In 1967, Herman Schein, the publisher of Parnassus Press and husband to Ruth Robbins, the woman who would later illustrate the book, asked Le Guin if she would consider writing a book “for older kids”, leaving the concept and subject free of her own choosing. A Wizard of Earthsea followed the next year and was published by Parnassus Press. Le Guin based the novel on a pair of short stories she had published in 1964, The Rule of Names and The Word of Unbinding. In these short stories, she explored the concept that wizards were always portrayed as old and wise figures in literature. The author wondered where the wizards might have learned their magic before they gained their wisdom. These two stories served as the groundwork for the Earthsea trilogy that would follow.
The first paragraph of the book provides a perfect introduction to the story:
The island of Gont, a single mountain that lifts its peak a mile above the storm-racked Northeast Sea, is a land famous for wizards. From the towns in its high valleys and the ports on its dark narrow bays many a Gontishman has gone forth to serve the Lords of the Archipelago in their cities as wizard or mage, or, looking for adventure, to wander working magic from isle to isle of all Earthsea. Of these some say the greatest, and surely the greatest voyager, was the man called Sparrowhawk, who in his day became both dragonlord and Archmage. His life is told of in the Deed of Ged and in many songs, but this is a tale of the time before his fame, before the songs were made.
The trade paperback reprint I read included the original illustrations by Ruth Robbins.
Two more books followed A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan in 1970 and The Farthest Shore in 1972. The three books are referred to as the Earthsea Trilogy. In 1990, Le Guin published an adult book set in Earthsea titled Tehanu. I believe there have been other books published since then. I plan to read books two and three of the original series and then perhaps read some of the related short stories.
Publisher: Bantam Books, 2004 (orig. pub. 1968)
Length: 182 pages
Format: Trade Paperback
Series: Earthsea Cycle
Setting: The fantasy world of Earthsea
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Source: Purchased my copy at the Planned Parenthood book sale, 2014. My son has a copy of the mass market boxed set of the Earthsea Trilogy. That set was what first enticed me to try the series.