Details: (c) Inter-Vivos Trust 1968; Pub 1993 Penguin Books (as single-volume quartet); ISBN 0-14-015427-2
Verdict: A Wizard of Earthsea is moving and beautifully written.
Reasons for reading it: I have been meaning to read it for a while, because I love Le Guin, and because of all the debate about the recent film, and because I couldn't remember whether I read it as a child.
How it came into my hands: I bought it in Galloway and Porter, yay Galloway and Porter.
I'm coming to the conclusion that Le Guin does such amazing things with language that I don't really care what she's actually writing about. A Wizard of Earthsea is in some ways a fairly standard fantasy story, with a peasant lad discovering he has amazing magical powers and finding himself in a situation where he must save his vaguely Mediaeval tech world from evil. Except that it's very, very good.
I was utterly caught up in the story, to the point where I found myself almost believing in its magic system. Obviously when I read fantasy in general I take magic as a given, but I was much more emotionally engaged than that in the world-building assumptions of aWoE. And Le Guin has an almost Tolkien-esque genius for writing in a high mythic tone but still creating really solid, sympathetic characters. (I think my instinct that aWoE somehow fits into an unexplored corner of Tolkien's universe is partly the amazing quality of the writing, and partly a coincidence of names in the creation myths, Ëa versus Éa.) There are so many heart-stoppingly lovely sentences in aWoE, and it's the language that induced a very receptive emotional state so that I cared very deeply about Ged's experiences and emotions.
I rather wish I had read aWoE as a kid (I think I must have been thinking of Susan Coopers The Dark is Rising books), because it would have made a very profound impression. As an adult, I can find minor things to quibble about, mainly the way the story has so many generic elements. I was also a bit annoyed with the concept of Equilibrium; it's a fairly standard way of dealing with magic, so that characters who are capable of altering reality don't become over-powerful, but using the term Equilibrium, an Enlightenment, science-y word, spoils the mystical feel. I also found the final confrontation with the Shadow a little bit cheesy.
Anyway, I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the quartet!