American Literature of the Sea and Great Lakes

LE GUIN, URSULA K[ROEBER]. (1929-?). Born in Berkeley, California, Ursula K. Le Guin earned her B.A. at Radcliffe College in 1951 and her M.A. in French and Renaissance literature at Columbia University in 1952. Author of over fifty books of fiction, short stories, poetry, and criticism, she is usually considered a children’s writer of fantasy, but mature readers admire her artful adaptation of ancient myths and Jungian archetypes to contemporary concerns.

Although her works often draw upon the sea for images, metaphors, and titles, only two of them fully develop nautical settings and themes: the first and third novels of her most famous and honored work, The Earthsea Trilogy, a saga of an island world where maritime values and pursuits dominate the culture. A Wizard of Earthsea (1968) begins the story of Ged, an apprentice wizard whose training replicates the nautical experiences of Christ, Odysseus, Beowulf, and Jonah, as he learns to control sea and wave with his magic spells. He sails from island to island, improving his seamanship, learning the rudiments of boatbuilding, and feeling increasingly comfortable at sea, an attitude that distinguishes him from his evil enemies. In The Farthest Shore (1972), a mature Ged sails through Earthsea seeking a rogue wizard and among many adventures encounters the Children of the Open Sea, people who live a simple life on great rafts where they find inner peace and contentment. As a paean to the sea’s calming powers, these two novels develop Le Guin’s characteristic themes of harmony, wholeness, and selfknowledge.

Le Guin uses a coastal setting in Searoad: Chronicles ofKlatsand (1991) to dramatize the inner lives of women in a coastal Oregon village during the twentieth century. This collection of related, realistic stories reveals Le Guin’s recent interest in feminism and her continuing recognition of maritime settings as a powerful literary resource.

Dennis Berthold