So what do you consider the best imagined setting in fantasy and science fiction? Akkaris in Frank Herbert’s Dune series? The world of Mote Prime in Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle’s The Mote in God’s Eye series? The post-apocalyptic Minneapolis in Emma Bull’s Bone Dance? Or J.R.R.. Tolkien’s Middle-Earth perhaps? I’m choosing Earthsea as created by Ursula K. Le Guin in her long-running series.
Earthsea was originally created for her short story ‘The Word of Unbinding’ which was published in 1964. Earthsea became the setting for a further six books over more than forty years, beginning with A Wizard of Earthsea, first published in 1968, and continuing with The Tombs of Atuan, The Farthest Shore, Tehanu, Tales from Earthsea, and The Other Wind.
The world of Earthsea is one of sea and islands: a truly vast archipelago of hundreds of islands surrounded by mostly uncharted ocean. Here Be Monsters is an accurate way of describing the regions where no one has gone and returned from.
The term ‘archipelago’ is used by Le Guin to refer only to the central grouping of islands around the main island of Havnor and the Inmost Sea. The outlying islands are loosely grouped into four Reaches (The West, North, South and East), and the Kargad Lands, four large islands to the northeast inhabited by the warlike nation of the Kargs. Islands pivotal to the series include Roke and Havnor in the Inner Sea; Gont in the northeastern Archipelago, and Atuan, one of the Kargad lands.
But the fascinating geography is only one facet of this sprawling tale as her extensive knowledge of Native American legends, Norse mythology, and Taoism (her acknowledged belief system), are reflected in both her characters, human and otherwise, and the entire storyline.
I should note that magic is very important to most of the islands and mages are all trained on the island of Roke and then sent to those places where they are most needed. In the original trilogy, all of the mages are male although there are many women and men outside of Roke with limited magical abilities, but later in the story (after the first three books) there are such as Ard, The Mage of Perregal, master of Heleth, and she created what can be know as known as Ard’s lore-books.
Though the books of The Earthsea series are considered by most to be children’s books, and while it’s true that the books are intended for children, they are so well-crafted that adults will also find them a joy to read as well .