The Farthest Shore: Exactly What is Magic and Evil?

David Washington '07 English 65, Fantasy, Brown University, 2003

Ursula K. LeGuin's The Farthest Shore presents the story of the most powerful mage in the world Earthsea, Sparrowhawk, and a young prince named Arren. After a mysterious magic inhibiting evil surfaces on Arren's homeland, the two set out on a quest to right the intrinsic wrong of this situation. Early in their journey, Arren and Sparrowhawk discuss the properties of magic and the dilemma's possible causes. From this conversation, the reader gains valuable insight to the quality of Earthsea magic, as well as LeGuin's framework for the magic in this book.

Arren brooded over this a while and said at last, "Then you think it is a man we seek?

"A man, and a mage. Aye, I think so."

"But I had thought, from what my father and teachers taught, that the great arts of wizardry were dependent on the Balance, the Equilibrium of things and could not be evil."

"That," said Sparrowhawk somewhat wryly "is a debatable point. Infinite are the arguments of mages . . . .[47]

Later in the same conversation:

"The only thing in this world that can resist and evil-hearted man. And that is another man. In our shame is our glory. Only our spirit, which is capable of evil, is capable of overcoming it."

"But the dragons," said Arren. "Do they no do great evil. Are they innocent?"[48]

"The dragons! The dragons are avaricious, insatiable, treacherous; without pity, without remorse, But are they evil? Who am I to judge the acts of dragons? . . . They are wiser than men are. It is with them as with dreams, Arren. We men dream dreams, we work magic, we do good, we do evil. The dragons do not dream. They are dreams. They do not work magic: it is their substance, their being. They do not do; they are.

Discussion Questions

1. Why would the sentence "Infinite are the arguments of mages . . . " be italicized? What is LeGuin trying to create or setup with this statement?

2. What does Sparrowhawk mean by saying, "Dragons are Dreams"?

3. Haven't dragons always been evil? Why does Le Guin choose the make the reader question this now, in the third book of the trilogy? Does what Sparrowhawk says here fall in line with the plots of previous books [i.e. the shadow in A Wizard of Earthsea]


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

Victorian Web Overview Ursula K. Leguin Victorian courses

Last modified 15 March 2004