Chasing a demon in A Wizard of Earthsea

I’m not generally a fan of fantasy. but I really loved The Wizard of Earthsea, which I found a wonderful parable. The story is about a young man making his way in the world, learning his craft, which happens to be wizardry, and struggling mightily to overcome something of his own making. He is struggling in a literal or literary sense to overcome his own inner demons. At books end he is able to “name it” and the demons name is Ged, he himself. This overcoming his demon is his own inner struggle to become a fully functioning adult. So once he names his demon, tames his demon–he becomes whole, fully Ged, an adult.
We all must struggle to overcome our inner demons, our doubts, fears; we run from this responsibility–and yet the demon will always find us, until one day we turn the tables on it and chase it, fearless of what will happen. One can not conquer running from fear. By chasing it, by moving directly at our demon, we weaken it; it is the one always running with its shadow face looking back. Finally it runs out of room, i.e. earthsea–we track it down and it is so enervated from the chase, we defeat it, and make ourselves whole, and fully adult. This is a wonderful coming of age parable. I would love to use this for a literature circle with other coming of age books, perhaps a book about a boy or a girl struggling while studying for a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. This novel feels ceremonial in that way. There are aboriginal stories, native American stories I believe about children going into the wilderness and fending for themselves–that  might also work here. It would be interesting for students to consider at various stages of the book what Ged is chasing or being chased by. Le Guin does a masterful job of keeping this demon vague and foreboding enough that we are never sure what it really is.


6 thoughts on “Chasing a demon in A Wizard of Earthsea

  1. Great post, db. In a recent interview, she said that she’s pretty much given up writing novels and has moved exclusively to writing poetry — no surprise, given her ability to craft language. @Calmgrove: I’m about to start this favorite series again as well. Should we try another paired review?

    • Dear Lizzie,
      Hi. I just found this comment. I’ve been a bit out of it. Personal stuff. So I’m just returned to find your very nice comment. I’m a bit inundated with school, but I’m intrigued by a paired reviews. I found your new blog and I can sign up to read it and when I have a moment perhaps we could try that.

  2. I, too, am not usually a fan of the fantasy genre, but as a teacher of 7th graders, I know that it would be a hit with my students. Reminiscent of the “Harry Potter ” series, even though I am aware this novel came before, I see how the story of the young wizard is likely to be a hit. I agree with you, DB, that this story can nicely fit into a coming of age Unit, since it clearly gives us the story of how Ged matures and learns valuable life lessons in his quest to beat the evil that turns out to be himself. The ending is truly remarkable and unexpected, at least it was not by me. I also love how the novel carries the theme of light versus dark, or bad versus evil. It is not customary for the protagonist to also be the antagonist in the story, unless you are Macbeth, but the balance is definitely evident, and provides another teaching possibility. I truly enjoyed reading this story, and will request copies to add to my class library.

    • AH,
      I never considered Macbeth both as an antagonist and protagonist, but I think you’re on to something. Breaks a lot of rules. Did you notice the love interest at the end of the book? Wasn’t all that subtle.

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