Light and Dark, Temptation and Resistance

Paisid Map Aramphongphan '07 English 65, Fantasy, Brown University, 2003

Ursular K. Le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea tells the reader the journey and the adventure of Ged in Earthsea, a land where most inhabitants' lives involve magic. A shadow, which Ged himself breaks loose, follows and hunts him throughout the book. In pursuit of the way by which he can defeat his enemy, Ged ends up at The Court of the Terranon. There he meets Serret, who eventually shows him the Terranon, a powerful, terrible stone from an ancient time. Despite Ged's refusal to touch the stone and use his power to control it, Serret tries desperately to convince him.

"Only shadow can fight shadow. Only darkness can defeat the dark. Listen, Sparrowhawk! What do you need, then, to defeat that shadow, which waits for you outside these walls?"

"I need what I cannot know. Its name."

"The Terrenon, that knows all births and deaths and beings before and after death, the unborn and the undying, the bright world and the dark one, will tell you that name,"

"And the price?"

"There is no price. I tell you it will obey you, serve you as your slave."

Shaken and tormented, he did not answer. She held his hand now in both of hers, looking into his face. The sun had fallen into the mists that dulled the horizon, and the air too had grown dull, but her face grew bright with praise and triumph as she watched him and saw his will shaken within him. Softly she whispered, "You will be mightier than all men, a king among men, a king among men. You will rule, and I will rule with you -- "

Suddenly Ged stood up, and one step forward took him where he could see, just around the curve of the long room's wall, beside the door, the Lord of the Terrenon who stood listening and smiling a little.

Ged's eyes cleared, and his mind. He looked down at Serret. "It is light that defeats the dark," he said stammering, -- "light." [pp. 118-19]

Discussion Questions

1. In the quoted passage, the idea of temptation facing the protagonist, his or her struggle to resist, and the eventual success serves as an important part. In what other books do we find this idea? Compared to Le Guin, how does the way by which the author explores the idea differ or resemble?

2. How does Le Guin introduce Serret and influence the reader's initial impression of her? How might that impression contrast with Serret's character as portrayed in the quoted passage, and what effect does that create?

3. How does the author use the familiar light and dark metaphor in this passage? What does the fact that Ged's pursuer takes the form of a shadow mean? Why does Ged "stammer" when he says the word "light"?

4. The notion of beings and their true names figure prominently in A Wizard of Earthsea. Why does the author incorporate this idea into the book? What could it symbolize?

5. What role does the environment play in the quoted passage?


Le Guin, Ursula K. The Wizard of Earthsea. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1968.

Victorian Web Overview Ursula K. Leguin Victorian courses

Last modified 8 March 2004