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Tales from Earthsea
Ursula K. Le Guin
Ace Books, 314 pages

Tales from Earthsea
Ursula K. Le Guin
Ursula K. Le Guin was born in 1929, the daughter of a writer and an anthropologist. She published her first novel, Rocannon's World, in 1966. Her fourth novel, The Left Hand of Darkness (1969) won both the Hugo and Nebula awards, a feat she repeated with The Dispossessed (1974). The Earthsea trilogy established her as a master of fantasy as well as science fiction. She has also published poetry and short story collections, and she received the Pilgrim Award in 1989 for her critical writings.

Ursula K. Le Guin Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Telling
SF Site Interview: Ursula K. Le Guin
SF Site Review: The Other Wind
SF Site Review: The Telling
SF Site Review: The Dispossessed

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Jayme Lynn Blaschke

I didn't like The Left Hand of Darkness. There, I've said it. Blasphemy of the highest order. But there's no two ways around it: that landmark novel wasn't anything like what I expected, and more than once I found it tedious and wished the characters would just get on with it. That's not to say I didn't recognize its brilliance. The richness of detail with which Ursula K. Le Guin crafts her world is nothing short of wondrous, and her skill with the English language is unsurpassed. But I'm not about to read it again. No sir.

So when Tales from Earthsea came into my possession, I regarded it with some suspicion. It didn't help that I'd heard from Le Guin fans Tales was not a good place to enter the Earthsea series, as newcomers to her fantasy world would probably be lost without knowledge of the previous novels as reference. But I had read some of Le Guin's shorter works in the intervening years, and found them not half bad. So I was determined to give Tales a thorough reading.

Am I glad I did. Tales from Earthsea is, in a word, marvelous. Le Guin's prose is unpretentious and flows smoothly across the page, serving the five stories collected here well. The tales range from "The Finder," set early on in the history of Earthsea, to "Dragonfly," a piece which serves as the vanguard of Le Guin's recent novel, The Other Wind. The collection spans the history of Earthsea, some of them shedding light on times where social conventions are quite different from those depicted in Le Guin's novels -- particularly gender roles in regard to the use of magic. This much is plainly obvious, despite the fact that I haven't read A Wizard of Earthsea or any of the subsequent works.

These stories are accessible, and that's important considering the extra baggage they carry by association with their well-established settings. More than anything else, this collection invited comparisons with Peter Beagle's under-rated Giant Bones. Indeed, the parallels are striking. In Giant Bones, Beagle returns to the world he created in The Innkeeper's Song for a sequence of short works, as does Le Guin with Earthsea, but even more interesting are their storytelling methods: both assume an unhurried, meandering approach in their writing, allowing their characters' tales to unfold at their own pace. This takes the reader in unexpected directions, but once the conclusion is reached, it comes across as entirely natural, the only possible outcome. Le Guin has said time and again that she is not a plot-driven writer, and that's a clear-eyed and fair assessment, but the characters populating the islands of Earthsea provide more than enough personal motivation to drive a dozen plots. In the end, the mix is just right, and so seamless that the reader is left thinking "How could it be otherwise." Maybe fans of the Earthsea novels will get more out of these stories. I don't know. But what I do know is that those unfamiliar with Le Guin's work, or those like myself who've found her Hainish novels inaccessible, should make it a point to check out Tales from Earthsea. They're likely to discover an absolute delight.

Copyright © 2002 Jayme Lynn Blaschke

Jayme Lynn Blaschke graduated from Texas A&M University with a degree in journalism. He writes science fiction and fantasy as well as related non-fiction. His website can be found at

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