The Blither of Earthsea
Sun Dec 19th 2004, 9:59pm

I finally watched "Earthsea" off my Tivo last night to see what all the outrage was about. Yes, it had some serious problems. But I was actually a little surprised, I didn't think it was quite as horrible as I'd been led to believe, having read scathing comments off Slashdot and harsh words from Le Guin herself.

Le Guin describes the books, A Wizard of Earthsea and The Tombs of Atuan as being about "two young people finding out what their power, their freedom, and their responsibilities are" (her words). Simple, yet profound. Clearly the miniseries sought to provide a Harry Potter/Lord of the Rings-esque adaptation of Ged and Tenar's adventures, overly-sensationalizing the quest of reuniting of the two halves of the Amulet of Erreth-Akbe, and with them, two of the major "faiths" of Earthsea. Le Guin herself dismisses this reunion as neither the point nor the climax of the stories (which are, of course, meant to be completely independent). And of course, there were some horrible liberties taken: who could not get upset about switching Ged's true name with his common name, Sparrowhawk. Why would you switch these? It was extremely distracting, and led to further dramatic errors as when the shadow creature called out "Ged" to Ged, it lacked any impact since this was (in the movie) his common name, not his true name. Argh. Also, a number of crude jokes and made-for-TV sex scenes did nothing for the story but dumb it down enough to retain the attention of those the marketing folks felt were the lowest common denominator on the other side of the TV screen. But one thing I was somewhat pleased about was about how they portrayed Ged ultimately prevailing over the shadow creature; while a four-hour miniseries could never quite showcase the struggle he went through nor convey the weight of his decision, at least it did some small justice to what I feel is one of the most powerful moments in any fantasy adventure.

In short, I feel it skipped over the core, profound messages I enjoyed from the stories (see my article on Wizard), and incorrectly emphasized others, perhaps more pleasing to a less devoted television audience, but despite these flaws I don't regret watching it, and hope it encourages more people to read the books. Everyone knows books always tell stories better anyway.

Previous articles on Le Guin's works: