“The shadow personifies everything that the subject refuses to acknowledge about himself and yet is always thrusting itself upon him directly or indirectly” (Jung 221). The shadow, an important concept Carl Jung explored throughout his career, exists individually as well as collectively (Bly 26). Societies used to confront and work through the shadow with rituals (Slater CL1). Now that those fundamental ceremonies for confronting it have all but vanished, the shadow has a stronger presence. According to Glen Slater, “Modern existence is inherently shadow making” (Slater CL3). Collectively and individually, the shadow needs to be recognized “so it doesn’t take over or jump out” (Slater CL2). When the shadow is ignored, then its “energies become destructive” (Bly 59).
One place where the shadow is acted out is in literature: “All literature, both of the primitive and the modern peoples, can be thought of as creations by the ‘dark side’ to enable it to rise up from earth and join the sunlit conscious again” (Bly 63). Dark shadow-figures, often in the form of a person’s double, are commonly depicted in film, literature, and television. In Ursula Le Guin’s novel A Wizard of Earthsea, the protagonist, the young wizard Ged, performs a spell that unleashes a literal shadow. Le Guin’s use of the shadow specifically as a physical shadow works stronger than metaphors in other works of fiction because she is using the language needed (by always calling it a “shadow”), and she is showing the psychological process of confronting the shadow. Ged’s interactions with his shadow resonate for readers as his movements parallel Robert Bly’s five stages in “exiling, hunting, and retrieving the shadow” (Bly 27). Through the novel, Le Guin develops Ged as a character that has generally good intentions, but still has that darker side, a duality that is present in all individuals. The novel demonstrates that the shadow side must be reconciled with, and Le Guin does this by implementing not just a shadow metaphor, but an actual physical shadow that is truly a part of the main character.
The shadow imagery begins in the very first chapter of A Wizard of Earthsea. When young Ged casts his first major spell to protect his home town, he does so with “a mess of shadows” (Le Guin 13). Shortly thereafter, when Ged leaves town with his first teacher, Ogion, he steps “through the leaves and shadows of bright autumn” (Le Guin 15, italics mine). The problem Ged is developing with his shadow is immediately apparent as he is primarily focused on learning “to gain power” and dismissing the importance of balance in the use of magic (18). In fact, it is his desire to demonstrate his power that leads him to the spell that will come to physically unleash his shadow. After a young girl in the woods challenges Ged’s ability to perform any useful spell, Ged looks at a forbidden spell book of Ogion’s. The first spell that catches his attention is one that summons the dead. As he reads this text, the appearance of his shadow is foreshadowed: “he saw that something was crouching beside the closed door, a shapeless lot of shadow darker than the darkness” (22). Ogion then enters, dispelling what he later calls only “the shadow of a shadow” (127). With concern, the master wizard questions young Ged: “Have you never thought how danger must surround power as shadow does light?” (23). Unfortunately, this does not resonate with the headstrong Ged. Recognizing Ged’s frustration in not learning more spells from him, Ogion gives Ged the choice between staying with him or advancing more quickly by attending Roke, a school for wizards. Ged chooses the latter.
The shadow imagery continues as Ged travels to Roke on a ship aptly named Shadow. Le Guin is not overusing the imagery, but building towards the inevitable confrontation Ged will have with his shadow. Ged’s shadow is present, as it is for all individuals, but he is refusing to see it. The readers need to see this growth of the shadow figure within Ged because, as Jung warns, “the less [the shadow] is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is” (88). Ged’s shadow is going to erupt, and because he has so heartily ignored it, it is going to be vicious. When Ged enters his new school, “it seem[s] to him though the light was behind him, a shadow followed him in at his heels” (Le Guin 34). While readers are starkly aware of the shadow imagery and sense the impending doom, Ged remains arrogant, eager to learn and impress others.
Ged’s new instructor, The Master Hand, immediately explains to Ged that “[t]he world is in balance, in Equilibrium . . . To light a candle is to cast a shadow” (44). Nevertheless, this warning, like that from Ogion, falls on deaf ears: Ged believes that “surely a wizard . . . was powerful enough to do what he pleased, and balance the world as seemed best to him, and drive back darkness with his own light” (44). Like all youngsters, Ged must learn through experience. Jacobi indicates that “[i]n psychology, one possesses nothing unless one has experienced it in reality” (14). Essentially, Ged must face his own shadow, as everyone must. If he had heeded any of the warnings from his instructors, perhaps his shadow would not have become so dark, powerful and threatening. However, of course, “[W]e have to learn to discipline ourselves. And discipline rests on the ability to act in a manner that is contrary to our feelings when necessary. This is an eminently human prerogative as well as a necessity” (Whitmont 167). Self-discipline and shadow-work is vital for development, and because Ged has so deeply ignored his shadow, the work is going to be especially difficult for him.
One of the first subjects Ged studies at Roke is Summoning, which leads him to “certain phrases . . . that he did not like to say [that] made him think, for an instant, of shadows in a dark room, of a shut door and shadows reaching out to him from the corner by the door” (Le Guin 54). He reluctantly remembers the darkness when he was looking at the spell book at Ogion’s, but he tells himself these are “shadows merely of his ignorance” (54). Not only has he ignored the warnings from his masters, but now he is even ignoring his own intuition. As Bernardo and Murphy emphasize in their study on the novel, “Ged sees himself as an individual who should be able to act simply because he wishes to. He does not see connections between his actions and a widening circle of events.” By not seeing his shadow or acknowledging it, Ged is essentially possessed by it. His drive for power continues as he refuses to recognize the importance of balance. This continues to build his shadow.
In his book A Little Book on the Human Shadow, Robert Bly discusses how people continually fill their “bag” with shadow figures. In Part 3 of his text, Bly thoroughly breaks down the five stages of facing one’s shadow. He does stress that “[w]e don’t live wholly at any moment in . . . any stage; we are in all five stages simultaneously” (Bly 38). There is a development, though, that is apparent in the stages demonstrating how one can lead to the next. Of course, confronting the shadow is not easy work, so the individual does slip around the stages as he continues through this struggle, likely through his lifetime. In A Wizard of Earthsea, after Ged’s shadow physically manifests itself, his journey lies in learning to embrace it as a part of himself; this serves as a great example of moving through Bly’s five stages of facing the shadow.
One night, Ged’s pride is pushed so far that he uses the spell he read at Ogion’s and summons a spirit from the dead. Jungian Analyst Robert A. Johnson explains that when the shadow “accumulates more energy than our ego, it erupts . . . The shadow gone autonomous is a terrible monster in our psychic house” (5). Ged’s action unleashes an actual physical shadow, described by Le Guin as a shadow “the size of a young child [with] no head or face” (61). This is the moment when Ged encounters Bly’s first stage, wherein the shadow “comes to rest outside the owner’s psyche, and seems likely to remain out there somewhere” (31). At this moment, neither Ged nor the readers understand this shadow figure to actually be a part of Ged. It appears to be something that erupted from a dark spell. Because the shadow comes from Ged’s unconscious, he is unaware of its origins. As Jung notes, “[I]t is not the conscious subject but the unconscious which does the projecting” (92). The shadow, which has now been so long repressed, erupts aggressively and physically attacks Ged. According to Jung, “No one can overlook either the dynamism or the imagery of the instincts [including the shadow, which arises from the unconscious] without the gravest injury to himself” (Jung 389). In this confrontation, the shadow physically maims Ged, and when the Arch Mage saves the young wizard at the cost of his own life, the shadow flees.
Everyone at Roke, especially Ged, believes the shadow is something nameless and evil. Jung asserts that the shadow is not something evil: “If . . . the shadow . . . were obviously evil, there would be no problem whatever. But the shadow is merely somewhat inferior, primitive, unadapted, and awkward; not wholly bad. It even contains childish or primitive qualities which would in a way vitalize and embellish human existence” (90). The size of Ged’s shadow is a physical representation of its childish quality, while its violent instinct demonstrates its primitive quality. If Ged had recognized the shadow as himself in that moment, he could have prevented what becomes an arduous journey. However, that journey is necessary. Jung reveals the difficulties of facing the shadow:
To become conscious of [the shadow] involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real. This act is the essential condition for any kind of self-knowledge, and it therefore, as a rule, meets with considerable resistance. Indeed, self-knowledge as a psychotherapeutic measure frequently requires much painstaking work extending over a long period. (91)
Appropriately, it takes years after this incident for Ged to successfully confront and join himself with his shadow. It is a difficult path met with a lot of resistance, but also with the great reward, in the end, of psychological wholeness.
After this dark confrontation, which has left Ged physically maimed and psychologically weakened, he stays at Roke to study quietly and “undo…the evil” (Le Guin 65). The new archmage identifies the monstrosity Ged released as an “evil shadow” and knows it will “possess” Ged if he leaves Roke immediately (65). The characters refer to the entity as a shadow because of its dark, characterless appearance. Le Guin is using the term aptly, as the psychological shadow is precisely what Ged is fighting against. The archmage appropriately describes it to Ged as “the shadow of [his] arrogance [and] ignorance,” though no one can really identify what it is (66). These comments bare more truth than Ged, his masters, or the reader can yet recognize.
Ged stays to study in silence, essentially ostracizing himself from the other students. According to Bly, Jung’s reports illustrate that “when the shadow is successfully repressed, the person doing it finds it very difficult to talk to other people about feelings” (Bly 50-51). Though the shadow is out in the world now, it is still something repressed because Ged cannot recognize it as a part of himself and does not even wish to discuss the incident with anyone. In Bly’s second stage, there is some type of rattle or disturbance wherein “something doesn’t quite fit anymore” (31). Though Ged is safe from the shadow at Roke, after completing his studies he is ready to go out into the world. On a subconscious level, Ged is aware that “to be cured it is necessary to find a way in which his conscious personality and his shadow can live together” (Jung 89). He knows the shadow is waiting for him, but becomes unsettled and uneasy at Roke. His focused training after the unleashing of the shadow has inspired him to help people instead of impress them, and Ged moves to the small town Pendor to protect the citizens from dragons.
Ged befriends Pechvarry, and when his new friend’s son is dying, Ged tries to save him with a spell. When he enters the liminal space between life and death, he sees the shadow for the first time since the night it was unleashed. Ged will later understand the relevance of meeting the shadow in the realm of death, for it is in fact the shadow of his own death that he unleashed. Through this spell, Ged barely survives, and the child is lost. At this time, Ged moves into Bly’s third stage “in which the distressed person calls on the moral intelligence to repair the rattle” (34). Ged wants to flee from the shadow, but he first wants to complete the task that brought him to Pendor.
Rather than waiting for the dragons to attack Pendor, Ged takes the fight to them. The eldest dragon tries to bargain with Ged, offering to name the shadow that hunts him. True names have a great power in Earthsea, and by knowing the shadow’s name, Ged would know it as himself. Of course, the psychological process cannot be achieved if one does not personally recognize the dark part as self. Importantly, Ged refuses the dragon’s offer and kills him and his offspring. At this point, Ged is more determined to save the Pendor people than himself. The wizard who was initially driven by power and glory has undergone great development.
With Pendor safe, Ged flees to both escape the shadow, which he fears facing again, and to spare Pendor from the shadow creature. While Ged retreats from the shadow, another confrontation drives him back to his true master, Ogion. He is now prepared to hear and heed his master’s advice: “Now turn clear round, and seek the very source . . . There lies your hope of strength” (Le Guin 128). Encouraged by his master, Ged bravely switches from the role of the hunted to that of the hunter, perhaps another indication the two are the same. Once Ged begins to hunt the shadow, it assumes Ged’s physical appearance. As Johnson indicates, “whether we know it or not our psychic twin follows us like a mirror image” (Johnson 16). Though there are reports from others of a man looking just like him, Ged still does not recognize himself in the shadow.
In the next meeting with the shadow, Ged tries to grab the shadow by force and fails. In The Symbolic Quest, psychotherapist Edward C. Whitmont explains that the “energy [of the shadow] cannot simply be stopped by an act of will. What is needed is rechanneling or transformation. However, this task requires both an awareness and an acceptance of the shadow as something which cannot simply be gotten rid of” (Whitmont 166). Ged thinks he needs to overcome the shadow, to kill it. Of course, this is not possible since the shadow is a part of his “unconscious personality” (Jung 87). Ultimately, after Ged tries to attack the shadow, it flees. Until he can recognize the shadow as himself, he cannot unite with it or achieve wholeness. Ged does begin to recognize that his “acts have their echo in it; it is [his] creature” (Le Guin 160). He is starting to accept ownership, but still sees the shadow as something monstrous he created, not as something that is a part of him.
Ged does not know how to defeat his shadow monster. In Bly’s fourth stage, “one gives up for a moment. . . we suddenly look into ourselves and see our own diminishment” (Bly 36). In hunting it and failing to so much as grasp it, Ged feels a momentary defeat. He continues to hunt the shadow, but does not know what he will do when he finds it. In a fortuitous moment, Ged runs into his old friend Estarriol from Roke. This is a key step in moving towards his final confrontation with the shadow because even though one must personally recognize his own shadow, the task does not require solitude: “Our friends play crucial roles in what we call the fourth stage” (37). The friend’s role is not to offer empty platitudes and insist things will be okay. In fact, Bly indicates such congeniality is useless. Instead, the true friend brings steady, moral support on the quest.
As a concerned friend, Estarriol insists upon accompanying Ged as he sets out across the ocean to search for his shadow. During this time, Ged comes closer to understanding that the shadow is an aspect of himself. He acknowledges to Estarriol, without yet understanding the full meaning of his words, “If I lose it, I am lost” (Le Guin 173). Earthsea, which is composed mostly of islands, is mapped only to a certain distance. Where the land disappears and the ocean becomes expansive, it is believed the world drops off. Ged is now willing to move into these uncharted waters, which are representative of the unconscious, the home of the shadow. This is the place Ged must go. Furthermore, not only is the ocean representative of the unconscious, but “[w]ater has often been used as a symbol for the deepest spiritual nourishment of humanity” (Johnson ix). This nourishment is exactly what Ged needs to complete his psychological wholeness and achieve the quest of the novel.
This hunt brings Ged into Bly’s fifth and final stage of “eating the shadow” (Bly 38). As Ged travels silently with his companion, he begins to recognize the shadow for what it truly is. He finally understands that the shadow is not something he created or unleashed, but that it is an unrecognized part of himself. His original way of thinking, to confront or overcome the shadow, was incorrect. He needs to identify and accept it, and he will do this by calling the shadow its true name: Ged. Not only do true names hold an important power in Earthsea, but “[u]sing language consciously seems to be the most fruitful method of retrieving shadow substance scattered out in the world. Energy we have sent out is floating around beyond the psyche; and one way to pull it back into the psyche is the rope of language” (42-43). This language, this naming of the shadow, of the self, is the final step for Ged in owning his shadow.
In the final confrontation, before Ged vocally names his shadow, it appears to him as shapeless. Then it goes through a series of transformations, taking on the following successive appearances: Ged’s father (who Ged left behind to study wizardy), Jasper (the wizard Ged was showing off to when he unleashed the shadow), Pechvarry (the friend whose son Ged failed to save), and Skiorh (a man who the shadow temporarily took hold of when chasing Ged). All these individuals represent different parts of Ged’s journey against his shadow: respectively, his inability to see the shadow, his arrogance in unleashing it, his fear of it, and his inability to see it for what it is. After this display, the shadow turns back “into black emptiness” (Le Guin 178). Once the shadow drops its guises, Ged recognizes the shadow as himself. Ged “took hold of his shadow, of the black self that reached out to him. Light and darkness met, and joined, and were one” (179). The wizard now holds a balance within himself. He has learned responsibility the responsibility of wizardry and reconciled the good and the bad within himself.
In naming his shadow, Ged recognizes what comprises his shadow. Le Guin describes, “Ged had neither lost nor won but, naming the shadow of his death with his own name, had made himself whole” (180). The spell to summon the dead and his own confrontation with death at the hands of his own shadow demonstrates what Ged had really poured into his shadow: his own mortality. In his arrogant youth, Ged felt invincible. Because he saw no harm falling upon himself because of his ability to alter the world through his powers of magic, he buried his own vulnerability deep in his shadow. Ged could not have contributed much to the world with his original attitude. In fact, if he had continued in his reckless ways, he surely would have done more harm than good. His progress here represents Johnson’s important recognition: “To own one’s shadow is to reach a holy place – an inner center – not attainable in any other way. To fail this is to fail one’s own sainthood and to miss the purpose of life” (Johnson 17). The following Earthsea books reveal the purpose of Ged’s life as a great and masterful wizard.
After his final confrontation with the shadow, Ged explains to Estarriol that his wound is “healed” and he is now “whole” and “free” (Le Guin 180). Ged has incorporated his shadow self and achieved what Jung identified as individuation, which Glen Slater describes as both “growing more into your uniqueness and character [and] feeling more connected to the human story as a whole” (CL1). By achieving individuation and incorporating his shadow, Ged can venture into the world as a psychological whole prepared to aid others on their journeys. This shadow hunt has been a great psychological journey for Ged, and it was necessary in his formation as a powerful and responsible wizard. As Jung indicates, “anyone who has insight into his own actions, and has thus found access to the unconscious, involuntarily exercises an influence on his environment” (Jung 401). With his magical abilities united with a sense of balance, Ged now has much to contribute to the world.
Through this novel, Le Guin has successfully demonstrated Bly’s steps of working with, confronting, and eating the shadow. The details and actions she writes demonstrate that this is not an easy process, but definitely a necessary one. By calling the shadow what it is, a shadow, the metaphor of the unleashed creature is strong and resonant for readers. Le Guin makes the process of the facing the shadow, one that must be recognized individually and collectively, identifiable and opens the ground for discussions amongst readers and scholars. The novel, written for children, is accessible to all ages and has a profound resonance even if one is not familiar with Jung’s terms and definitions.
Bernardo, Susan M. and Graham J. Murphy. Ursula K. Le Guin: A Critical Companion. Westport: Greenwood, 2006. N. pag. Kindle Edition.
Bly, Robert. A Little Book on the Human Shadow. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1988. Print.
Jacobi, Jolande S. Complex/Archetype/Symbol in the Psychology of C.G. Jung. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1959. Print.
Johnson, Robert A. Owning Your Own Shadow: Understanding the Dark Side of the Psyche. New York: Harper and Row, 1991. Print.
Jung, C. G. and Anthony Storr. The Essential Jung. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983. Print.
Le Guin, Ursula. A Wizard of Earthsea. New York: Bantam Books, 1968. Print.
Slater, Glen. “Class Lecture 1.” Jungian Depth Psychology. Pacifica Graduate Institute, Carpinteria. 13 Apr. 2011. Lecture.
– “Class Lecture 2.” Jungian Depth Psychology. Pacifica Graduate Institute, Carpinteria. 19 May 2009. Lecture.
– Class Lecture 3.” Jungian Depth Psychology. Pacifica Graduate Institute, Carpinteria. 23 June 2011. Lecture.
Whitmont, Edward C. The Symbolic Quest. New York: H Wolf Book Manufacturing Company, 1969. Print.