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 of Klatsand (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.