Thursday, October 16, 2014

Questions about A Wizard of Earthsea, Fall 2014

More questions from my ENGL 217 students, this time on Ursula K. Le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea!


  • Why so much emphasis on all the names (of people and places) in the book?  Do they have importance later on?
  • How powerful is the concept of a true name?  What are its limits in shaping the lives of the characters?
  • What is a deciding factor in who is magical and who is not?
  • Why do wizards always learn in secret?
  • By adding a number of different wizard-like figures in the novel, does the magic of Earthsea become more structured--or more chaotic and complex?
  • Why is Earthsea made to be so complicated that we as readers cannot define most of the concepts/map out the world ourselves?
  • As an introduction to a long series does A Wizard of Earthsea do the world justice?

  • Gender and differing magic roles?  Evil magic=female?  Lack of female magicians and powerful females in general throughout multiple series?
  • Why do characters' names have to be changed, and why can't they tell anybody their real name?  What is the significance?
  • I felt that the writing style/plot of this novel was too obvious (at least so far).  The "fork in the road" moments are almost cut and dry decisions.  When Ged chooses to go to school, it was almost too easy to guess where he was going to end up.  Is this supposed to be a commentary on how hindsight is 20/20 or is it just poorly written?
  • What would books be without a main conflict?
  • Why did the author decide to have only men be wizards?
  • Is the sexism presented purposely done as a foreshadowing or is it just sexism?
  • Do you think getting feminist attention was part of Le Guin's intention?
  • Vetch is described as dark-skinned, gluttonous, and sort of a comic relief.  This novel was written around the '60s; it was very common in this time for black characters in books and other sources of media to be seen in this light.  Was it groundbreaking that Le Guin incorporated a powerful wizard who is black or just being stereotypical?
  • Is good versus evil what makes the story more interesting for the reader?
  • What is the significance of a person's identity?
  • A Wizard of Earthsea is clearly the most Tolkien-esque book we've read, outside, of course, The Hobbit.  The emphasis is on the world.  I couldn't bring myself to care about what was going on because the story wasn't that unique and the author seems to care precious little about the actual writing side of the book.  The narration is very passive and flat...I don't want to be mean, but I couldn't understand the appeal of this one...but I don't think I'm much of a fantasy fan in general...?
  • Did this book get a lot of feminist attention?
  • Was this book the first popular one of its kind to involve a wizard/magic academy?
  • Why is there a focus on names in fantasy fiction?  What is the power of names/naming?
  • In T.H. White's The Once and Future King,  ordinary Wart becomes legendary Arthur when he pulls Excalibur out of the Stone.  Does this name/identity change have any influence on the change from Duny to Ged?  What is the significance of name changes in fantasy?
  • Is good/evil a common theme in fantasy fiction writing?  What about other genres?  I'm beginning to question if this is a theme in all books.
  • It seems like the further along in time we get, the less pure the protagonist is, and the less black and white good and evil are.  I like that he is a victim to things like ambition and pride  because it makes him more believable and more likable.  Compared to fantasy novels of the past, has there been a definite shift in the moral standing of the character the reader is meant to see as the hero in more recent books?  Is what I noticed a real trend, or just a coincidence?
  • In most of the novels we've read. the main character has been orphaned in some way and in A Wizard of Earthsea it's no different.  Why is this a recurring aspect of fantasy fiction?  What effect does this give the story that the authors are trying to achieve?
  • I watched the movie version of Earthsea directed by Goro Miyazaki and I realized that Ged's personality is the movie was so much different than in the book.  What made this so?
  • Women's magic seems to be scorned in Earthsea whereas a sorcerer would be respected.  The same goes for The Hobbit:  how many female sorcerers or magic users are there? And when there is a female magic user (Galadriel), is she respected or fared? Why the lack of female protagonists in fantasy fiction about magic users?
  • Most stories we've read make animals very important (eagles, Narnians, daemons); in this novel, Ged has a connection to birds and adopts a flying squirrel.  Does this lead to a bigger connection in the end, or are animals used more or less as an example of his magical ability?

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