Deep wisdom, calm storytelling, and some love shining through: I love Earthsea a lot, and re-reading this book made me very happy. Apart from the near-lyrical style, I was also surprised to remember that the story is quite dense, and there as much story in this book as many others would fit in a trilogy nowadays (growing up, mastering school, mastering the antagonist, for example?).
Beware: full spoilers! Also probably incomplete and possibly incomprehensible.
Sparrowhawk’s/Ged’s youth, but with the information that he’ll go on to become the archmage and a dragonlord. Arrogant child learning magic from the village witch, then apprenticed to Ogion – him of the silence and patience and wisdom –, which is too much and too little for Ged. He instead goes to Roke, and speaks his true name to enter the school. The school’s door is entirely made out of a great dragon’s tooth, it is slightly translucent, carved with a huge detailed tree.
Vetch becomes his friend. He is further along his studies, and is deeply kind. Jasper is his rival. Ged learns the dangers of naming, of changing the world even a tiny bit, of balance – but more in theory than in practice. Ged is impatient and wants to wield magic, damnit! He studies with the Master Namer, learning all the rivers, bays, roads, plants, etc. A young Master is impressed by Ged and permits him more knowledge than is wise. Jasper and Ged have a duel. Ged summons a spirit, a shadow comes along and injures him gravely. The archmage, Nemmerle, dies in defense, and Ged takes a long time to recover, badly scarred in mind and body.
He’s told he’s at risk of being possessed by the shadow, and nowhere is safe except Roke. Vetch leaves and Ged stays, though they exchange names. Ged concludes his studies, and leaves for a township in need of a wizard. He works, and learns to sail. Then he has to take care of dragons, and is victorious, drowning the young ones and making the old one promise on his name to never come to the Archipelago.
He encounters the shade and flees, ending up at a weird castle, that keeps him nearly prisoner. They want to get his cooperation to rule the world with the help of an evil-ish spirit trapped in a stone, but he makes his escape. (The sorceress there is the daughter of the Lord of Re Albi who also baited him into reading a very dangerous spell in his time at Ogion’s). Ged flees as a falcon, and Ogion turns him back into himself. On Ogion’s advice, he hunts the shadow rather than fleeing. Across the sea, encountering a nearly-feral pair of siblings on an island (outcasts of the Imperial family of Kargad). After a third encounter with the shadow, Ged understands that he cannot undo what he did, only finish it.
He finds Vetch, who joins him. They travel, and find the shadow, and Ged speaks his name, and touches it, and they merge.
The last step of learning is to go study with the Master Patterner in the Immanent Grove.