Towards the end of A Wizard of Earthsea, when Ged and Vetch/Estarriol are pursuing the shadow Ged says:

I have followed too slow. It has found the way to escape me, and so doom me. It must not escape me, for I must follow it however far it goes. If I lose it I am lost.

But I can't work out what he means. As far as I can see he pursues the shadow towards the ultimate meeting just as he was already doing, just slightly faster. Is it mentioned anywhere in the book or Ursula Le Guin's interviews etc what Ged means by "It has found the way to escape me"?


Thanks to everyone who answered, but I don't think anyone has go to the heart of the matter, probably because it was either a slip or a whim of Le Guin's and there is no answer. I reread that bit of the book, and it is clear that prior to Ged arriving at Astowell are pursuing the shadow as fast as they can (without using a mage wind). He is confident of the pursuit and indeed says to Estarriol:

Is the iron sure where the magnet lies

They stop overnight at Astowell to rest and fill the water skins, and it's in the early hours of the morning that Ged makes his statement. They then continue the pursuit as before, but this time using a mage wind to drive the boat faster. There isn't any indication that Ged has lost the trail of the shadow, or of any other change.

I suspect this may simply have been a dramatic device. Having the travellers stop at Astowell allows Le Guin to reinforce that this is the edge of the known world, and the sudden urgency gets the travellers away from Astowell in a dramatic fashion. Unless Le Guin herself comments on the matter I think I'm stuck.


He's speaking metaphorically. The Shadow is an aspect of Ged (his death aspect). So he is talking about "losing himself". "I have followed too slow." refers to the fact he was reluctant to face the Shadow (himself).

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    But Ged and Estarriol are already pursuing the shadow, and while Ged may indeed be reluctant to face it, that's what he plans to do. His statement implies something has changed i.e. the shadow has done something unexpected. – John Rennie May 22 '13 at 10:21
  • @JohnRennie it's been ages since I've read the book (so I can't remember exact phrases), but it's probably a moment of reflection - he's regretting that it took him so long to be able to face the shadow. – evilsoup May 22 '13 at 13:01
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    I'm not sure this can be right. I don't believe Ged is aware that the creature is himself at the point which he states this. – Christi May 22 '13 at 19:38

As I remember/interpreted it. Ged earlier learned how to sense his shadow self after an encounter. In the last book he and Vetch were pursuing it and he awoke one morning and feared that the shadow had somehow escaped him.
Ged catches up with the shadow by nightfall. The shadow was waiting for him on a magical island of the land of the dead, so maybe that's why Ged couldn't initially sense his quarry in the morning.
So the shadow had either somehow put enough distance between it and Ged or the magical land of the dead was preventing Ged from locating it or maybe it was just plain old anxiety.


I think the simple meaning of the statement is as follows. Ged is saying that because he has taken so long that his shadow has got so far ahead of him, he will not be able to catch it up. This is disastrous for him because he is not able/permitted to stop pursuing it. If it has got so far ahead of him that he will be unable to catch up with it, then he is doomed to spend the rest of his life futilely pursuing it with no hope of being able to capture it.

It is, in essence, an expression of Ged's weariness and disillusionment with the quest as much as it is a reminder of his need to hurry. He is expressing his fear that his quest will not end.


Initially, Ged thought it was only a matter of reaching the shadow in land or sea. Therefore, since he always knew where the shadow was, it was only a matter of time. He knew he would reach it, sooner or later. That's why he didn't bother with a magewind (that way he could also save his strength).

However, he suddenly realised the shadow's ruse, to go to the Dry Land (the land of the dead). If it did that, Ged would no longer be able to follow without going there himself.

How did he realise that? Not sure, but remember that people in the islands of the East Reach began telling them of the strange lands that lay on the limits of the earth, where the stars were different and did not change. I think he may have made the connection shortly after that (remember that he has already had a glimpse of the Dry Land, when he tried to save the child, so he knows how it looks like and more crucially, how difficult is to get out from there, even though he had only walked a few meters in it).

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    Hello Ruben, welcome to Science Fiction & Fantasy. May I invite you to take the tour? You could make your answer even better by quoting relevant bits from the book. If you want to, you can edit your answer to do so. – SQB Jun 27 '17 at 8:25
  • Mention of different stars was about one of furthest south islands. – Mithoron Sep 9 '17 at 21:21

Ged is worried that Shadow may go to far into the Dry Land - it might be quite challenging to pursue him there. You can get the details in the Farthest Shore.

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    "You can get the details in the Farthest Shore" - the answer could be much improved by providing the details – DVK-on-Ahch-To Nov 7 '14 at 1:56

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