NEA Big Read
A Wizard of Earthsea

A Wizard of Earthsea

by Ursula K. Le Guin

To me a novel can be as beautiful as any symphony, as beautiful as the sea.

Teachers may consider the ways in which these activities may be linked to other Big Read community events. Most of these projects could be shared at a local library, a student assembly, or a bookstore.

  1. There exists a made-for-television film of A Wizard of Earthsea. Find a copy and view it in class, then discuss the novel's translation to the screen. Where does it succeed, where does it fail? Do you think Ursula K. Le Guin would like this version of her book? This might lead to a larger discussion of the relationship between novels and movies. What are the strengths and weaknesses of each? Discuss what you think are some successful screen adaptations of novels.
  2. Using the library and internet, track down the covers of the various editions and try to understand the artists' interpretation of the novel. How important to a book is its cover or dust jacket? Do you know of books where the cover art has led you to read the book—or where the cover art has been misleading or revealed too much about the story? Work with your visual arts specialist to have students create their own cover art. Cover art should reflect a specific passage from the text.
  3. Dragons play a key role in the Earthsea universe. It has been said that Le Guin's Yevaud and the great Kalessin (who appears in later volumes of the sequence) are more like Asian dragons than European fire-breathers. What is a dragon in Asian culture? What traditions feed its image? Locate pictures of dragons in your library or online that illustrate the different conceptions of this archetypal beast of the imagination.
  4. Invite people who have worked in the fantasy genre to your class. You might include a writer, an actor, and a visual artist. Have students write questions for the panel and provide these questions to the participants prior to the panel day. Select a student to moderate the panel. Have the artists describe how they approach depicting fantastical worlds or situations, whether it is easy or difficult. Try to figure out the strengths of the differing media—visual art, stage, and novel—as means for exploring fantastic themes. Find out if their ideas about the "creative process" are similar to Le Guin's. You might also invite a local professor who teaches a course in fantasy and science fiction or a serious member of any local science fiction and fantasy organization to come and discuss contemporary trends.
  5. Taoist principles run throughout A Wizard of Earthsea and its sequels. Explore Taoism further by reading Lao Tzu's Tao-Te-Ching in one or more of its many translations. (Le Guin herself has published her own English version.) Many of Taoism's principles influenced Zen Buddhism and yoga. Explore Taoism by inviting one or two practicing Taoists to your classroom. Provide students with excerpts from the Tao-Te-Ching before your guest visits. Ask the guests to talk about the basic tenets of Taoism, the background and the practice. Then, have the students reflect on whether and how the novel embraces these tenets.
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