Margaret Atwood Explains Why A Wizard Of Earthsea Is A Masterpiece

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Every month the Wall Street Journal's Book Club features a famous author leading its readers through a discussion of a book of their choice. This month, it's Margaret Atwood, and she's chosen Ursula K. Le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea.

Top image: Henna Krank.

Talking about why she chose Le Guin's fantasy masterpiece, Atwood calls it "a meditation on mortality or what it means to be alive. And also, of course, a meditation on power. What does it mean to have power?" And in a brief interview, she explains why everybody should read this book, even non-fantasy fans:

I would call it a fantasy book for adults. You might call it young adult or fantasy, or one of those categories—which are really just there to help people put things on bookshelves. But because it is really talking about life and mortality and who are we as human beings, and what is the relationship between our darker side and the rest of us, I think it can be profitably read by anybody over the age of 12.

What would you say to readers who are turned off by wizards and spells?

Expand your world. Those kinds of stories are very frequently about power relationships. There's a way of reading 'Lord of the Rings,' just as there's a way of reading 'A Wizard of Earthsea,' which is political.

It was interesting to read about the main character chasing a shadow all over the world. In some ways, it seems like this isn't really a traditional story line, where there are good guys and bad guys—

Oh no, it's not traditional in that way at all. It's a meditation on life as a human being. Things don't split that neatly into good and bad. There were a lot of writers on shadows in the 19th century. People who lost their shadows, people who sold their shadows. That's where Jung got his interest in shadows. You have to confront the shadow; you have to name the shadow. And when you don't name the shadow, you project the shadow onto others.