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This illustrated collection of Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea books finally does the series justice

Fifty years ago, science fiction author Ursula K. Le Guin released A Wizard of Earthsea, the first installment of a well-lauded and influential fantasy series. Sadly, Le Guin passed away in January, but later this year, one of her final projects will be released. One that, after years of frustrations, has been a long time coming: a collected edition of her Earthsea works from Saga Press, The Books of Earthsea: The Complete Illustrated Edition, featuring nearly 60 illustrations by fantasy artist Charles Vess.

By 1968, Le Guin had established a promising career as a science fiction author, and was soon approached by a publisher with an invitation: they wanted to write a book aimed at a younger audience. While she was apprehensive at writing for children at first, she settled on a world that she’d used in a pair of short fantasy stories years before, “The Rule of Names,” and “The Word of Unbinding,” set on an archipelago. “Serious consideration of magic, and of writing for kids, combined to make me wonder about wizards,” she later wrote. “Wizards are usually elderly or ageless Gandalfs, quite rightly and archetypically. But what were they before they had white beards?”

The result was A Wizard of Earthsea, which followed a young islander named Ged, who has innate magical powers and is invited by a great wizard to learn how to use his power. He’s impatient to learn, and accidentally summons a shadow creature, and is forced to chase it down across the archipelago, and reckon with his power. This was a novel concept in the 1960s: fantasy literature was largely in its infancy with Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and with J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series decades away. Le Guin went on to write four subsequent

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