately, they are the dark forces within himself -- but I don't want to tell you too much about this powerful book -- which appeared nearly a decade before "Star Wars" turned "the dark side" into a sci-fi fantasy cliché.
There will probably never be a movie made of The Wizard of Earthsea -- at least Ms. LeGuin, the award-winning, Oregon-based writer whose birthday it is today, hasn't allowed one yet. And that's relief. No action figures or scented shadow candles or phoney spell CDs or archmage tee shirts, no Earthseaworld with water flumes and animatronic dragons spouting fake fire in Orlando or Las Vegas. For there are still some things better left to the writer's book and the reader's imagination.
Copyright © 2001 by John Cech
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Wednesday, 04-Sep-2002 22:24:43 EDT