Ursula K. Le Guin, the grandmother of science fiction, published the first of her Earthsea books in 1968. So began her wonderful tales about a wizard training school. (Harry Potter certainly wasn't the first!) Although related to those first four Earthsea books, each of the five stories in this new collection, "Tales from Earthsea," stands alone.
The first, "The Finder," presents the story of Otter, a young boy who is taken by a court wizard named Gelluk in an attempt to enslave him. Gelluk lusts for more power and knows the boy has a talent for wizardry. Eventually, Otter escapes, travels to the wizard island of Roke, and helps set up a wizard school. It's an affecting story that shows off Le Guin's remarkable talent.
In "Darkrose and Diamond," a boy wizard must choose between following his musical heart or his father's dictates.
In "The Bones of the Earth," a profound relationship develops between Silence and his wizard teacher, Dulse. In Silence's thoughts, Dulse discovers more about himself. Eventually, through their wizardry, they help stop an earthquake, and Dulse must consider the ultimate sacrifice in order to save the city.
"On the High Marsh" tells the story of a wizard who learns the danger of jealousy and the pain and final reward of learning how to control resentment with humility.
And finally, in "Dragonfly," a girl grows up desiring to be more than she seems to be. The revelation of her secret identity brings peace and renewal to the stagnant "men only" wizard school. The male wizards learn, just as wisdom requires from all of us, "What goes too long unchanged destroys itself."
Le Guin's writing pulses with purity. These stories sail the reader to a foreign land full of genuine wonder.
"Fantasy," Le Guin says, "is the natural, the appropriate language for the recounting of the spiritual journey and the struggle of good and evil in the soul."
The best works of fantasy reveal the power of spirit to overcome the entropy of mortality, as Le Guin proves with her latest set of tales from Earthsea.
Kurt Lancaster is the author of 'Interacting With Babylon 5: Fan Performances in a Media Universe' (University of Texas Press).
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor