First, I am very sorry for the two-week delay. I said at the start of this mini series that my grad school deadlines would likely be a serious difficulty to my regular posting, and the past two weeks have proven those words true.
Apologies aside, I want to try and conclude our discussion of Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea so that we can hopefully consider another aspect of blended magic after a quick interlude of poetry (or maybe a bit of prose I’m working on).
Looking over my notes for Earthsea, I realize that there are actually two or three more posts that could be made regarding this book and the magical education. And while some aspects can be postponed, one that cannot is the concept that the magician’s arc often is often fused with the distinction between knowledge and wisdom.
As I said more than a month ago, two common themes in magical education stories are the ideas of untamed power and the haunting of self-made evil. Using Le Guin’s protagonist as an example, Ged begins the story with a great deal of potential, and is constantly surprising his early instructors and caretakers with what he can do. But Ged also proves to be impatient, and in his desire to gain knowledge, he unleashes a dark power that he has to later fight against. And while Ged excels at the feats of strength, he regularly fails at gaining wisdom.
To show this point, I need to give you a rather long excerpt from Earthsea that will be out of context due to the constraints of this medium. To briefly summarize, then: Ged and his current instructor, Ogion, are traveling in the country. And Ged is growing impatient because he feels like the wizard is wasting his time.
Though a very silent man he was so mild and calm that Ged soon lost his awe of him, and in a day or two more he was bold enough to ask his master, “When will my apprenticeship begin, Sir?”
“It has begun,” said Ogion.
There was a silence, as if Ged was keeping back something he had to say. Then he said it: “But I haven’t learned anything yet!”
“Because you haven’t found out what I am teaching,” replied the mage…
Ged did not answer him. It is not always easy to answer a mage.
“You want to work spells,” Ogion said presently, striding along. “You’ve drawn too much water from that well. Wait. Manhood is patience, mastery is nine times patience. What is that herb by the path?”
“I don’t know.”
“Fourfoil, they call it.” Ogion had halted, the coppershod foot of his staff near the little weed, so Ged looked closely at the plant, and plucked a dry seedpod from it, and finally asked, since Ogion said nothing more, “What is its use, Master?”
“None I know of.”
Ged kept the seedpod a while as they went on, then tossed it away.
“When you know the fourfoil in all its seasons root and leaf and flower, by sight and scent and seed, then you may learn its true name, knowing its being: which is more than its use. What, after all, is the use to you? Or of myself? Is Gont Mountain useful, or the Open sea?” Ogion went on a half mile or so, and said at last, “To hear, one must be silent.”
(Wizard of Earthsea, pp. 22-23)
What I want to draw attention towards is how Ogion uses riddles to try and teach Ged wisdom. In the quoted passage, the riddle begins by Ogion doing the exact opposite of what he promises to do when he and Ged first meet (teach Ged magic). But Ged fails to understand the riddle, asking when Ogion will start teaching, and he fails a second riddle when Ogion points out a simple plant beside the road.
Interestingly, there are other examples of characters in Fantasy literature who begin with one distinct “virtue” who have to learn a second more difficult trait. In J. R. R. Tolkien’s masterpiece, The Hobbit, Thorin has to learn to become a good king as well as a good warrior. In the same book, Bilbo’s intrinsic curiosity and cautiousness has to be meshed with a willingness to act decisively (among other things). And with regards to the magician’s heroic story arc, the wizard (or wizardesse) has to learn wisdom to go along with their natural power.
As I said before, this will sadly be all that we can do with Magic and School. If you are interested in learning more, don’t hesitate to comment.