The Rule of Names

This study guide will help you analyze the text “The Rule of Names” by Ursula K. Le Guin. We will show you examples of elements in the text that will be relevant for your analysis. In these notes, we will focus on the summary, structure, characters, setting, narrator and point of view, language, themes and message of the story, and help you put it in perspective.

Presentation of the text

Title: “The Rule of Names” 
Author: Ursula K. Le Guin 
Published in: Fantastic (magazine) 
Date of Publication: 1964 
Genre: Fantasy short story

Ursula K. Le Guin (b. 1929) is an American writer of fantasy and science fiction. She writes short stories, novels, and children’s books. Le Guin is best known for the Earthsea fantasy series, collections of stories set in the magical realm of Earthsea. The first stories in which she began to develop the world of Earthsea are “The Rule of Names” and “The Word of Unbinding”.

Further help

If you need more information about the fantasy genre, you can read our topic guide on this:


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The middle of the short story starts with the inciting action, the arrival of a stranger to Sattins Island: “ ‘A foreign boat, a foreign boat!’  Very seldom was the lonely isle visited by a boat from some equally lonely isle of the East Reach, or an adventurous trader from the Archipelago.” 

The rising action follows the stranger, whom the villagers name Blackbeard.  The man’s walking stick and the fact that he travels alone also function as foreshadowing elements that hint that he is a wizard: “But when they told Seacaptain Fogeno that he carried an oaken walking-stick around with him, the old man nodded. ‘Two wizards in one town,’ he said. ‘Bad!’ ” 

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The Rule of Names

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