Exploring the Earthsea Cycle: An Essential Guide

Chronological order of six books that makes Earthsea cycle by Ursula le Guin

Earthsea Cycle by Ursula Le Guin is a high fantasy series of six books. It leads us to a world made of hundreds of islands where magic is a part of people’s lives, except on the islands of Karg.

The first novel of the cycle was published in 1964, the second one in 1971, and in 1972 when the third book was published the story was considered closed.

However, in 1990, Le Guin published the novel Tehanu. She said that she has learned how to make the right female character in fantasy stories, but the change was not related to female characters only. Le Guin changed the whole fictional world she had made by showing it to readers from a different perspective. That’s why some readers acknowledge only the so-called first trilogy. On the other hand, there are readers, including the author of this article, who find these changes interesting and think that Le Guin has done brilliant work. Either way, all books make the Earthsea cycle.

About the author of Earthsea cycle

Ursula Le Guin (1929 – 2018) was an American writer whose works, spanned various genres such as science fiction, fantasy, and children’s literature. She challenged conventional norms and explored profound philosophical themes. Le Guin’s speculative fiction works and The Earthsea fantasy novels are the most famous, but she was also writing short stories, poetry, and essays.

Le Guin won six Nebula Awards, seven Hugo Awards,  SFWA’s Grand Master, and many more. Her influence on other writers, Neil Gaiman and Iain Banks among them is significant. Harold Bloom puts her on his list of classic American writers. In 2018, the year of her death, the documentary Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin, directed by Arwen Curry, was released. Julie Phillips is working on her biography that a huge number of Le Guin’s readers worldwide are waiting to be published.


Ursula Le Guin

Earthsea – a typical high fantasy story filled with epic characters 

Earthsea has all characteristics of the high fantasy sub-genre. Everything happens in the alternate world – Earthsea is the world with its own history, geography, society, etc.  There is a good vs evil battle – sometimes even inside the characters. Moreover, we follow the journies and searches. Ged, the main character, travels and chases a dangerous shadow to fight it, searches for the Ring of Erreth-Akbe to bring peace to the world, then for the source of the mysterious threat that slowly destroying the world, etc. Magic and wizards – present! Typical creatures such elves, trolls, etc, too – in Earthsa we have dragons. Also, a typical high fantasy society is pre-industrial, which is the case with Earthsea, too. 

These characteristics are defined by Piotr Nowik, but others are talking about similar things. John Gust highlights the fact that the whole world depends on one hero. He goes on an epic journey accompanied by a mentor or helper. The hero fights evil, at the same time fighting his own internal battles as well, and saves the world. In Earthsea Ged is the hero (mostly), Estarriol, Tenar and Arren go with him, while Ogion and even some dragons help him with advice and information.

In separate book reviews, we are going to underline where Le Guin goes beyond the genre.

The Books of Earthsea reading order

A Wizard of Earthsea

The Earthsea cycle begins with the novel A Wizard of Earthsea. It introduces to the readers one of the greatest mages, Ged Sparrowhawk, while he was still young and foolish. Lack of patience and the typical teenage need to show himself as superior leads him to let the shadow step into the world. But what is the shadow? Ged must figure it out.

The Tombs of Atuan

In The Tombs of Atuan, young Tenar is the high priestess of nameless Powers of the Earth. She lives in isolation as Arha, the Eaten One. Her only purpose is to be the guardian of the dark Tombs of Atuan. When she finds Ged stuck in the Labyrinth trying to find the Ring of Erreth-Akbe, her duty is to kill him. Arha starts to wonder about magic banned on Atuan and the world outside the Karg islands. Ged has the answers. Are they worth risking everything?

The Farthest Shore

The Farthest Shore opens with the world losing its magic. People lose the will to do anything that keeps them alive. To find the source of the threat, Ged goes on a journey accompanied by Enlad’s young Prince Arren. They must go to the farthest islands of the world, and beyond, or better say – below. Their strength is on the test, and the price of restoring magic is high.

The third book of the Earthsea cycle - The Farthest Shore by Ursula le Guin.

Tehanu 

Tenar is not the priestess anymore. Ged lost his magical power. Both are occupied by their own thoughts, but someone needs their help. A physically and emotionally crippled little girl is alone, scared, and chased by those who made scars on her body and soul. Who or what is she, what’s her destiny, and who saves who in the end?

The fourth book of Earthsea cycle, Tehanu by Ursula le Guin

Tales from Earthsea

Tales from Earthsea contains the novella The Finder, and the short stories The Bones of the Earth, Darkrose and Diamond, On the High Marsh, and Dragonfly. Each story reveals more about the Earthsea world history, languages, magic, literature, and people. There are also two new maps of Earthsea.

Fifth book of the Earthsea cycle, Tales from Earthsea is a collection of short stories that contains two maps of Earthsea

The Daughter of Odren

The Daughter of Odren is a short story released as a stand-alone e-book in 2014. It takes the readers back to Earthsea through a beautiful story about betrayal and revenge. A daughter of Lord Garnet, called Weed, waits in loneliness for fourteen years to have her missing father back. Every day she goes to the solitary standing stone and speaks to it, convinced that her father can hear her. Finally, the day for revenge has come.

The Daughter of Odren is a short story that closes the Earthsea cycle

Earthsea Mini-Series (2004 – 2005)

Earthsea Mini Series contains only two episodes. Directed by Robert Lieberman, they were produced for Sci-Fi TV Channel. Gavin Scott wrote the teleplay that combines the stories from the first two books of the Earthsea Cycle. Ged (Shawn Ashmore), a skilled yet impulsive mage-in-training, and Tenar (Kristin Kreuk), a youthful priestess, find themselves united in the fight against the ancient race of demons called the Nameless Ones.

Although this TV adaptation won seven Leo Awards, Earthsea Cycle fans and critics were not satisfied. Excessive divergence from the source material is the main reason for negative reviews.

Le Guin said that she had been excluded from the creative process and consequently disavowed the series.

Tales from Earthsea anime (2006)

Co-written and directed by Goro Miyazaki, the Japanese anime epic fantasy was released in July 2006. The plot is based on the first four books from the Earthsea cycle. Again, reactions to differences from the novels were negative. Overall, the movie got mixed reviews.

Le Guin’s opinion about Tales from Earthsea is also mingled. Her biggest complaint was about lack of coherence and consistency, as well as too much violence that is not unusual in high fantasy, however, in her books, the fight between good and evil is not typical, therefore – there are no simple answers to simplistic questions.


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