National Endowment for the Arts TEACHER'S GUIDE g Museum ndLibrary SERVICES URSULA K. LE GUIN'S A Wizard of Earthsea NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR THE ARTS y UJ READ URSULA K. LE GUIN'S A Wizard of Earthsea TEACHER'S GUIDE NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR THE ARTS A grc.it nation deserves grcit <iri. . .INSTITUTE-./ , .. MuseurriandLibrary SERVICES am MIDWEST The National Endowment for the Arts is a public agency dedicated to supporting excellence in the arts — both new and established — bringing the arts to all Americans, and providing leadership in arts education. Established by Congress in 1965 as an independent agency of the federal government, the Endowment is the nations largest annual funder of the arts, bringing great art to all 50 states, including rural areas, inner cities, and military bases. The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation's 122,000 libraries and 17,500 museums. The Institute's mission is to create strong libraries and museums that connect people to information and ideas. The Institute works at the national level and in coordination with state and local organizations to sustain heritage, culture, and knowledge; enhance learning and innovation; and support professional development. Arts Midwest connects people throughout the Midwest and the world to meaningful arts opportunities, sharing creativity, knowledge, and understanding across boundaries. Based in Minneapolis, Arts Midwest connects the arts to audiences throughout the nine-state region of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. One of six non-profit regional arts organizations in the United States, Arts Midwest's history spans more than 25 years. Additional support for The Big Read has also been provided by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Published by National Endowment for the Arts 1 100 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. Washington, DC 20506-0001 (202) 682-5400 www.nea.gov Sources Bucknall, Barbara J. Ursula K. Le Guin. New York: Ungar, 1981. ( "lute, John, and John Grant. The Encyclopedia of Fantasy. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997. Clute, John, and Peter Nicholls. The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, 2nd ed. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1993. Cummins, Elizabeth. Understanding Ursula K. Le Guin. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1990. Le Guin, Ursula K. A Wizard of Earthsea (1968). New York: Bantam Books, 2004. Spivack, Charlotte. Ursula K. Le Guin. Boston: Twayne, 1984. Storr, Anthony, ed. The Essential Jung. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983- Tolkien, J.R.R. "On Fairy-Stories" (1938), in Tree and Leaf London: Allen and Unwin, 1964. Waggoner, Diana. The Hills of Faraway: A Guide to Fantasy. New York: Atheneum, 1978. Acknowledgments David Kipen, NEA Director of Literature, National Reading Initiatives Sarah Bainter Cunningham, PhD, NEA Director of Arts Education Writers: Michael Dirda for the National Endowment for the Arts, with a introduction by Dana Gioia Michael Dirda, a Pulitzer Prize-winning critic, writes frequently about fantasy, science fiction and children's books. He holds a PhD in comparative literature from Cornell University and is the author of the memoir/!/* Open Book (2003) and of four collections of essays: Readings (2000), Bound to Please (2005), Book by Book (2006), and Classics for Pleasure (2007). Series Editor: Molly Thomas-Hicks for the National Endowment for the Arts Graphic Design: Fletcher Design/Washington, DC Image Credits Cover Portrait: John Sherffius for The Big Read. Page iv: Earthsea map copyright © 2001 by Ursula K. Le Guin, book cover courtesy of Random House. Page 1: Caricature of Dana Gioia by John Sherffius. Inside back cover: Copyright © Marian Wood Kolisch. July 200 Table of Contents Introduction 1 Suggested Teaching Schedule 2 Lesson One: Biography 4 Lesson Two: The Fantasy Tratdition 5 Lesson Three: Narrative and Point of View 6 Lesson Four: Characters 7 Lesson Five: Figurative Language 8 Lesson Six: Symbols 9 Lesson Seven: Character Development 10 Lesson Eight: The Plot Unfolds 11 Lesson Nine: Themes of the Novel 12 Lesson Ten: What Makes a Book Great? 13 Essay Topics 14 Capstone Projects 15 Handout One: Naming, Magic, and the Balance of Nature 16 Handout Two: The Earthsea Trilogy 17 Handout Three: Ged's Coming of Age 18 Teaching Resources 19 NCTE Standards 20 -J^7 & *AJfr<U) U*»tb 0CbCT)tS() Bereswek. $4% 5 e u/«< K? acf > W»t()ort The Ha<7^1 fO P £> Outer ~ ■■■■ "The island of Gont, a single mountain that lifts its peak a mile above the storm-racked Northeast Sea, is a land famous for wizards." — from A Wizard ofEartbsea JV * THE BIG READ National Endowment for the Arts Introduction Welcome to The Big Read, a major initiative from the National Endowment for the Arts designed to revitalize the role of literary reading in American culture. The Big Read hopes to unite communities through great literature, as well as inspire students to become life-long readers. This Big Read Teacher's Guide contains ten lessons to lead you through Ursula K. Le Guin's classic novel, A Wizard ofEarthsea. Each lesson has four sections: a focus topic, discussion activities, writing exercises, and homework assignments. In addition, we have provided capstone projects and suggested essay topics, as well as handouts with more background information about the novel, the historical period, and the author. All lessons dovetail with the state language arts standards required in the fiction genre. The Big Read teaching materials also include a CD. Packed with interviews, commentaries, and excerpts from the book, The Big Read CD presents first-hand accounts of why A Wizard ofEarthsea remains so compelling four decades after its initial publication. Some of America's most celebrated writers, scholars, and actors have volunteered their time to make Big Read CDs exciting additions to the classroom. Finally, The Big Read Reader's Guide deepens your exploration with interviews, booklists, timelines, and historical information. We hope this guide and syllabus allow you to have fun with your students while introducing them to the work of a great American author. From the NEA, we wish you an exciting and productive school year. Dana Gioia Chairman, National Endowment for the Arts National Endowment for the Arts THE BIG READ • | Schedule 1 Day One FOCUS: Biography Activities: Listen to The Big Read CD. Discuss Readers Guide essays "Introduction to the Novel," "Ursula K. Le Gum," and "Le Guin and Her Other Works." Write a short essay on the opening paragraphs of the novel. Homework: Read Chapter I . Day Two FOCUS: The Fantasy Tradition Activities: Discuss some of the qualities of literary fantasy. Write one-page essay on favorite work of fantasy. Homework: Read Chapter 2. Read Handout One: Naming, Magic, and the Balance of Nature. 3 Day Three FOCUS: Narrative and Point of View Activities: Discuss aspects of narrative and tone in A Wizard ofEarthsea. Write essay on the narrator's attitude toward Ged's youthful mistakes. Homework: Read Chapters 3 and 4. 4 Day Four FOCUS: Characters Activities: Discuss the school for wizards on Roke Island and Ged's relationship to Jasper and Vetch. Write an essay on one of the master-wizards and what they contribute to Ged's education. Homework: Read Chapters 5 and 6. 5 Day Five FOCUS: Figurative Language Activities: Discuss style and atmosphere in A Wizard ofEarthsea. Pick out some striking sentences. Write a short essay using a similar heroic style. Homework: Read Chapter 7. 2 • THE BIG READ National Endowment for the Arts 6 Day Six FOCUS: Symbols Activities: Discuss symbols of the novel, then pick one for an essay. Homework: Read Chapter 8. 7 Day Seven FOCUS: Character Development Activities: Discuss how fear is a test of character. Write a portrait of how Ged has changed since beginning of book. Homework: Read Chapter 9. 8 Day Eight FOCUS: The Plot Unfolds Activities: Discuss the social, class, and ethnographic aspects of the novel. Write an essay on one of the women characters in Ged's life. Homework: Read Chapter 10 and Handout Two: The Earthsea Trilogy. 9 Day Nine FOCUS: Themes of the Novel Activities: Read aloud in class Handout Three: Ged's Coming of Age. Discuss major themes and motifs. Ask students how they would teach the novel. Homework: Work on final essay. 10 Day Ten FOCUS: What Makes a Book Great? Activities: List points that make a book great. Write an in-class paper on why fantasy should or should not be part of everyone's reading life. Homework: Turn in final essay. National Endowment for the Arts THE BIG READ • 3 FOCUS: Biography Examining an authors life can inform and expand the readers understanding of a novel. Biographical criticism is the practice of analyzing a literary work through the lens of an author's experience. In this lesson, explore the author's life to understand the novel more fully. Ursula K. Le Guin, born in 1929, spent her childhood in California, mainly in Berkeley, where her anthropologist father (A. L. Kroeber) was a professor, but also in the Napa Valley, where her family owned a ranch. As a child she heard Native American myths as bedtime stories, and later read fairy tales, folktales and fantasy stories with avidity. Such a background may explain, in part, Le Guin's approach to literature: She is a world-builder. Just as an anthropologist reports on an indigenous people in as much detail as possible, so a science fiction or fantasy author will build up an elaborate picture of an alien culture and its inhabitants. As a writer, Le Guin has chosen to lead a private and quietly ordered life. A Wizard ofEarthsea stresses that the ideal mage should practice a similar modesty, self-discipline, and mental fortitude. Discussion Activities Listen to The Big Read CD. Have students take notes as they listen. Ask them to present the three most important points they learned from the CD. Copy the following sections from the Reader's Guide: "Introduction to the Novel" and "Ursula K. Le Guin." Divide the class into two groups, and assign one essay to each group. After reading the essays, discuss the ways knowledge of Le Guin's biography might help us understand this novel. Writing Exercise Read the opening paragraph of A Wizard ofEarthsea aloud to your students. Ask your students to write a one-page paper on the following related topics: Why does Le Guin tell us that the hero of her book will eventually become an archmage and a dragonlord? What might she gain by thus undercutting a certain amount of suspense? E3 Homework Read Chapter I, which introduces the young Ged — here called Duny. Come to class with two themes that you believe will develop throughout the novel. 4 * THE BiG READ National Endowment for the Arts Lesson Two FOCUS: The Fantasy Tradition A work of art is always part of a tradition and to understand any particular novel one should bear in mind the genre in which it is written. A Wizard of Earthsea is a fantasy, that is, a story in which impossible things happen. It is consequently part of a long tradition — think of myths, fairy tales, animal fables, Arabian Nights entertainments, medieval romances, and tales of the supernatural. Such stories often supply us with visions of heroic endeavor and greatness of heart. They restore a sense of wonder to our lives. But they also give us perspective on the way we are actually living. In this sense, fantasies are like thought experiments, creative ways of reflecting on human experience — imaginary places with real people in them. Through the use of what J. R. R. Tolkien called a "secondary world," we come to better understand our own. While a fantasy isn't "real," it can still be true. Addressing a group of booksellers in 2007, Ursula K. Le Guin stressed that "fantasy is a literature particularly useful for examining the real difference between good and evil Imagination is the instrument of ethics." This is one reason why the classic fantasies nearly always include quests, ordeals, temptations, battles, and sacrifice. These can be exciting in themselves, but they also represent the arduous search for psychological or spiritual integrity. Plan to focus this class on discussing the nature and character of fantasy. Discussion Activities Copy and distribute "The Fantasy Tradition," the timeline, and "Suggested Reading" from the Reader's Guide. Ask the students to read them in class. Start a discussion by raising some of the following closely related questions: I) What are some characteristics of fantasy? 2) How does fantasy differ from realistic mainstream fiction? 3) What can fantasy do that realistic fiction cannot? 4) In what way can things be "true" without being "real"? Writing Exercise Ask your students to write a one-page essay on a favorite work of fantasy, emphasizing what they liked about it. The timeline and "Suggested Readings" mention many titles that may help students in choosing a book for their essay. If any students have never read a work of fantasy, ask them to write about another book, its genre, and why it appealed to them. EJ Homework Read Chapter 2. In this chapter Duny — now called Ged — has become the apprentice to the mage Ogion the Silent. Pay close attention to Ogion's character. What is he trying to teach Ged? Then read Handout One: Naming, Magic, and the Balance of Nature. How might Handout One make you see Ged differently? National Endowment for the Arts THE BIG READ ■ 5 FOCUS: Narrative and Point of View The narrator tells the story, with a specific perspective informed by his or her beliefs and experiences. Narrators can be major or minor characters, or exist outside the story altogether. The narrator weaves her or his point of view, including ignorance and bias, into telling the tale. A first-person narrator participates in the events of the novel, using "I." A distanced narrator, often not a character, is removed from the action of the story and uses the third-person (he, she, and they). The distanced narrator may be omniscient, able to read the minds of all the characters, or limited, describing only certain characters' thoughts and feelings. Ultimately, the type of narrator determines the point of view from which the story is told. The omniscient narrator confides in the reader like a friend, conveying the real story behind the legends of the Archmage Ged. The sentences are formal, clear, and exact, with the musical cadence of an oral storyteller or medieval bard. Le Guin has stressed that heroic or high fantasy demands a slightly formal, elevated style, commensurate with the genre's focus on nobility of soul, heroism, and self-sacrifice. Discussion Activities Why might Le Guin choose an omniscient narrator? Could she tell the same story through a first-person account? Do you think this would improve or weaken the tale? Discuss the narrative style of A Wizard ofEarthsea with your students. What literary devices does Le Guin use to create her distinctive sound on the page? Are there any sentences students consider beautiful? Do these sentences contribute to an understanding of the narrator's point of view? Why or why not? Writing Exercise The narrator tells of Ged's encounter with the Lord of Re Albi's daughter and his journey toward Roke. Ask students to choose one of the following topics and, citing examples from the text, write a short essay defending their thesis. Does the narrator tell the story of Ged's youthful mistakes with a sense of compassion or with a cold objectivity? How does the narrator's view of Ged influence the way the reader feels about the young hero? How might Ged tell the story, in the first person, of the encounter with the young girl? How might the way he tells the story change five years from the event? C3 Homework Read Chapters 3 and 4. Who are the main characters in the novel thus far? What characters influence Ged the most? Which characters can be considered positive influences, which are negative? 6 ' THE BIG READ National Endowment for the Arts FOCUS: Characters The central character in a work of literature is called the protagonist. The protagonist usually initiates the main action of the story and often overcomes a flaw such as weakness or ignorance to achieve a new understanding by the work's end. A protagonist who acts with great honor or courage may be called a hero. An antihero is a protagonist lacking these qualities. Instead of being dignified, brave, idealistic, or purposeful, the antihero may be cowardly, self-interested, or weak. The protagonist's journey is enriched by encounters with characters who hold differing beliefs. One such character type, a foil, has traits that contrast with the protagonist's and highlight important features of the main character's personality. The most important foil, the antagonist, opposes the protagonist, barring or complicating his or her success. Ged's interaction with other characters — Ogion, the Doorkeeper, the Archmage, Jasper, Vetch, the Shadow, and the little otak Hoeg — reveal his virtues and weaknesses. In the turmoil of adolescence, he must make ethical decisions that affect himself and others. Some characters draw Ged toward strength and nobility, while others spur him to less than virtuous actions. Does Jasper cause the young Ged's undoing, or do the weaknesses of pride and youth overcome our hero, as he challenges his classmate to a sorcerer's duel? The answer to this question depends on what we decide about the character and intentions of these young, brash men. Discussion Activities Ask your students to consider the following questions: Who is the protagonist in this novel? Why does Jasper become Ged's enemy? Why does Vetch become his friend? Does the school setting create a backdrop that will bring out certain personality traits in these young people? If so, what traits are likely to emerge due to the school setting? Does the school setting further encourage the antagonism between Jasper and Ged? If so, how? Writing Exercise Ursula K. Le Guin has written that the Earthsea trilogy is "in one aspect, about the artist. The artist as magician. The Trickster. Prospero. That is the only truly allegorical aspect it has of which I am conscious. ... Wizardry is artistry. The trilogy is then, in this sense, about art, the creative experience, the creative process." Write a one-page essay describing the powers and specialties of one of the Roke wizards. Explain how this wizard may or may not speak to Le Guin's attempt to describe "the creative experience, the creative process." Does this wizard reflect an aspect of an artist's life or practice? Kl Homework Read Chapters 5 and 6. Did the dragon react to Ged as you might expect? What do we learn about Ged when he does not give in to the dragon's offers? National Endowment for the Arts THE BIG READ • 7 Lesson Five FOCUS: Figurative Language Writers use figurative language such as imagery, similes, and metaphors to help the reader visualize and experience events and emotions in a story. Imagery — a word or phrase that refers to sensory experience (sight, sound, smell, touch, or taste) — helps create a physical experience for the reader and adds immediacy to literary language. Some figurative language asks us to stretch our imaginations, finding the likeness in seemingly unrelated things. Simile is a comparison of two things that initially seem quite different but are shown to have significant resemblance. Similes employ connective words, usually "like," "as," "than," or a verb such as "resembles." A metaphor is a statement that one thing is something else that, in a literal sense, it is not. By asserting that a thing is something else, a metaphor creates a close association that underscores an important similarity between these two things. Discussion Activities Le Guin uses simile to describe Ged's control over the dragon, "When he spoke the dragon's name if was as if he held the huge being on a fine, thin leash, tightening it on his throat" (p. 92). She also uses metaphor as a descriptive tool, "When he raised it again and looked, the wizard was gone, and the sail of the boat was a white fleck on the waves eastward. . ." (p. 93). Though Le Guin occasionally uses figurative language, her writing tends to be plain, strong, and direct, without obvious flourish. Consider the very first sentence of the novel: "The island of Gont, a single mountain that lifts its peak a mile above the storm-racked Northeast Sea, is a land famous for wizards." She gives music and richness to her prose through the rhythm of her sentences and occasionally through the use of alliteration and assonance. For example, even the stolid Vetch sometimes rises to prose-poetry: "The Princess Elfarran was only a woman,' said Vetch, 'and for her sake all Enlad was laid waste, and the Hero- Mage of Havnor died, and the island of Solea sank beneath the sea" (p. 64). Ask the class to select some particularly distinctive sentences from the novel and explain what makes them so striking. Writing Exercise Having discussed Le Guin's style and language with the students, ask them to write a paragraph in that style. Possible topics: Describe getting dressed for a party as if you were a warrior preparing for battle. Evoke the Shadow lurking in the hallways of your school. Pretend that an ant searching for food is a hero on a quest. Imagine the principal of the school making announcements on the public address system in the magisterial voice of a great wizard. EJ Homework Read Chapter 7. Review the first seven chapters of the novel. Find three symbols and be prepared to describe why these symbols might be important. 8 • THE BIG READ National Endowment for the Arts FOCUS: Symbols Symbols are persons, places, or things in a narrative that have significance beyond a literal understanding. The craft of storytelling depends on symbols to present ideas and point toward new meanings. Most frequently, a specific object will be used to refer to (or symbolize) a more abstract concept. The repeated appearance of an object suggests a non-literal, or figurative, meaning attached to the object. Symbols are often found in the book's title, at the beginning and end of the story, within a profound action, or in the name or personality of a character. The life of a novel is perpetuated by generations of readers interpreting and re-interpreting the main symbols. By identifying and understanding symbols, readers can reveal new interpretations of the novel. Symbols appear throughout the novel. Ged s first journey on the boat called "Shadow" symbolizes and captures the confusion of adolescence, while also foreshadowing later events in the novel. Difficulty in entering the school door suggests that Ged will have to learn humility, understand that one must sometimes ask for help, and become more trusting of himself and others. Throughout the novel, names — true names — represent the essence of a person or a thing, and are the key to understanding oneself and the world. Other key symbols in the novel include birds, dragons, water, islands, hunter and hunted, and the journey. Discussion Activities As in her other novels, Le Guin deliberately reverses simplistic stereotypes in order to critique social and cultural norms. In this novel, dark-skinned characters are virtuous and heroic, while only the warlike and barbaric Karg are white. Unlike typical heroes, representing human beings at their most exalted, Ged is at first vain and envious, and then confused and fearful as he deals with the lurking shadow. What makes Ged a hero? Is a flawed hero more believable to us, more useful as a model? Writing Exercise Have students identify three symbols in the novel and explain how these lend deeper meaning to the story. To deepen this writing exercise, write an essay on one of the symbols, explaining how this symbol is relevant. Students might consider chapter titles, names, or objects like the Stone of Terrenon as possible symbols. EJ Homework Read Chapter 8. Le Guin explains that Ged becomes the hunter and that "the shadow could not draw on his power so long as he was turned against it" Consider why this is important National Endowment for the Arts THE BIG READ • 9 FOCUS: Character Development Novels trace the development of characters who encounter a series of challenges. Most characters contain a complex balance of virtues and vices. Internal and external forces require characters to question themselves, overcome fears, or reconsider dreams. The protagonist may undergo profound change. A close study of character development maps, in each character, the evolution of motivation, personality, and belief. The tension between a character's strengths and weaknesses keeps the reader guessing about what might happen next and the protagonists eventual success or failure. In chapter six Ged reaches what may be the nadir of his story. Frightened, afraid of any shadow, he runs away from everything. As a common oarsman, he makes another enemy of Skiorh, encounters a mysterious messenger who tells him to go to Osskil, and eventually finds himself in mortal combat with the Shadow itself. Discussion Activities One great test of a person's character explored in literature is how he confronts that which he fears, whether shame, weakness, a hidden stigma, or death itself. Discuss the ways fear controls Ged at various points in the novel. At other times, he overcomes his fear. What character traits allow Ged to conquer self-doubt and terror? Ask the class to reflect on fear in their own lives. Do they avoid facing those things that frighten or worry them? Or do they confront them? How, in fact, does one deal with stomach-churning fear? Remember that books are not simply aesthetic objects; they also help us to live with greater self-understanding and sympathy for others, they offer us solace and inspiration. Writing Exercise Ged has changed since his initial encounter with the Shadow and his brushes with death. He has been making progress in self-awareness and gradually growing wiser, more mature. Write a one-page portrait of Ged as he now is, emphasizing how he differs from his younger self and noting the steps that have led to this, among them his friendship with Pechvarry, his encounter with the dragon Yevaud, and his resistance to Serret. EJ Homework Read Chapter 9. In Chapter 9, Ged finally reunites with his friend Vetch. Why has it taken so long for the two sorcerers to reunite? Why might Le Guin have chosen to wait to give us this encounter? What do you think may happen to their friendship as the novel ends? I * THE BIG READ National Endowment for the Arts FOCUS: The Plot Unfolds The author crafts a plot structure to create expectations, increase suspense, and develop characters. The pacing of events can make a novel either predictable or riveting. Foreshadowing and flashbacks allow the author to defy the constraints of time. Sometimes an author can confound a simple plot by telling stories within stories. In a conventional work of fiction, the peak of the story's conflict — the climax — is followed by the resolution or denouement, in which the aftereffects of that climactic action are presented. Ursula K. Le Guin has written: "I think it is a mistake to think of story as simply moving forward. The rhythmic structure of narrative is both journeylike and architectural. Great novels offer us not only a series of events, but a place, a landscape of the imagination which we can inhabit and return to. This may be particularly clear in the 'secondary universe' of fantasy, where not only the action but the setting is avowedly invented by the author." Discussion Activities While A Wizard ofEarthsea clearly focuses on what one might call the education and testing of a young wizard, the novel also manages to convey a growing sense of Earthsea itself. Over the course of the novel Ged visits many of the islands of the archipelago, encounters people of different races and social classes, and sees for himself the richness and variety of Earthsea life. Talk with the class about what lessons Ged learns from his travels. Note which places and people seem admirable, and which are more questionable. Work with the class to list the lessons Ged has learned from his travels. How does Le Guin pace the story to develop structure in an architectural way? How might the places and people encountered on Ged's journey contribute to the rhythm and structure? Writing Exercise While A Wizard ofEarthsea is dominated by male characters, women do play key roles in Ged's development. Choose one woman character and write an essay about what she represents. You might focus this essay on examining Serret or Yarrow specifically. How do the women contribute to the plot of the story? Are they present at significant moments in the story? If so, why? If not, why not? EJ Homework Read Handout Three. Pick two themes to discuss in the next class. Find selections from the text that speak to the themes you have selected. For example, if your theme relates to the battle of good and evil, choose passages that illustrate that theme. Read Chapter 10 and finish the novel. Read Handout Two: The Earthsea Trilogy. National Endowment for the Arts THE BIG READ • | | FOCUS: Themes of the Novel Themes are the central, recurring subjects of a novel. As characters grapple with circumstances such as racism, class, or unrequited love, profound questions will arise in the reader's mind about human life, social pressures, and societal expectations. Classic themes include intellectual freedom versus censorship, the relationship between one's personal moral code and larger political justice, and spiritual faith versus rational considerations. A novel often reconsiders these age-old debates by presenting them in new contexts or from new points of view. Like many young adult novels, A Wizard ofEarthsea focuses on growing up, the passage from childhood to maturity, coming of age. Among other themes it examines the proper use of power, the need to embrace all aspects of oneself, the importance of community and trust, the value of altruism as well as courage. Discussion Activities Have students share the two themes they identified in last night's homework, citing passages that explore these themes. In addition to themes students identify, discuss the following subjects: Coming of Age: How does Ged's journey reflect a typical coming of age journey? Does this journey reflect modern coming of age tales? Why or why not? Psychological Battle: How might psychologists explain Ged's battle with his shadow? How might individual development be challenged by a battle between dark and light forces? Creative Power: How might the novel reflect a statement about creative power? How does sorcery and magic capture a latent human power that can be used toward good or evil? Knowledge: How does knowledge and experience temper Ged's ability to make solid judgments? How does knowing names contribute to one's ability to act heroically or justly? Writing Exercise Choose one of the themes. Ask students to write a brief overview of how they would teach the novel to a class. They should identify a theme to explore and select a focus topic (genre, symbol, character development, or figurative language) to develop. Have them identify several passages that show what is happening in the story. These lesson plans should include two lessons that relate to the theme and topic selected. Have students share their plan with the class. EJ Homework Students can begin developing an essay topic for the novel. They can choose from the topics provided in their guide or develop their own questions. 12 * THE BIG READ National Endowment for the Arts FOCUS: What Makes a Book Great? Great stories articulate and explore the mysteries of our daily lives in the larger context of the human struggle. The writer's voice, style, and use of language inform the plot, characters, and themes. By creating opportunities to learn, imagine, and reflect, a great novel is a work of art that affects many generations of readers, changes lives, challenges assumptions, and breaks new ground. Ursula K. Le Guin's novels and stories depict the human condition, the magic and the obstacles in all our lives. She has used fantasy and science fiction to stretch our imaginations, to create works of great beauty, and to raise what philosophy students sometimes call The Big Questions. A Wizard of Earthsea asks us to consider the proper use of power and the nature of the self. The Left Hand of Darkness, set on a planet where people are both male and female, examines the intricacies of friendship and love. The Dispossessed discusses the characteristics of an ideal society. These novels, and many others, have established Ursula K. Le Guin as one of the most admired and admirable writers of our time. Discussion Activities Ask students to make a list of the characteristics of a great book. Write these on the board. What elevates a novel to greatness? Then ask them to discuss, within groups, other books they know that include some of these characteristics. Do any of these books remind them of A Wizard of Earthsea 7 . Is this a great novel? Some readers might still argue that a fantasy novel must be escapist entertainment and can never rise to the heights of the greatest literature. After reading A Wizard of Earthsea, do you think this is true? Would you read other works of fantasy? Writing Exercise Write a one-page statement of why every person should read works of fantasy. If you disagree with this statement, write a one-page as to why you disagree. [JJ Homework Students will complete their essays, due at the next class session. National Endowment for the Arts THE BIG READ • 13 The discussion activities and writing exercises in this guide provide you with possible essay topics, as do the Discussion Questions in the Reader's Guide. Advanced students can come up with their own essay topics, as long as they are specific and compelling. Other ideas for essays are provided here. For essays, students should organize their ideas around a thesis about the novel. This statement or thesis should be focused, with clear reasons supporting its conclusion. The thesis and supporting reasons should be backed by references to the text. 3. Le Guin wrote two stories set on Earthsea before she embarked on her novel about Ged: "The Word of Unbinding" and "The Rule of Names." Both appear in her collection The Wind's Twelve Quarters. Read them and discuss how each contributes something to our understanding of A Wizard of Earthsea. Enthusiastic readers may wish to seek out Tales from Earthsea, written more than twenty years after A Wizard of Earthsea first appeared, and discuss how these later stories amplify themes of the original novel. When Ged finally confronts the Shadow at the end of the book it appears to him first as his father, then Jasper, then Pechvarry, then as a kind of dragon, then Skiorh, and then as " a fearful face he did not know, man or monster, with writhing lips and eyes that were like pits going back into black emptiness." Why does the Shadow assume the image of these particular figures in Ged's life? Why are they all male? What do they signify? Is there a subtle progression here? And what is the meaning of the last face, before the final revelation? Reread the paragraph in Chapter 3 of A Wizard of Earthsea in which the Master Hand underscores the significance of names. This begins with the sentence "The Master Hand looked at the jewel that glittered in Ged's palm. . ." and ends "A wizard's power of Changing and Summoning can shake the balance of the world. It is dangerous, that power. It is most perilous. It must follow knowledge, and serve need. To light a candle is to cast a shadow. . . ." Why do you think Le Guin emphasizes that a magician's words can affect the balance of the universe and that he needs to use his powers with great care? Reflect on the relationship between words and names, power and responsibility. 4. At one point Ged pursues the shadow into the land of the dead — and it nearly costs him his life. But he is saved by one of the most important characters in the book — his little pet otak. Like so many elements in A Wizard of Earthsea, this scene is redolent of fairy tale and myth. As Le Guin has said: "The girl who saves the ant from the spider's web is saved in turn by the ants, who do her impossible task for her; the prince who sneers at the wolf in the trap is lost in the forest, but the prince who frees the wolf inherits the kingdom." Write an essay on the role of the pet otak. What is the relationship between the otak and Ged? Is this a friendship? What is the relevance of the smaller creature in the story? Does this allow you to draw out a theme about the relationship between Ged and the natural world? 14 ' THE BIG READ National Endowment for the Arts Teachers may consider the ways in which these activities may be linked to other Big Read community events. Most of these projects could be shared at a local library, student assembly, or bookstore. 1 . There exists a made-for-television film of A Wizard ofEarthsea. Find a copy and view it in class, then discuss the novel's translation to the screen. Where does it succeed, where does it fail? Do you think Ursula K. Le Guin would like this version of her book? This might lead to a larger discussion of the relationship between novels and movies. What are the strengths and weaknesses of each? Discuss what you think are some successful screen adaptations of novels. 2. Using the library and internet, track down the covers of the various editions and try to understand the artists' interpretation of the novel. How important to a book is its cover or dust jacket? Do you know of books where the cover art has led you to read the book — or where the cover art has been misleading or revealed too much about the story? Work with your visual arts specialist to have students create their own cover art. Cover art should reflect a specific passage from the text. 3. Dragons play a key role in the Earthsea universe. It has been said that Le Guin's Yevaud and the great Kalessin (who appears in later volumes of the sequence) are more like Asian dragons than European fire-breathers. What is a dragon in Asian culture? What traditions feed its image? Locate pictures of dragons in your library or online that illustrate the different conceptions of this archetypal beast of the imagination. Invite people who have worked in the fantasy genre to your class. You might include a writer, an actor, and a visual artist. Have students write questions for the panel and provide these questions to the participants prior to the panel day. Select a student to moderate the panel. Have the artists describe how they approach depicting fantastical worlds or situations, whether it is easy or difficult. Try to figure out the strengths of the differing media — visual art, stage, and novel — as means for exploring fantastic themes. Find out if their ideas about the "creative process" are similar to Le Guin's. You might also invite a local professor who teaches a course in fantasy and science fiction or a serious member of any local science fiction and fantasy organization to come and discuss contemporary trends. Taoist principles run throughout A Wizard ofEarthsea and its sequels. Explore Taoism further by reading Lao Tse's Tao-Te-Ching in one or more of its many translations. (Le Guin herself has published her own English version.) Many of Taoism's principles influenced Zen Buddhism and yoga. Explore Taoism by inviting one or two practicing Taoists to your classroom. Provide students with excerpts from the Tao-Te-Ching before your guest visits. Ask the guests to talk about the basic tenets of Taoism, the background and the practice. Then, have the students reflect on whether and how the novel embraces these tenets. National Endowment for the Arts THE BIG READ • 15 HANDOUT ONE Naming, Magic, and the Balance of Nature Le Guin has stressed that A Wizard ofEarthsea — indeed all her fiction — is suffused with Taoism and the principles poetically set down in Lao Tse's Tao-Te-Ching. The Tao-Te-Ching is one of the most beloved books in the world. Tao (pronounced "dow") means "way," as in a path, road or direction; Te (pronounced "duh") refers to individual power, integrity and spirit; Ching (pronounced "jeang") is the Chinese word for a classic. Thus the books title has sometimes been rendered "The Book of the Way and its Power" or "The Way of Life" or "The Classic Book of Integrity and the Way." Any of these various renderings, but especially the last, might be an apt one-phrase description of A Wizard ofEarthsea, a classic about integrity and the way. Like Ged's first master Ogion, the poetic and paradoxical sayings of the Tao-Te-Ching ask us to practice modesty, stillness, and spontaneity, to trust in the natural rhythms of life, to live harmoniously with our self and the universe, to go with the flow. In particular, the Tao-Te-Ching asks us to cultivate non-action (wu-wei), to recognize the value of emptiness and nothingness. The famous yin-yang symbol — made of interlocking light and dark semi-circles — represents this Taoist unity of opposites: In the dark feminine yin is a dot of white; in the white masculine yang is a dot of black. The name Earthsea is itself a kind of yin- yang word. From the very opening epigraph — "The Creation of Ea" — A Wizard ofEarthsea announces that Taoist mutuality, not western duality, is fundamental to Le Guin's imagined world: Only in silence the word, only in dark the light, only in dying life: bright the hawk's flight on the empty sky. In fact, this little poem, properly read, sums up the entire novel. Things are not wholly right or wrong, black or white, and we are not required to choose between them: They are aspects of a larger whole. Apparent polarities actually need each other to be complete. As the mage Ogion says to Ged, "to hear, one must be silent." In the Old Speech spoken by dragons — Confucius once compared Lao Tse to a dragon able to ascend into heaven — a name and the thing denoted are one. Magic itself is simply knowledge of these words and thus an understanding of the true nature of things. So to speak a spell is to intrude upon the balance of the universe. The hermit-like Ogion tries to teach Taoist quietism to his brash young apprentice, for "what I have is what you lack." To no avail. Again, at school on Roke, the proud Ged dismisses his teacher's caution that the use of magic requires responsibility and awareness. One can change a thing by changing its name, the Master Hand tells him, but by doing so one changes the world — and the wise man needs to weigh the consequences. Ged is nearly destroyed by temptation before he begins his long process of coming to understand his full nature and what he should be. He must, in a sense, become worthy of his true name, of what he is. In the end, the chastened Ged comes to embody what are sometimes called the Three Jewels or Treasures of the Tao: Compassion, moderation, and humility. He learns to act appropriately, not simply to master. Of course, these are virtues needed by all men and women, not just wizards of Earthsea. 16 * THE BIG READ National Endowment for the Arts HANDOUT TWO The Earthsea Trilogy In 1967 Ursula K. Le Guin was in her late thirties, a mother with three kids under the age of 10, and the author of three science fiction novels that had garnered little critical attention. A Wizard of Earthsea appeared in 1968, inaugurating an astonishing burst of literary activity. During the next six years Le Guin published The Left Hand of Darkness (1969) and The Dispossessed (1974), each of which won Hugo and Nebula Awards for best science fiction novel of its year. She also continued the story of the wizard Ged in both The Tombs of Atuan (1971), which received a Newbery Honor Book Citation, and The Farthest Shore (1972), which won the National Book Award for children's literature. Finally, The Winds Twelve Quarters (1975) gathered her best short stories up till then, including two early glimpses of Earthsea. A Wizard of Earthsea focuses on the young Geds coming of age. The Tombs of Atuan, set in an underworld of tunnels, labyrinths and cells, shows us a young priestess named Tenar rejecting the social and psychological repression she has grown up with to break free into her full true self. While A Wizard of Earthsea is full of open-air action, as Geds adventures take him to many of the islands and cities of the known world, The Tombs of Atuan is its opposite: enclosed, claustrophobic, suffocating. In some ways, the two novels interlock like the yin-yang symbol. The bright bold young man Ged needs to confront darkness; the young girl Tenar, who has spent her life in darkness, needs to recognize the light within her. In the third volume of the trilogy, The Farthest Shore, we meet the young prince Arren. Le Guin again continues to explore the theme of maturation by tackling the meaning of death. In The Farthest Shore Ged, now the Archmage of Roke, searches for the reason why Earthsea is losing its vitality, its magic. Ged brings Arren along as his companion on this quest, recognizing in this confused and uncertain young man an exceptional destiny. At a rare quiet moment before the novels climax, Ged observes: "When I was young, I had to choose between the life of being and the life of doing. And I leapt at the latter like a trout to a fly But each deed you do, each act, binds you to itself and to its consequences, and makes you act again and yet again. Then very seldom do you come upon a space, a time like this, between act and act, when you may stop and simply be. Or wonder who, after all, you are." At the novel's end a weary Ged turns away from the world of action to seek that life of simple being — and so passes, it would seem, into the mists of legend. For nearly twenty years that's where the Earthsea novels stopped. But then, in 1990, Le Guin unexpectedly returned to the archipelago in Tehanu. While this novel again features Ged, Le Guin's tone had changed, though not, in a sense, her overriding theme. Tehanu is also, in part, about the coming of age — of old age. While the first three books reflected on power and how men should use it, Tehanu examines powerlessness and both the exploitation and wisdom of women. Le Guin initially called Tehanu, "the last book of Earthsea," but she admits that she was mistaken. She continued to write stories set in the archipelago — see Tales from Earthsea (2001) — as well as the novel The Other WW (2001). These books certainly amplify and enrich Le Guin's original vision. That said, A Wizard of Earthsea remains special: Le Guin calls it "the best put together book" she has ever written. National Endowment tor the Arts THE BIG READ ■ |7 HANDOUT THREE Ged's Coming of Age A Wizard of Earthsea examines Ged's coming of age, especially the period of anguish and ordeal that follows the release of the shadow into the world. Growing up, accepting responsibility, and recognizing one's strengths and limitations are principal themes of nearly all young adult fiction. In many young adult novels a girl or boy undergoes a period of confusion and ordeal and emerges a new and different person, one with greater understanding of himself and others. This same process of transformation is also one that we associate with religious or social "rites of passage." In A Wizard of Earthsea the boy called Duny at the age of 13 walks naked through the icy Ar river and crosses to where Ogion, "reached out his hand and clasping the boy's arm whispered to him his true name: Ged." Despite this ritual, Ged has a long way to go before he understands and becomes his true self — and it is these teenaged years of arrogance, trial, defeat, and eventual self- acceptance that Le Guin chronicles. In his classic study The Rites of Passage, Arnold van Gennep postulated a three-part movement to the recognized process of coming of age: separation from the community, followed by a kind of wilderness period when one has shed one identity but not yet found another, and then a re-entry into society as a new man or woman. In the equally celebrated The Ritual Process, Victor Turner focuses on that middle or liminal period. (Liminal means threshold — the place where one is neither in nor out.) The liminal state dissolves normal barriers and boundaries, is full of ambiguity and indeterminacy — it is a no-man's land, a limbo, a period marked by seclusion, testing, uncertainty, sexual confusion, chastening, the breakdown of social norms. This state mirrors Ged's mental state and experiences after he releases the Shadow. The psychologist Carl Gustav Jung studied the nature of the unconscious and our need in life to achieve integration of our various selves and impulses. Archetypal Figures (the Wise Old Man, the helpful animal), universal symbols (water as the unconscious) and primordial experiences (the night sea journey to the ends of the earth) pervade Jungian thought — and Le Guin's novel. Most strikingly, Jung speculated that a person could only reach full maturity by confronting what he called the Shadow — one's dark side, all those desires and temptations that the public self tries to hide and repress. To Jung, this dark side is as much a part of us as our light side. Psychological growth, then, implies an enlargement of consciousness, incorporation rather than rejection, both rather than one or the other. Like Taoism, Jung rejects duality for harmony. These theories of personal transformation — anthropological, mythic, and psychological — all posit what may be called a period of ritual or symbolic death. Each insists on a time of darkness, of limbo or physical abuse that mimics actual death. Many times Ged comes close to dying in A Wizard of Earthsea, each time emerging as a different, stronger self. To confront the Shadow, he sails beyond the known world to face what looks like certain death in order to re-emerge as a mature person, the man who will one day become Archmage and dragonlord. I 8 ' THE BIG READ National Endowment for the Arts Books Bernardo, Susan M., and Graham Murphy. Ursula K. Le Guin: A Critical Companion. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2006. Bucknall, Barbara J. Ursula K. Le Guin. New York: Ungar, 1981. Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. New York: Pantheon, 1949. Cadden, Mike. Ursula K. Le Guin: Beyond Genre. New York: Routledge, 2005. Clute, John, and John Grant. The Encyclopedia of Fantasy. New York: St. Martin's, 1997. Clute, John and Pter Nichols. The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. New York: St. Martin's, 1993. Cummins, Elizabeth. Understanding Ursula K. Le Guin. Columbia, South Carolina: University of South Carolina Press, 1990. Frye, Northrop. Anatomy of Criticism. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1957. Lao Tse, Tao-Te-Ching (several editions). Oziewicz, Marek. "Prolegomena to Mythopoeic Fantasy" in The Chesterton Review, Volume xxxi, Nos. 3 & 4. South Orange, New Jersey: Seton Hall University, 2005, Winter 2005. Reid, Suzanne Elizabeth. Presenting Ursula K. Le Guin. New York: Twayne, 1997. Rochelle, Warren G. Communities of the Heart: The Rhetoric of Myth in the Fiction of Ursula K. Le Guin. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2001. Spivack, Charlotte. Ursula K. Le Guin. Boston: Twayne, 1984. Storr, Anthony, ed. The Essential Jung. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1983. Tolkien, J. R. R. "On Fairy-Stories," (1938) included in Tree and Leaf. London: Allen and Unwin, 1964. Turner, Victor W The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti- Structure. Chicago: Aldine Publishing, 1969. Van Gennep, Arnold. The Rites of Passage, translated by Monika B. Vizedom and Gabrielle L. Caffee. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, I960 (Originally, 1909). Waggoner, Diana. The Hills of Faraway: A Guide to Fantasy. New York: Atheneum, 1978. White, Donna. Dancing with Dragons: Ursula K. Le Guin and the Critics. Columbia, SC: Camden House, 1999. Web sites The Ursula K. Le Guin Home Page www.ursulakleguin.com The official web site of the author includes publicity photos, events calendar, biography, interviews, reviews, and a complete bibliography National Endowment for the Arts THE BIG READ • | 9 National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Standards" 1. Students read a wide range of print and non-print texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works. 2. Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience. 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics). 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes. 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes. 8. 9. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and non-print texts. Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and non-print texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge. Students develop an understanding of and respect for diversity in language use, patterns, and dialects across cultures, ethnic groups, geographic regions, and social roles. 10. Students whose first language is not English make use of their first language to develop competency in the English language arts and to develop understanding of content across the curriculum. 1 1 . Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literary communities. 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information). * This guide was developed with NCTE Standards and State Language Arts Standards in mind. Use these standards to guide and develop your application of the curriculum. 20 * THE BIG READ National Endowment for the Arts - ^v ^ 'I do think novels are beautiful. To me a novel can be as beautiful as any symphony, as beautiful as the sea. As complete, true, real, large, complicated, confusing, deep, troubling, soul enlarging as the sea with its waves that break and tumble, its tides that rise and ebb." —URSULA K. LE GUIN from The Wave in the Mind Tor magic consists in this, the true naming of a thing." —URSULA K. LEGUIN from A Wizard ofEarthsea NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR THE ARTS The Big Read is an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts designed to restore reading to the center of American culture. The NEA presents The Big Read in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services and in cooperation with Arts Midwest. ■".>;: . .INSTITUTE 0/ . .. ;•.•.. MuseurrhodLbrary -•-•• SERVICES A great nation deserves great art.