Fifty years ago, the legendary science fiction and fantasy writer Ursula K. Le Guin released A Wizard of Earthsea, the first of a five-book series. I’m not saying these books were Harry Potter before Harry Potter was Harry Potter, but they kind of were. The first book focuses on a young wizard named Ged who attends a school of wizardry. While battling in a magical duel with a fellow student, Ged accidentally releases an ancient shadow creature. The remainder of the novel follows Ged’s journey in confronting this shadow monster. Le Guin said her inspiration for a book about a young wizard came from questioning the idea of wizards as “elderly or ageless Gandalfs,” and asking herself, “what were they before they had white beards?” She wrote four more books set in the same world: The Tombs of Atuan,The Farthest Shore, Tehanu, and The Other Wind.
This October, the entire Earthsea Cycle will be released in an incredible illustrated collection from Saga Press, The Books of Earthsea: The Complete Illustrated Edition.
Image via Simon and Schuster
The collection will feature nearly sixty illustrations by Charles Vess, a fantasy artist who’s collaboration credits include Neil Gaiman, DC Comics, and Marvel Comics. Vess spent years working with Le Guin to perfect his illustrations, sometimes going through six or seven drafts. He wanted to make sure his illustrations accurately depicted the world as Le Guin imagined it. He even said, “We spent a year going back and forth over what her dragons looked like.”
Image via The Verge
Beyond dragon aesthetics, it was particularly important to Le Guin that her characters were accurately illustrated as people of color. This was especially crucial considering problems she faced with past adaptations of her work. For example, the 2004 Sci Fi channel adaptation, Earthsea, featured a white actor in the role of Ged, a dark-skinned islander. Le Guin wrote an article denouncing the disastrous adaptation and explaining her philosophy for characters of color in fantasy and science fiction:
My color scheme was conscious and deliberate from the start. I didn’t see why everybody in science fiction had to be a honky named Bob or Joe or Bill. I didn’t see why everybody in heroic fantasy had to be white (and why all the leading women had “violet eyes”). It didn’t even make sense. Whites are a minority on Earth now—why wouldn’t they still be either a minority, or just swallowed up in the larger colored gene pool, in the future?
Now, with the help of Vess, this new project will feature her characters finally looking as she intended them to. The collection will be released on October 23rd, 2018.
Featured Image via The Verge