A Wizard of Earthsea

Novel, 1968
Earthsea (2004)

Also called Legend of Earthsea
Television miniseries: director Robert Lieberman; writer Gavin Scott; featuring Shawn Ashmore, Christopher Gauthier, Kristin Kreuk, Danny Glover

Earthsea scene
Shawn Ashmore leads villagers as the apprentice wizard in Earthsea, an adaptation of Le Guin's series.

A Wizard of Earthsea


The inner struggle for all to feel

The showing of the Earthsea two-part series (also called Legend of Earthsea) in 2004 raised a storm of outrage from fans of Ursula Le Guin's beloved set of fantasy novels. As well as from Le Guin herself.

One of the main complaints is that the protagonist, Ged, the young wizard, has been changed from black to white for the televised film. And his character has changed with his colour. He becomes a cute white guy, sort of an overgrown hobbit, played by Canadian actor Shawn Ashmore, better known as Iceman in the X-men movies. The deeply flawed, tortured youth of A Wizard of Earthsea is replaced by a well-meaning All-American teenager in feudal costume, who you just know is going to get the well-meaning All-American princess in the end.

The end being only 90 minutes from the beginning. This is a very "mini" series. In its short span it even tries to take in bits of plots from Le Guin's subsequent Earthsea books, as well as huge gobs it invents on its own. This is obviously way too much material to cover with any semblance of depth. Imagine trying to do Lord of the Rings or Star Wars in one flick.

All subtlety is discarded as Ged races though his apprenticeship—in service to wizard Ogion, played by the estimable Danny Glover in the only appropriate casting in the whole project—and then his schooling, confrontations with dragons, fighting the doppelganger demon he releases from the underworld, fending off the evil villain of the piece, and so on, to the inevitable happy ending. He is assisted along the way by his tubby sidekick Vetch, a good-hearted buffoon of a young wizard, and led on by recurring dreams of the princess he is fated to meet and save. Whatever.

Trailer for 2004 two-part Earthsea miniseries.

Now, to be fair, it's not all as bad a disaster as Le Guin fans and this review might have you believe. If you don't know the original material. Then it's just average, television escapism.

Le Guin's Wizard was all about confronting the darkness within oneself, while this mess is about good guys versus bad guys.

We could go on and on listing the differences between the books and this film—and several fan sites have done so.

But even leaving Le Guin original work aside and considering this film on its own, it is barely mediocre. Hackneyed plot, trashy dialogue and so-so acting.

The special effects are okay for TV though and were nominated for an Emmy award.

But let's look at the bright side. The definitive Earthsea movie or series remains to be be made. No one is going to put it off because they think this monstrosity has already slaked fans' appetites. Remember, Lord of the Rings was attempted a couple of times before a great movie series finally got it right.

— Eric McMillan



A Wizard of Earthsea

Ursula K. Le Guin

The Left Hand of Darkness

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A Wizard of Earthsea

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