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Brian Gastle

This is an essay written by a student in one of my Freshman classes. The assignment was quite open-ended, requiring little more than a substantive argument (4-7 pages) which supported, defended, and clarified a contestable position (thesis). This paper received an "A", primarily because it presented an intelligent thesis clearly in the beginning of the essay and supported that position with analysis of specific textual passages. It is by no means a "perfect" paper--some formulaic construction of the argument indicative of inexperienced writers, as well as a few technical errors--but it is smart, well thought through, well supported, and develops a distinctive critical tone, all marks of an "A" paper.

All comments I made on the hard copy I have linked in the text here. I will also preface the essay with the comments I made at the end of the hard copy (please use your browser's BACK button to return to the text from the note--n.b. the url location, at the top op your browser, will help you find the correct comment for the link):

      "A pleasure to read. I'm more than willing to overlook the minor technical problems (some WC and syn problems) given the general level of diction and analytical sophistocation. Great tone. Good argument. Excellent use of textual support. Now try to cut out all of those introductory clauses (primarily conjunctive adverbs) which pepper your sentences."

      Writing: +

      Argument: +



In Ursula K. Le Guin's first book of the Earthsea series, A Wizard of Earthsea, the main character, Ged, starts out as a "reckless youth, hungry for power and knowledge, who tamper[s] with long-held secrets and loose[s] a terrible shadow upon the world." By the end of the story, Ged has "mastered the mighty words of power, tamed an ancient dragon, and crossed death's threshold to restore the balance" (Le Guin slip cover). In other words, Ged matures from boy to man, as he learns to handle successively more difficult challenges on his path to ultimately defeating the shadow. The logical question then is-- When exactly does Ged cease to be a boy, and become a man. It is my contention that Ged's transformation occurs not after Ogion advises him to pursue the shadow, but earlier when he confronts Serret, and does not weaken under her devious cajolery. The implications of this claim lend credence to a theme specifically concerning Ged's amorous development or emotional maturation. In order to prove that his change in maturity occurs in the Court of Terrenon, the following aspects need examination: Ged's first meeting with the daughter of the old Lord of Re Albi, the incident with Serret in Osskil, the events immediately preceeding his stay in the Court of the Terrenon, and Ged's actions prior to his victory over the shadow. The first aspect shows Ged's maturity level initially, serving as a marker of comparison for his subsequent maturation.

While under the tutelage of Ogion the Silent, Ged first meets Serret, known only to him at the time as the daughter of the old Lord of Re Albi. From the first time he meets her, she manipulates him expertly, as "he ha[s] a desire to please her, to win her admiration . . ." (Le Guin 20). Furthermore, Le Guin writes, "at first [Ged] was shy and glum and hardly answered" (20). Thus, Ged is in a sense unable to handle himself very well while in her presence. She asks him to call the birds and beasts, and he does so without hesitation (Le Guin 20). All she need do is ask him, for "he did not know how to refuse flatly when she coaxed him" (Le Guin 21). On their second meeting, the next day, Serret again pleads for him to work a Changing spell. However, it is not until she says, "Maybe you are too young" (Le Guin 22), that Ged can endure no more and decides to prove himself before her. This line is very important, because it shows the lack of maturity Ged has at this point in the story. He is unable to allow this statement to go unchallenged. By attempting to prove his maturity, Ged is manipulated once again by Serret, and shows the exact opposite, his lack of maturity, his lack of ability to handle women effectively. Although this time Ogion saves him, Ged must later fend for himself in another mental battle with Serret.

Ged's third encounter with the daughter of the old Lord of Re Albi does not occur until much later in the story, when he meets her in the Court of the Terrenon, unaware of her true identity. In an elaborate plan with devious ends, Serret begins to befriend Ged as he recovers from his latest battle with his shadow nemesis. She introduces Ged to the jewel of Osskil, an ancient stone of immeasurable power (Le Guin 115). While Ged openly admits his fear of the stone, Serret attempts to persuade him to question the rock, saying that he alone has the power to control it (Le Guin 116-7). Repeatedly, she tells Ged that the stone "might tell you . . . how to defeat your enemy" (Le Guin 115), an enemy which Ged feels he cannot defeat. In Ged's eyes, the name of the shadow is of tantamount importance to defeating it, yet throughout Serret's persuasive speech, Ged formulates his own opinions about the stone, and is able to ignore her coaxing and temptations. In other words, Ged, who in his youth craved knowledge and power at any cost, displays clear thought, caution, and resilience under temptation-- i.e. maturity.

      S: Benderesk is Lord and Inheritor of the Terrenon, but he cannot use the thing, he cannot make it wholly serve his will. Nor can I, alone or with him. Neither he nor I has the skill and power. You have both.

      G: How do you know that?

      S: From the Stone itself! I told you that it spoke of your coming. It knows its master. It has waited for you to come. Before ever you were born it waited for you, for the one who could master it.

      G: I cannot help you, I am no use to you. But I know this, the Old Powers of earth are not for men to use. They were never given into our hands, and in our hands they work only ruin. Ill means, ill end. I was not drawn here, but driven here, and the force that drove me works to my undoing. I cannot help you. (Le Guin 117-8)

Therefore, Ged at this point no longer needs to please Serret, no longer cannot refuse her bidding. Repeatedly in the above text, Serret attempts to persuade Ged that he alone has the power, the ability to master the stone. However, Ged remains steadfast in his decision, refusing Serret and the stone. Again, Ged, in his youth, readily overestimated his power, shown by his decisions to perform a Changing spell in the house of Ogion, and to summon the dead on Roke Island, neither of which he had been taught or knew of the consequences or ramifications. Yet now, Ged realizes his limitations, and the intricate plots of others, and wisely and maturely refrains from the temptations of Serret. Thus, Ged has matured, and is now able to handle Serret, who he could not previously. Although Ged is mature in this particular scene, is it not possible that he matured previously, and is now only exercising that maturity? The answer to that question lies in the events immediately before this scene.

Prior to his encounter with Serret and the stone in the Court of the Terrenon, Ged battles with his shadow, who usurps control of Skiorh, an Osskilian freeman. This battle occurs mainly because Ged, at this point in the story, is nieve, lacking caution, conviction, and maturity. In Orrimy, on Hosk Island, Ged unexpectedly meets a man dressed in gray, who advises him to seek the Court of the Terrenon in Osskill, where he may find "a sword to fight shadows with" (Le Guin 101). Although "mistrust struggle[s] in Ged's mind as he listen[s]" (Le Guin 101), he, nonetheless, decides rather quickly to journey to Osskil. In other words, Ged distrusts his senses, and nievely believes this strange man who appears out of seemingly nowhere. Thus, contrary to Ged's actions in the Court of the Terrenon with Serret, this temptation of defeating his shadow overwhelms him, as he is once again manipulated. Ged again distrusts his senses while aboard the ship on his way to Neshum, in eastern Osskil.

      Ged saw a change in [Skiorh's] face, a slurring and shifting of the features, as if for a moment something had changed him, used him, looking out through his eyes, sidelong at Ged. (Le Guin 104)

Although Ged clearly sees something strange occur in Skiorh's face, and knows that there is a supernatural beast hunting for him, he disregards what he sees, rationalizing "that what he had seen was his own fear, his own dread reflected in the other's eyes" (Le Guin 104). After this occurrence, Ged does not even use caution while dealing with Skiorh, who he chooses as a guide to the Court of the Terrenon. In other words, Ged repeatedly shows a lack of conviction in his beliefs of what he has witnessed. Furthermore, he lacks the caution he demonstrates in the Court of the Terrenon with Serret. Thus, Ged at this point lacks the maturity necessary to handle the manipulations of the strange man, and use the caution and conviction necessary with Skiorh. Although Ged lacks maturity here, but later possesses it while handling Serret, the latter situation is not singular or unique, as his new-found maturity remains intact throughout the rest of the novel.

Subsequent to his resolute stand against questioning the stone and his realization of the events surrounding his arrival to the Court of the Terrenon, Ged's actions demonstrate clearly his changed maturity level with females. While in Ismay of the Iffish Islands, Ged meets Vetch and his sister, Yarrow. Notice that at this point in time, it is Yarrow who is shy in the presence of Ged, not the other way around (Le Guin 157). Furthermore, during their first conversation together, Ged makes a joke concerning dragons, at which she laughs (Le Guin 157). Thus, Ged not only comports himself better now with women, but feels more at ease and more relaxed. He even makes Yarrow more relaxed with him, as "he was very gentle with her" (Le Guin 162). From ease, her emotional state seems to move to fondness for Ged:

      Yarrow had listened so hard, gazing at Ged as he spoke that she had not seen the harrekki scuttle down from its warm perch on the kettle-hook over the hearth and seize a wheatcake bigger than itself. (Le Guin 163)

In other words, Ged is able to act with grace and maturity while in the presence of Yarrow, something he was unable to do prior to his cathartic experience at the Court of the Terrenon. Also notice in the last line of the story, Yarrow "[runs] to meet [Ged and Vetch], crying with joy" (Le Guin 182). Therefore, it is now Yarrow who wishes to please, to be with, and enjoy Ged's company. And with that last line, Le Guin hints at the "guy gets girl and lives happily ever after" ending, prominently conveying the idea that Ged has matured on an emotional level, able to handle himself when confronted with women.

"Each volume of the Earthsea trilogy tells a different story about the coming-of-age process. When viewed together, the completed trilogy provides Ged's life history . . ." (Cummins 56). Yet, how is this coming-of-age or maturation story told? Francis J. Molson accurately points out in his critical article, "The Earthsea Trilogy: Ethical Fantasy for Children," "[Le Guin's] intent [is] to point out to her readers that coming of age is important for youngsters and that it consists mainly of accepting responsibility for oneself, one's actions, and one's relationship with others" (135). In other words, as in the last clause of this statement, "one's relationship with others," is a specific way in which Le Guin tells the maturation story, thus giving good reason to examine Ged's relationship with the opposite sex. In A Wizard of Earthsea, there are few women characters, especially strong ones. However, they are all important in displaying Ged's maturation with women. Under analysis, Ged's first encounter with Serret shows his maturity level, or lack thereof, initially. In the Court of the Terrenon, Ged shows clear signs of maturity while handling Serret and the stone. The events immediately prior prove that Ged's maturation occurred in the court, and not before. Ged's interaction with Yarrow demonstrates that his maturation was real and not for a singular occasion, but for the rest of his life. Thus, as stated in this paper before, the importance of this maturation is that it implies a theme concerning the maturation of Ged on an emotional and psychological level, displayed via his interaction with the opposite sex.


Cummins, Elizabeth. Understanding Ursula K. Le Guin. Ed. Matthew J. Bruccoli. Columbia, South Carolina: University of South Carolina Press, 1990.

Le Guin, Ursula K. A Wizard of Earthsea. New York: Bantam Books, 1984.

Molson, Francis J. "The Earthsea Trilogy: Ethical Fantasy for Children." Ursula K. Le Guin: Voyager to Inner Lands and to Outer Space. Ed. Joe DeBolt. Port Washington, N.Y.: National Univeristy Publications, 1979.


  • Nice, but an interesting adjective for a celibate wizard!
  • Word choice - a more specific verb would be better, or break up this clause-laden sentence
  • Word Choice - "paramount"
  • Syntax - Ditch these filler phrases, and don't refer to other parts of your essay as though it were a map "in the above text" -- ex: "Sarret repeatedly attempts . . ."
  • Syntax - Confusing tense and clause construction. Don't try to make your prose sound more sophistocated by peppering sentences with subordinate clauses.
  • Spelling -- naive
  • Word Choice - "exercise"
  • Try not to start so many sentences with conjunctive adverbs; they reduce the authority of your statements by subordinating your position until later in the sentence.
  • Parallel Syntax - ". . to please, to be with, and to enjoy the company of Ged."
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