A Natural Equilibirum

Justin Fike '07 English 65, Fantasy, Brown University, 2003

Throughout Ursula Leguin's Earthsea Trilogy, the wizard Ged, whom first encounter as an arrogant young man of untapped power, grows to become the Archmage of all the islands, first among all wizards in both power and wisdom. In large part, this transformation results from Ged's coming to understand the true nature and purpose of magic and especially the Equilibrium or balance that all men must strive to keep.

All that the beasts and green things do, is well done, and rightly done. All these act within the Equilibrium. From the hurricane and the great whale's sounding to the fall of a dry leaf and gnat's flight, all they do is done within the balance of the whole. But we, insofar as we have power over the world and over one another, we must learn to do what the leaf and the whale and the wind do of their own nature. We must learn to keep the balance. Having intelligence, we must not act in ignorance. Who am I -- though I have the power to do it -- to punish and reward, playing with men's destinies?

This concept of a natural balance that men must learn to live by permeates the trilogy, and we see it expressed many times throughout the story. Ged must learn this equilibrium and the beauty and necessity of living by it, and he in turn must teach it to Arren. Faith in the inherent goodness of the equilibrium of life, in both its joy and pain, gives Arren and Ged the strength to overcome the one who wishes to destroy it through false promises of immortality and endless life.


1. Is the concept of natural equilibrium merely a part of the mythology of Leguin's world of Earthsea, or is she attempting to teach her readers a principle she feels is applicable to their lives as well?

2. In what ways does LeGuin's portrayal of men compare to that of Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings, or are they entirely different?

3. Are LeGuin's choice of examples of the equilibrium of nature significant? If yes, how so?


Le Guin, Ursula K. The Farthest Shore. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1972.

Victorian Web Overview Ursula K. Leguin Victorian courses

Last modified 14 March 2004