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The Cleveland Plain Dealer

Harry Potter Meets Lord of the Rings in Two Part Drama
- Mark Dawidziak

You've probably heard talk about a delightful series of fantasy novels featuring a young man who learns that he's a wizard. As he struggles to master his magical powers, the talented lad becomes more and more aware of his amazing destiny.

And although written for young readers, these enchanting novels have won a remarkably wider audience. Sound familiar?

You're thinking Harry Potter? Well, J.K. Rowling's best-selling books certainly fit the profile. But long before the world heard of young Harry, fantasy fans fell under the spell of science-fiction writer Ursula K. Le Guin's three "Earthsea" books.

Two of these novels, "A Wizard of Earthsea," published in 1968, and "The Tombs of Atuan," published in 1971, are the basis for "Legend of Earthsea," the two-part drama that cable's Sci Fi Channel will begin at 9 p.m. Monday (concluding at the same time Tuesday). They tell of a reckless youth named Ged, who discovers that he possesses magical abilities. Seeking to master his craft, he studies under the guidance of legendary wizard Ogion.

It's all right to play the comparison game. Le Guin's trilogy, after all, was compared to J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings." The company is terrific.

"Think Harry Potter' meets Lord of the Rings,' " said Bonnie Hammer, the executive in charge of the Sci Fi Channel. "This is an epic coming-of-age story of a young man's journey to become the world's greatest sorcerer. He'll fall in love. He combats dragons. He goes to wizard college, wrestles his own demons, crosses death's door, but ultimately seizes the power to reunite the mystical land of Earthsea."

Directed by Ron Lieberman ("Table for Five"), "Legend of Earthsea" stars Shawn Ashmore as immature Ged and Danny Glover as the wise Ogion.

"I'd actually been a huge fan of fantasy and sci-fi growing up, but I wasn't familiar with this series," said Ashmore, best known for playing Bobby Drake/Iceman in the two "X-Men" films. "So the first time I really got a chance to read the books and get into the characters and the story was after I read the script."

His mother introduced him to great fantasy literature. She read him the seven "Narnia" chronicles by C.S. Lewis.

"I think that's why I got into the genre initially," Ashmore said. "And that's really why I think I like to continue to work in it.... I just learned to love it as a child."

The actor wasn't struck by the similarities between Ged and Harry Potter. He was more intrigued by comparisons with Bobby Drake.

"They're both sort of young men dealing with their responsibility of having a power," Ashmore told TV critics in Los Angeles. "I think the difference between the two is that Ged, at the beginning, is slightly less responsible and prepared to deal with this. He's this strong-headed youth who grows up in a small place."

Le Guin's Earthsea archipelago is a land where magic is treated as both a prevalent type of technology and as spiritual form of learning. After accidentally unleashing a dark power, Ged embarks on a quest that leads him to Tenar (Kristin Kreuk), the devout pupil to high priestess Thar (Isabella Rossellini).

"What's inherent in this story are enormous values and ideals -- values around one's use of one's gift, and the use of one's gift for the betterment of the world," Glover said. "All those things are important values that go beyond the fantasy world. So I don't find it very difficult to center the character in this world."

Kreuk, best known for playing Lana Lang on the WB's "Smallville," has had plenty of experience in the realm of fantastic fantasy. Yet, like Ashmore, she's not afraid of becoming identified with the genre.

"I don't know if that would be such a bad thing," Kreuk said. "It's a great genre to work in. It's so varied. Every part that I've played has been wonderful."

"Earthsea" fans, though, tend to be as devoted as those readers who cherish Tolkien's trilogy, Rowling's Potter adventures or the "Narnia" books.

"Miss Le Guin was not involved in the development of the material and hasn't been involved in the actual making of the film." Lieberman said. "But we've been very, very honest to the books and tried to capture all the levels of spiritualism, emotional content and metaphorical messages.... I've tried to ground it in a great deal of reality, and we have things that we find real and familiar, as well as the unfamiliar and the fantastic."

Cleveland Plain Dealer