Only the Doorkeeper answered. He said, “I think we should go to our House, and open its doors.”

A Description of Earthsea




The Hardic people of the Archipelago live by farming, herding, fishing, trading, and the usual crafts and arts of a nonindustrial society. Their population is stable and has never overcrowded the limited habitable land available to them. Famine is unknown and poverty seldom acute.

Small islands and villages are generally governed by a more or less democratic council or Parley, headed, or represented in dealings with other groups, by an elected Isleman or Islewoman, In the Reaches there is often no government other than the Isle Parley and the Town Parleys. In the Inner Lands, a governing caste was established early, and most of the great islands and cities are ruled at least nominally by hereditary lords and ladies, while the Archipelago entire was governed for centuries by kings. Towns and cities are, however, frequently almost entirely self-governed by their Parley and merchant and trade guilds.

The great guilds, since their network covers all the Inner Lands, answer to no overlord or authority except the King in Havnor.

Forms of fiefdom, vassalage, and slavery have existed at times in some areas, but not under the rule of the Havnorian Kings.

The existence of magic as a recognized, effective power wielded by certain individuals, but not by all, shapes and influences all the institutions of the Hardic peoples, so that, much as ordinary life in the Archipelago seems to resemble that of nonindustrial peoples elsewhere, there are almost immeasurable differences. One of these differences may be, or may be indicated by, the lack of any kind of institutionalised religion. Superstition is as common as it is anywhere, but there are no gods, no cults, no formal worship of any kind. Ritual occurs only in traditional offerings at the sites of the Old Powers, in the great, universally celebrated annual festivals such as Sunreturn and the Long Dance, in the speaking and singing of the traditional songs and epics at these festivals, and, perhaps, in the performance of spells of magic.

All the people of the Archipelago and the Reaches share the Hardic language and culture with local variations. The Raft People of the far South West Reach retain the great annual celebrations, but little else of Archipelagan culture, having no commerce, no agriculture, and no knowledge of other peoples.

Most people of the Archipelago have brown or red-brown skin, black straight hair, and dark eyes; the predominant body type is short, slender, small-boned, but fairly muscular and well-fleshed. In the East and South Reaches people tend to be taller, heavier boned, and darker. Many Southerners have very dark brown skin. Most Archipelagan men have little or no facial hair.

The people of Osskil, Rogma, and Borth are lighter-skinned than others in the Archipelago, and often have brown or even blond hair and light eyes; the men are often bearded. Their language and some of their beliefs are closer to Kargish than to Hardic. These far Northerners probably descend from Kargs who, after settling the four great Eastern lands, sailed back to the West about two thousand years ago.


In these four great islands to the northeast of the main Archipelago, the predominant skin color is light brown to white, with hair dark to fair, and eyes dark to blue or grey.

Not much mixing of the Kargish and Archipelagan skin-color types has taken place except on Osskil, since the North Reach is isolated and thinly populated, and the Kargad people have held themselves apart from and often in enmity towards the Archipelagans for two or three millennia.

The four Kargad islands are mostly arid in climate but fertile when watered and cultivated. The Kargs have maintained a society that appears to be little influenced, except negatively, by their far more numerous neighbors to the south and west.

Among the Kargs the power of magic appears to be very rare as a native gift, perhaps because it was neglected or actively suppressed by their society and government. Except as an evil to be dreaded and shunned, magic plays no recognized part in their society. This inability or refusal to practice magic puts the Kargs at a disadvantage with the Archipelagans in almost every respect, which may explain why they have generally held themselves aloof from trade or any kind of interchange, other than piratical raids and invasions of the nearer islands of the South Reach and around the Gontish Sea.

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Categories: Ursula K. Le Guin