The Big Book of Earthsea

Ursula K. Le Guin, photo by Marian Wood KolischThe Big Book of Earthsea

by Ursula K. Le Guin

Saga has officially announced that they’ll publish all Earthsea in one volume in 2018 — a grand present for a Wizard’s fiftieth birthday.

When Joe Monti first proposed this edition to me, I was happy to think of the six books of Earthsea, Ged and Tenar’s whole story, all truly together at last — but I worried about how much it would weigh.

I read lying down. I know what a Giant Tome can do to your arms and shoulders. Not to mention your solar plexus.

But I’ve been working on my abs and my brachioradiales. I can handle it. Bring it on, Joe!

Seriously, what is most exciting to me about this edition is THE PICTURES. Charles Vess is painting a wraparound cover and a full-color frontispiece for each of the six books (and, says he, “the title page will be in color, if I have anything to say about it.” To which I say Amen!) Then he’ll be drawing some fifty black-and-white vignettes for chapter heads, ten or a dozen full-page illustrations, and a bunch of smaller pictures throughout the book.

This is the first completely illustrated Earthsea ever. And I do mean completely.

OK, I confess — I was worried about that too, at first.

I’ve had some great relationship with illustrators, and some not so great ones. Some professional illustrators, having been or fearing to be bossed and harassed by unreasonable or impossible demands, simply refuse to communicate with the writer. I accept that only if I have the corresponding right to refuse the illustrations.

But with an artist of the standing of Charles Vess, the situation is different. He can legitimately expect autonomy — to find and follow his own vision of the text without seeking any input from the writer.

I expected that he would do that. I was almost incredulous when he didn’t. But incredulity turned to happy relief. Charles is a collaborator.

I love collaboration. As a poet and story-writer I work strictly alone; but to find an artist of a different art — painter, composer, filmmaker, playwright, actor, choreographer — that I can consult with, talk with, and watch as they make what I wrote into something new, yet still itself, something I couldn’t make, couldn’t even imagine — That is a privilege and a joy.

So, this is how it’s been going:

Charles begins the conversation, emailing me occasonally with questions, remarks, while reading the books. I answer as usefully as I can. Also, we chat. I find out that he has sailed all around Scotland. He tells me about Neil Gunn’s novel The Silver Darlings, which I read with vast pleasure. I don’t know what I tell him, but slowly and at easy intervals a friendship is being established.

Suddenly Charles sends me a sketch of a dragon.

A Dragon for Ursula by Charles Vess

An Early Dragon Sketch

Copyright © 2016 Charles Vess

It is an excellent dragon. But it isn’t an Earthsea dragon.


Well . . . an Earthsea dragon wouldn’t have this, see? but it would have that . . . And the tail isn’t exactly right, and about those bristly things —

So I send Charles an email full of whines and niggles and what-if-you-trieds-such-and-suches. I realize how inadequate are my attempts to describe in words the fierce and beautiful being I see so clearly.

Brief pause.

The dragon reappears. Now it looks more like an Earthsea dragon.

But still, it wouldn’t have this here, but it would have something there . . . And about its eye . . . And about those bristly things, you know, don’t they make it very male? and dragon gender is really mysterious . . . .

And so on — more nitpicking, more whimpering, more what-ifs and inadequate efforts to describe.

Patient as Job, grimy with graphite, Charles responds with further dragons, ever more graceful and powerful, ever closer to my heart’s desire . . . and his too, I hope.

Tehanu Frontispiece by Charles Vess

First sketch for Tehanu frontispiece
Copyright © 2016 by Charles Vess

Then all at once he sends a rough sketch for the title page that makes me leap up and shout Oh, LOOK AT THAT!!! even though nobody is there but the cat, who doesn’t.

But then, even in that, I find things to whine about, and ask about, and pester him about.

And so it goes. A fascinating process, but not an easy process for either of us, I think. It can be very exciting; it can be very trying.

Two different, intense temperaments; two independent people with a sense of mastery in their respective crafts; one on the East coast, one on the West, a continent between them; a mature man and an old woman, with the inevitable differences of vision and of expectation that age and gender create . . . . Is it from the differences, maybe even the strains, that a spark is struck?

But the concordances, the understandings, the growing confidence, the trust, are the fuel that keeps the fire burning.

The fire is burning. And I am perfectly certain that this book, whatever it may weigh, is going to be beautiful — a treasure.

18 July 2016


Earthsea Title Page
Copyright © 2016 Charles Vess


Continued May 1, 2017: A Work in Progress

For more illustrations,

please visit the Facebook page of Charles Vess



The Big Book of Earthsea — 24 Comments

  1. Yay! I loved Tales of Earthsea but haven’t read the others yet. I love her work though, and am glad they are putting them all in one book! ^.^

  2. For this kind of subject matter, Charles Vess is (arguably) the best living illustrator. I can’t wait to see the outcome and your story & characters are in eminently capable & talented hands.

  3. Ged will be 50 in 2018, how can that be? How wonderful, truly wonderful to have all six Earthsea books in one volume, a gift for my grandchildren at the very least.
    And this account of collaboration, the pull and push, give and take, of two artists from different disciplines, invaluable and transferable to the collaborations between choreographers and visual artists I am at present charged with describing for a book on American ballet. Thank you, Ms. Le Guin.

  4. The Earthsea books are some of my all time favorites. It will be wonderful to see them all in a single volume!

  5. Pingback: Pixel Scroll 7/18/16 Dead Sea Pixel Scrolls | File 770

  6. I am tremendously excited to read this. The Earthsea books have been dear to my heart since I first encountered them as a small bookworm about – my goodness can it be twenty years already?

    I hope that Ms. Le Guin and Mr. Vess will have a truly joyful experience creating the art to tie it all together, and perhaps that there will be a local release event in the Portland area.

  7. You know that feeling when as child or adult you feel real happy deep inside you, that you close your eyes, smile and enjoy that deep satisfaction? That can’t describe how one feels when knowing the favorite saga will come out in one book but it’s how i feel right now. Like the first time i walked into the Earthsea world and never really left it the last 20 years.

    Hope there will be a translation for all the non-english speakers (like myself).

    • Hope there will be a GOOD translation. I am lucky enough now that I can enjoy the original, but my first attempt at reading The Left Hand of Darkness (has it been already 32 years? time really flies!) was cut short by a translator that was evidently very poorly paid.

  8. I read the Earthsea stories to my nephews and they loved them as much as I did. And now Charles Vess has drawn the dragons! Love this!

  9. I read Wizard of Earthsea so very many years ago. It became the basis for my love of Le Guin’s work. In 1986, I started reading everything I could find that she had written and all the good and bad criticism my Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature fingers and eyes could find. I wrote my Master’s over her storytelling about the dance of life and foundations of stone that build a good life–Always Coming Home–to family, to love, to myself as a woman. Since then, I consume and hoard the rich tales of life she writes like a ferocious dragon consumes and hoards the riches of the earth and the knowledge of everything. I am very much looking forward to purchasing this new edition. Has it been fifty years? May the hearth keep you full and warm (or cool if you are in a heat wave as am I) my wonderful writer.

  10. Oh dear Segoy…

    I just waited and searched for 5 months to finally find all the missing volumes around the world for the Spanish edition by Minotauro which compromises 3 volumes with the same cover art and that includes all the Earthsea saga including the tales … and now this!.
    I’m telling you I am really straining my wife’s patience with this Earthsea obsession I already have 3 different editions.
    This looks to be so beautiful … My poor wallet!.

  11. Am at my friend’s daughter’s birthday party. Her name is Shevek – and she has a sister called Tchianna, and a brother called Tarran. So thank you for inspiring their mother and coming up with cool names. They are, of course, wonderful children and were raised on Earthsea tales.

  12. Fifty years in 2018? I keep forgetting that Ged is as old (in print) as I am (in life). I was introduced to Earthsea by a friend who, I realized only in retrospect, was the first boy I fell in love with. We fell out of touch when he moved away, and even with all the miracles of the internet, I have been unable to track him down again to see how he’s doing. But we’ll always have the cliffs at Re Albi. I look forward to visiting again.

  13. I’m so looking forward to The Big Book of Earthsea!!! all of the Earthsea stories and with colour illustrations! *happiness*

  14. Dear Ursula,
    I’m so happy to hear of this project and am eager, as you to see its fruition. I hope you will include the two Earthsea stories, “The Word of Unbinding” and “The Rule of Names” that appear in “The Wind’s Twelve Quarters.” I’ve been very fond of those stories, especially “Word of Unbinding.” It helped me to face aspects of my own mortality, and I appreciate that gift! Anyway, I was surprised they weren’t included in “Tales of Earthsea.” I’d hate to see these two stories to be lost and forgotten, though they are referred to in the early books. Thank you, from my own heart for Ged and all of Earthsea. When I was a teen, long, long ago, many of my friends, told me to read “Wizard of Earthsea”, because I was starting to fall into my own dark path. It really helped!

    • “Along with the six Earthsea novels, The Books of Earthsea will collect a number of Earthsea stories, including “The Word of Unbinding” and “The Rule of Names,” as well as the new, never-before-published-in-print “The Daughter of Odren.””

      From the Charles Vess article linked elsewhere in this thread

  15. Uncannily, Neil Gunn’s “The Silver Darlings” sits next to my Ursula LeGuin collection in my bookcase! Several years since I read it, now going to revisit!

  16. Oh, oh oh!!

    Ok, my house is FULL of books and I borrow everything from the library on my ereader now and I don’t buy the big one-volume versions of series anyway because they hurt my hands and I already own everything my dearly beloved Ursula has published sometimes in multiple copies and and and… *gasp* … *breathe*

    I. Don’t. Care.

    I will be buying this book anyway. I Just Can’t Help Myself.

    Love you, Ursula. And congratulations on Library of America Vol. 281. Long overdue.

  17. Pingback: Earthsea and Vess – James Schellenberg