Author: Ursula K. Le Guin
First publication date: 1990
Years ago, they had escaped together from the sinister Tombs of Atuan—she, an isolated young priestess; he, a powerful wizard. Now she is a farmer’s widow, having chosen for herself the simple pleasures of an ordinary life. And he is a broken old man, mourning the powers lost to him through no choice of his own.
Once, when they were young, they helped each other at a time of darkness and danger and shared an adventure like no other. Now they must join forces again, to help another in need — the physically and emotionally scarred child whose own destiny has yet to be revealed.
It’s amazing how fast I am going through books these days. I’m not sure if it is this specific series that make it so easy or I am just in my element 😀
Tehanu, the fourth book of the Earthsea cycle by Ursula Le Guin, is the last book of the original series. As such I expected it all to tie neatly together with a bow on top. I do love stories which give us more answers than questions at the end. And in a way, Tehanu did feel like an ending — but also as a beginning. I’ll explain in a minute.
I complained before that I was disappointed that the plots in the previous books were not tied together, the only common element being Ged. Well, in Tehanu we have a bit more to work with – we have Tenar (from The Tombs of Atuan) who is a farmer’s widow with two children already grown and living their own life; we have Ged, old and powerless after saving the world from Cob before he was able to break the Balance and extinguished magic from the world; we briefly meet prince, now king, Arren (The Farthest Shore) as well. We have pretty much all the major characters, which were named before, appear in this book. Some die, some rise and some find happiness.
The book is told from Tenar’s point of view as she goes to Ogion (Ged’s first teacher, appearing in A Wizard of Earthsea) as he is on his deathbed. We are briefly told that Tenar had saved and taken in a child that was abused and thrown in a fire to die by its own parents. The two of them stay in Ogion’s house even after he is dead and buried when Ged arrives weak and wounded on the back of a dragon. Yeah, we have dragons here although I wouldn’t get too excited. We don’t see them as much as we ought to.
The plot goes on and on about their daily struggles, hinting that the little scarred girl Tenar is taking care of is more than she appears to be. I won’t go much into the plot as this book is probably the one with most intricate plot (still quite simple by my standards) so I’ll let you enjoy it.
Let’s talk about what I liked.
I complained (yeah, I do that a lot these days) that in every book the main character(s) are male and no women, save for Tenar, had been even named. They are just extensions of men with no role or real power. In Tehanu this changes — not only because it is presented from Tenar’s point of view, but also because most of the characters in it are women.
Le Guin let us know those simple women, their struggles and thoughts, their hardships and relationships. It is refreshing from one side but it is annoying from another — none of them have any real power, not even over their own lives, and all of them seem to think their sole purpose in life is to marry, give birth and take care of the household — save for Moss, who deals with simple magic and has never married. It’s not like I want to see women rule the world (even though I find that cool) but it feels like there is no balance between the female and male characters. And considering how much wizards talk about the Balance this feels off.
Another thing I liked, and what made it feel like an end for me, is that most of the characters got their ending — death, discovery, power etc. It just felt like ‘and they lived happily ever after’ even though some of the endings were not that cheery.
And then we have Therru – she is a tiny mystery that didn’t get uncovered to the very end. And when that happened — the story ended as if there was another book coming. There were some hints that she has power, that dragon people exist and they can transform themselves but nothing was actually confirmed. There is also this thing about the wizards of Roak looking for ‘a woman from Gont’ but that plotline was never developed or resolved. And if you had read the book soon after it was released then I bet it was super annoying for it to end this way. Luckily, after digging a bit more I found that the author published another book in 2001 called The Other Wind so we’ll get a resolution to those questions after all. But imagine if Tehanu was indeed planned to be the last of the series (and for over ten years it was)? I was going to murder somebody.
Anyway, I’ll give Tehanu 4/5 since it was indeed interesting even though I read more about how to work the land and tend goats than I ever needed or wanted to. Let’s hope the final one will indeed answer all the questions that this one left floating around.
What about you? What rating would you give? What are your thoughts and takes on Tehanu?