In a venture that all involved agree is unusual, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Simon & Schuster have joined forces to reissue Ursula K. Le Guin’s seminal six-book fantasy series set in the realm of Earthsea. Encompassing books first published between 1968 and 2001, the series has an atypical publishing history, confounded by several company mergers and acquisitions over the decades. Currently, three of the books – A Wizard of Earthsea, Tales from Earthsea, and The Other Wind – are published by HMH and three – The Tombs of Atuan, The Farthest Shore, and Tehanu – are published by S&S. On September 12, both houses will reissue their respective titles in hardcover, trade paperback, mass market paperback, and e-book, featuring a new, uniform cover design and new afterwords by Le Guin.
The publishing partnership was the brainchild of Jon Anderson, executive v-p and publisher of S&S Children’s Publishing. “I’ve always known that these books were divided up, initially among three houses,” he explains, “since Houghton Mifflin had the first book [after that house acquired Parnassus Press, the book’s original publisher]; we have books two, three, and four [all published by Atheneum]; and Harcourt published the fifth and sixth. Books one, five, and six have now come together under HMH.”
Several years ago, Anderson recalls, “It dawned on me that we had a chance to bring these books out in a uniform way, with both publishers cooperating. I’ve known Betsy Groban at HMH for years, so it was easy to pick up the phone and say, ‘Let’s make something out of this idea.’ We came up with a plan that S&S would handle the packaging and design of new covers, and HMH, since they are Ursula’s current publisher, would work on the editorial component. It turned out to be a fun labor of love for both companies.” Russell Gordon, S&S’s executive art director, was in charge of the series’s redesign and Julia Richardson, HMH’s editorial director of children’s paperbacks, served as editor of the reissue program.
Groban, senior v-p and publisher of HMH Children’s Book Group, says she was thrilled to receive Anderson’s phone call. “Everyone here was excited by the idea of this partnership and was on board right away,” she says. “The Earthsea books have had a crazy publishing trajectory, yet have withstood the test of time. This is an iconic series that is a literary phenomenon and is hugely popular with readers.” And popular with awards committees as well: the Earthsea novels, which have sold more than one million copies, include a Newbery Honor book, a National Book Award winner, a Nebula Award winner, and a World Fantasy Award winner.
For Richardson, this collaborative effort was especially rewarding. “I came to the Earthsea books as a young reader, and they spoke to me then and continue to do so,” she says. “And, since I worked at Simon & Schuster until the end of 2006, it was exciting to have the chance to work on all of these books together, and fun to work with my old colleagues again. We all got along well and it was an enjoyable experience all around.”
Le Guin is also pleased to see the Earthsea books brought together – though she didn’t originally conceive of it as a series. “With the first book, A Wizard of Earthsea, I thought I was just writing a single novel,” she says. “After it was published, I kept thinking about it and realized I’d left a trail of clues or promises without realizing it. So I picked up on those and wrote a sequel, The Tombs of Atuan, and began to see where the story was going. And then I realized we needed a third and a fourth book as well.”
Published in 1990, the fourth novel, Tehanu, appeared 18 years after the third installment, The Farthest Shore; Le Guin thought that Tehanu would conclude Earthsea. “But after a while I realized that there was more to the story, and began writing the short stories that became Tales from Earthsea, the fifth book,” she says. “And the last of those stories led directly to The Other Wind, the final book. I then came to see that it had always really been one story, which was astounding and gratifying to realize. And I knew that the story had at last come to an end.”
Le Guin praises the cooperative efforts of HMH and S&S staffers. “These books took a large part of my life to write, and I always loved working on them,” she says. “It’s lovely to finally have Earthsea all in once piece, and to let people see there are six books and they really do hang together. For my publishers to join forces like this is amazing and wonderful, and I’m grateful to them all. My birthday is in October, and this is a very nice 83rd birthday present.”
A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin. Houghton Mifflin, $16.99 Sept. 978-0-547-85139-6; Graphia trade paper, $8.99 ISBN 978-0-547-72202-3; Graphia mass market paper, $7.99 ISBN 978-0-547-77374-2.
The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula K. Le Guin. Atheneum, $16.99 Sept. 978-1-4424-5990-8; Atheneum trade paper, $8.99 ISBN 978-1-4424-5991-5; Simon Pulse mass market, $7.99 ISBN 978-0-6898-4536-9.
The Farthest Shore by Ursula K. Le Guin. Atheneum, $16.99 Sept. ISBN 978-1-4424-5992-2; Atheneum trade paper, $8.99 ISBN 978-1-4424-5993-9 $8.99; Simon Pulse mass market paper, $7.99 ISBN 978-0-6898-4534-5.
Tehanu by Ursula K. Le Guin. Atheneum, $16.99 Sept. ISBN 978-1-4424-5995-3; Atheneum trade paper, $8.99 ISBN 978-1-4424-5996-0; Simon Pulse mass market, $7.99 ISBN 978-0-6898-4553-8.
Tales from Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin. Houghton Mifflin, $16.99 Sept. 978-0-547-85140-2; Graphia trade paper, $8.99 ISBN 978-0-547-72204-7; Graphia mass market, $7.99 ISBN 978-0-547-77370-4.
The Other Wind by Ursula K. Le Guin. Houghton Mifflin, $16.99 Sept. ISBN 978-0-547-85141-9; Graphia trade paper, $8.99 ISBN 978-0-547-72243-6; Graphia mass market, $7.99 ISBN 978-0-547-77372-8.