Shadow of Darkness

Jill Javier '07 English 65, Fantasy, Brown University, 2003

In Ursula Le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea, the story of Ged unfolds as a young boy who undergoes a transformation into a powerful wizard. He enters a school for wizards on Roke (the Isle of the Wise), where he learns the art of wizardry, and the capabilities and power he possesses. Outraged by another student's arrogance towards him, he proves Jasper (the student) wrong by wakening a spirit from the dead. Not realizing the consequences to his actions, Ged is now faced with a dangerous shadow spirit.

It was like a black beast, the size of a young child, though it seemed to swell and shrink; and it had no head or face, only the four taloned paws with which it gripped and tore. Vetch sobbed with horror, yet he put out his hands to try to pull the thing away from Ged. Before he touched it, he was bound still, unable to move.

The intolerable brightness faded, and slowly the torn edges of the world closed together. Nearby a voice was speaking as softly as a tree whispers or a fountain plays.

Starlight begain to shine again, and the grasses of the hillside were whitened with the light of the moon just rising. The night was healed. Restored and steady lay the balance of light and dark. [Pages 61-62]

The second encounter with the shadow occurred when Ged, now wizard, was on Low Torning. While trying to save a dying child of a friend, Ged goes too far and follows the child to the spirit world. Attempting to go back, he falls upon the shadow in his way. As Ged escaped from the shadow, he fell into a cold, lifeless state.

Then the otak crept down and came to Ged where he lay stretched stiff and still upon the bed. It began to lick his hands and wrists, long and patiently, with its dry leaf-brown tongue. Crouching beside his head it licked his temple, his scarred cheek, and softly his closed eyes. And very slowly under that soft touch Ged roused. [Page 82]

After the encounter at Low Torning, he faces the Dragon of Pendor, and realizes the danger of his remaining in Low Torning and voyages to Osskil. There he encounters the shadow for the third time.

The thing that had devoured Skiorh's mind and possessed his flesh made the body take a step towards Ged, and the arms came groping out towards him. A rage of horror filled Ged and he swung up and brought down his staff whistling on the hood that hid the shadow-face. [Page 107]


1. How does Le Guin use a strong contrast between light and dark to describe the pure evil of the shadow unleashed? What aspects of the language strengthen the contrast?

2. How does the shadow compare to the shadow of Anodos?

3. The Otak, known as a wild creature that no one can tame, becomes Ged's pet. What purpose does the Otak serve?

4. How does the first appearance of the shadow differ from the other encounters?


Le Guin, Ursula K. The Wizard of Earthsea. New York: Bantam, 1968.

Victorian Web Overview Ursula K. Leguin Victorian courses

Last modified 8 March 2004