The Shadow

Gregory Souza '07 English 65, Fantasy, Brown University, 2003

Ursula K. Le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea, the first book of the Earthsea series, tells the story of the wizard Ged's youth. In a moment of pride, he tries impress his peers with a dangerous spell that summons spirits from the dead. The spell rips open "the fabric of the world," and he accidentally unleashes a horrible shadow that "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" (61). The shadow then escapes into the world, but continues to hunt Ged. Ged eventually has to leave the safety of his school and spends his time trying to figure out how to deal with his shadow. After a long time on the run, Ged decides to hunt the shadow instead of being chased. He sails out from the open sea into another realm and has a final encounter with his shadow.

It drew together and shrank and blackened, crawling on four short taloned legs upon the sand. But still it came forward, lifting up to him a blind unformed snout without lips or ears or eyes. . . . In silence, man and shadow met face to face, and stopped.

Aloud and clearly, breaking that old silence, Ged spoke the shadow's name and in the same moment the shadow spoke without lips or tongue, saying the same word: "Ged." And the two voices were one voice.

Ged reached out his hands, dropping his staff, and took hold of his shadow, of the black self that reached out to him. Light and darkness met, and joined and were one. [179]

Questions

1. How does Le Guin manage to describe the shadow as both beast-like and formless at the same time? What effect does this description have?

2. What is similar about the loosing of Ged's shadow and the way in which Anodos received his shadow in Phantastes? What similar things do the shadows represent in both books?

3. Why does Ged embrace his shadow instead of trying to destroy it?

4. Compare and contrast the way Ged deals with his shadow to the way that Anodos gets rid of his shadow in Phantastes. Compare how Anodos and Ged must both change to deal with their shadows.

References

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


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Last modified 8 March 2004