Earthsea Cycle Reading Order, Ursula K. Le Guin’s fantasy classic series

The Earthsea Cycle is a high fantasy series published between 1964 and 2018. Written by Ursula K. Le Guin, it takes place in a vast archipelago of hundreds of islands where Magic plays a central part.

The adventures begin with Wizard of Earthsea, the first book in the Earthsea Cycle that follows a young magician named Ged. Coming from a village on Gont Island, Ged has displayed great power as a boy and goes to a school to learn magic…

Attention, brave readers: Hidden within these words lie mystical affiliation links. Should you venture to follow their path and make a purchase, a magical commission may find its way to my coffers.

How to read the Earthsea Cycle

All the stories and novels set in the World of Earthsea has been published in The big omnibus, The Books of Earthsea: The Complete Illustrated Edition, with artwork by Charles Vess. If you want all the stories in one place, don’t look any further than that.

We also recognize that reading such a chunky book does not suit everybody (myself included). So following are more details about the publication and reading order for the Earthsea saga.

Earthsea Books in Order

As written by Ursula K. Le Guin on her website, the books “run in chronological order both in this world (from 1968 to 2001) and in Earthsea.” So here’s a listing of the individual books in order:

A Wizard of Earthsea (1968)
The Tombs of Atuan (1971)
The Farthest Shore (1972)
Tehanu (1990)
Tales from Earthsea (2001)
The Other Wind (2001)

Tales from Earthsea is a collection of five fantasy stories, with two previously published before, occurring before or after the time of the original novels.

The Complete Earthsea Cycle with the Short Stories

As we said, the Earthsea saga is comprised of novels and short stories. If you want to follow a strict chronological order, you need to know that the fictitious historical order of Earthsea stories differs from their publication order. So let’s take a closer look at those stories!

First, the world of Earthsea emerged in 1964 with the publication of two short stories, that we can call proto-Earthsea as they mostly laid the groundwork for what will come after. For this reason, we chose to not include them in the chronological order

Both stories are included in the omnibus edition and were also reprinted in the short story collection The Wind’s Twelve Quarters:

“The Word of Unbinding” (1964)
“The Rule of Names” (1964)

Ursula K. Le Guin wrote the first novel in the Earthsea Cycle in 1968, though she later wrote short stories set before the events of this book. Despite that, let’s specify that the writer said that those tales “will profit by being read after, not before, the novels.” We can only recommend following the recommendation of the author, though if you are familiar with the Earthsea universe, you may want to visit those shores in internal chronological order

“The Finder” (2001). In Tales From Earthsea.
“Darkrose and Diamond” (1999). In Tales From Earthsea
“The Bones of the Earth” (2001). In Tales From Earthsea
A Wizard of Earthsea (1968)
The Tombs of Atuan (1971)
“On The High Marsh” (2001). In Tales From Earthsea
The Farthest Shore (1972)
Tehanu (1990)
“Dragonfly” (1998). In Tales From Earthsea
“The Daughter of Odren” (2014)
The Other Wind (2001)
“Firelight” (2018)

In a foreword to Tales from Earthsea, Ursula K. Le Guin gave information about the timeline.

“The Finder” takes place about three hundred years before the time of the novels, in a dark and troubled time; its story casts light on how some of the customs and institutions of the Archipelago came to be. “The Bones of the Earth” is about the wizards who taught the wizard who first taught Ged, and shows that it takes more than one mage to stop an earthquake. “Darkrose and Diamond” might take place at any time during the last couple of hundred years in Earthsea; after all, a love story can happen at any time, anywhere. “On the High Marsh” is a story from the brief but eventful six years that Ged was Archmage of Earthsea. And the last story, “Dragonfly,” which takes place a few years after the end of Tehanu, is the bridge between that book and the next one, The Other Wind.

“The Daughter of Odren” was originally released as a stand-alone eBook in 2014 before being reprinted in the omnibus The Books of Earthsea (2018) and set 15 years or so after the events of The Farthest Shore.

Finally, “Firelight” is the last Earthsea story first published in Paris Review and reprinted in The Books of Earthsea (2018). It takes place some years after the events of The Other Wind.

A Wizard of Earthsea, Book 1 of The Earthsea Cycle Illustrated by David Lupton
The Folio Society edition

The Origins of Earthsea

As we have already written, a glimpse of Earthsea can be caught in her two 1964 short stories. In “The Rule of Names”, she introduced magic that works through name and knowledge, while “The Word of Unbinding” offers a first peek of the shadow world of the dead.

A few years later, in 1964, as she recalled in an interview with Public Books, Le Guin was “asked by a publisher to write—we didn’t even have the word “young adult” then—to write a fantasy for older children.”

She first thought she couldn’t write such a book since she had never written for children before. Still, she thought about it and asked herself “how does a wizard become a wizard? He goes to wizard school? Wouldn’t that be fun?” She then proceeded to think about where this school could be which led her to the islands featured in her previous stories.

She “literally sit down and draw a big map with lots of islands, about which I knew nothing at that point.” She always named all the islands as she explained she can’t write ‘about a character if he or she doesn’t have a name”. After that, she could simply travel to explore the islands and discover more about the place and the characters.

Earthsea Adaptations

The first Earthsea adaptation was a two-hour radio dramatization of A Wizard of Earthsea, which starred Michael Maloney as Ged and Dame Judi Dench as the narrator and aired on the BBC in 1994. In 2015, the BBC returned to Earthsea to retell the first three volumes in the book series on radio. Six half-hour segments aired on Radio 4 Extra.

In 2014, the Sci-Fi Channel aired a two-part television miniseries called Legend of Earthsea, which was later abbreviated to just Earthsea. The show starred Shawn Ashmore as Ged and Kristin Kreuk as Tenar, the young priestess. The plot used components from the first two Earthsea novels, but the adaptation greatly differed from the original, generating criticisms from readers and Le Guin.

The 2006 Studio Ghibli animated picture Gedo Senki — Tales from Earthsea, helmed by Gorō Miyazaki, left the author feeling let down as well. This time, the third and fourth novels served as the main sources of inspiration for the tale.

If you like the Earthsea Saga, you may also enjoy Ursula Le Guin’s Sci-fi series, The Hainish Cycle or The Raksura books by Martha Wells