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Reader's Guide to Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea Cycle

Embark on an epic journey by diving into the enchanting world of Earthsea.

Collage of Earthsea Books includes A Wizard of Earthsea

Ursula K. Le Guin was one of the greatest voices in American science fiction, writing over twenty novels and more than a hundred short stories, among other works of literary criticism, poetry and novellas. With a career spanning over half a century, Le Guin has influenced several generations of literary and speculative fiction writers, while also being the first woman to win the Hugo and Nebula awards for best novel. 

Her works interrogate complex themes relating to the politics of race, gender, sexuality, culture, and government, such as The Left Hand of Darkness (1969) which closely examines gender relations, The Dispossessed (1974) that unfolds in an anarchist utopia and the celebrated short story, “The Ones Who Walk Away From the Omelas” that explores the question of evil via a philosophical conundrum.   

Though aimed at younger readers, her high fantasy Earthsea novels can be enjoyed by readers of all ages. The stories unfold in the magical world of Earthsea that consists of the sea and a vast archipelago, where magic is an intrinsic part of people’s lives (except on the Kargish lands) and the protagonists are often dark-skinned—challenging implicit biases on how fantasy characters and settings should look like, especially in a white, male-dominated field.   

Whether you’re new to her works or have read just a couple of the Earthsea novels, our reading guide to the Earthsea Cycle should answer all your questions.

The 5 Earthsea Cycle Novels


A Wizard of Earthsea (The Earthsea Cycle Series Book 1)

By Ursula K. Le Guin

A bildungsroman of sorts, A Wizard of Earthsea hugely influenced the genres of fantasy, young adult, and children’s literature. It narrates the story of Ged, a young sorcerer who attends the magical boarding school on the island of Roke, unleashes a shadow creature upon the world, learns the limits of magic, seeks the wisdom of ancient dragons, and finally restores balance in the world. 

Evocatively and lucidly written, A Wizard of Earthsea is an excellent introduction to Le Guin’s work that cleverly subverts the expectations of a traditional fantasy epic.

The Tombs of Atuan

The Tombs of Atuan

By Ursula K. Le Guin

Also a coming-of-age story, The Tombs of Atuan focuses on Tenar, a young girl chosen to be a high priestess—an accomplishment that robs her of everything, including her own name. However, her lonely life is disrupted by the appearance of Ged, whom she initially traps in a labyrinth and then helps, in defiance of her teachings. 

The Tombs of Atuan is a charming exploration of the struggles of women under a patriarchal society that relies on religion and social norms to control their lives. 


The Farthest Shore

By Ursula K. Le Guin

A much darker book than the previous entries in the Earthsea Cycle, The Farthest Shore features an older Ged embarking on a dangerous quest to save the magic of Earthsea, which has afflicted by a strange malaise. It’s a harrowing journey that pushes Ged and Prince Arren to their limits as they travel beyond the realm of death to restore balance for the final time. 

In many ways, the three books form a trilogy of sorts, tracing Ged’s journey from when he was a young boy to a mature Archmage, wizard, and dragonlord, tasked with great power and responsibility. 



By Ursula K Le Guin

After almost 20 years, Le Guin returned to the world of Earthsea in 1990 to continue the story of Tenar, who was first introduced in The Tombs of Atuan. Since the events of that novel, Tenar has moved on with her life, rejecting the offer to learn magic and instead marrying a farmer and raising two children. But now with her husband dead and her kids grown, Tenar’s life has retreated to a familiar loneliness—until she joins forces with an aged Ged to help a traumatized child on another unforgettable adventure. 

Sensitive, thoughtful and filled with quiet, sublime moments, Tehanu is nothing short of a masterpiece. 

Tales from Earthsea

The Other Wind

By Ursula K Le Guin

The Other Wind is the fifth novel and the sixth book in the Earthsea Cycle, with Le Guin having published a remarkable short story anthology, Tales from Earthsea (see next section) the same year. The Other Wind follows the sorcerer Alder who, plagued by nightmares, seeks the wisdom of Ged. Ged in turn, spurs Alder to seek Tenar, Tehanu, and the young king of Havnor, accompanied by the dragon Irian. 

Spellbinding yet humane, The Other Wind continues the stories of the characters while exploring the theme of reconciliation in a deeply moving manner.   

Earthsea Short Stories, Novellas, and the Collectors’ Edition

In addition to the five Earthsea Cycle novels, Ursula Le Guin wrote several short stories and a couple of novellas set in the Earthsea universe. The first two short stories, “The World of Unbinding” (1964) and “The Rule of Names” (1964), were later collected in The Wind's Twelve Quarters (1975). Both are comparatively light-hearted adventure stories, outlining the world of Earthsea.

In 2001, Le Guin published Tales from Earthsea, which collects two later stories and three originals. These include the following: 

  • "Dragonfly" (1998)
  • "Darkrose and Diamond" (1999)
  • "The Bones of the Earth" (2001) 
  • "The Finder" (2001) 
  • "On The High Marsh" (2001)

In 2014, Le Guin published a novella, The Daughter of Odren, focusing on new characters and less-explored settings. We follow 14-year-old Weed who brings offerings to a standing stone, waiting to avenge her father. Although short, it’s a beautifully written story about love and betrayal with a satisfying ending.

In 2018, Le Guin published “Firelight” in The Paris Review, detailing the last days of Ged. 

The Books of Earthsea, collecting the short stories, novellas and novels, was published in 2018, with illustrations by Charles Vess, a new introduction by Le Guin as well as her “Earthsea Revisioned” Oxford lecture. If you prefer to have all your Earthsea stories in one place, we recommend that you buy The Books of Earthsea (2018) and show it off on your bookshelf.




The Books of Earthsea: The Complete Illustrated Edition (Earthsea Cycle)

By Ursula K. Le Guin, illustrated by Charles Vess

Recommended Reading Order for the Earthsea Cycle

You can read the Earthsea novels more or less chronologically, but if you wish to factor in the short stories and novellas, the recommended reading order is as follows:

  1. “The World of Unbinding”
  2. “The Rule of Names”
  3. A Wizard of Earthsea
  4. The Tombs of Atuan
  5. The Farthest Shore
  6. Tehanu
  7. Tales from Earthsea
  8. The Daughter of Odren
  9. “Firelight”