Tales from Earthsea

by Ursula K. Le Guin

Cover image

Series: Earthsea #5
Publisher: Ace
Copyright: 2001
Printing: November 2003
ISBN: 0-441-01124-1
Format: Mass market
Pages: 280

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A collection of five short stories set at various eras in Earthsea's history, Tales from Earthsea fills in some of the previously mentioned crannies of Earthsea history and also includes a story that bridges Tehanu and The Other Wind. None of these stories really grabbed me the way some of the earlier novels have, but all of them were enjoyable and some were quite interesting additions to the background. All of the stories are subtle, too, avoiding simple solutions or obvious outcomes and leaving the reader with something to think about.

Included at the end is a good description of the Earthsea world, mostly just information that has been in the novels or these stories, but all collected together in one place.

The stories here don't really have a unifying theme, but they all touch on the nature of wizardry and magic from different angles. I continue to be impressed with how Le Guin deals with magic. She's created a system that has spells and a science of sorts behind it, but that doesn't reduce to just another skill or weapon in the way that has become somewhat common in fantasy novels. Her world sits in a well-drawn space between a pure Beings of Power conception like Tolkien and a world in which magic is just something some people are able to do. In Earthsea, magic requires dealing with and understanding some hard philosophical problems, not just exercising power, and the connection between magic and true names enhances this wonderfully.

I recommend this book even for people who have not read the preceding novels (although I recommend those as well), but reading it after reading the previous stories will add more depth to the background.

"The Finder": The longest story in the book, it opens with a memorable story of a wizard being captured and escaping captivity, and then touches on how the institutions of "current" Earthsea came to be out of a time of chaos. I loved both the beginning and the end (I always did like the Doorkeeper); the middle was a bit slow in places. (8)

"Darkrose and Diamond": A mostly pedestrian love story of the star-crossed variety, made interesting by having no villains, just subtle interplays of different people with different expectations and no easy answers. I was left unsatisfied with the ending, but it serves as a good picture of perceptions of magic on Earthsea. (7)

"The Bones of the Earth": A portion of the story of Ogion (the one who taught Ged) and his master. The story isn't anything much, but I enjoyed reading about a younger Ogion. He's a wonderful character. (7)

"On the High Marsh": Another story dealing directly with what it's like to be a wizard, this time from the perspective of one who has been badly hurt. Mostly a quiet character study, showing how magic influences the daily life of average people in Earthsea, with a good ending. (7)

"Dragonfly": The bridge story between Tehanu and The Other Wind, I enjoyed this one even though I never connected with the main character. Dragonfly remains a cypher all the way through the story; I never understood her motivations or what she might be thinking. Despite that, it's a good setup for dealing more with the Earthsea bias against women's magic, explaining more about how it came about and what it's effect is. Despite not connecting to the main character, I thoroughly enjoyed the ending. (7)

Followed by The Other Wind.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Reviewed: 2005-01-17

Last modified and spun 2014-12-21