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10 thoughts on “Tehanu

  1. Jacob Jacob says:

    May 2013

    I don't know anything anymore.

    A Wizard of Earthsea and The Farthest Shore, you can take your dragons and shove em. Your wizardry's not wanted here. All your quests are just cruises and island-hopping, boys' own adventures. Fuck it all. This is the real story. The tedium and horror of regular life is more epic than your silly jaunts, and all your hoity-toity man's magic won't do nothing to save you here.

    Goddamn.


  2. Ben Ben says:

    I remember reading Tehanu in grade school; I also remember not liking it very much. However, reading it again, years later, I think of it as a masterpiece. The first three Earthsea novels were good, interesting, entertaining, but Tehanu belongs to another tier entirely. Its character development and world-building are par with Tombs of Atuan, but its pacing is better and it ties in more tightly to existing lore. Further, we get to see the characters we've come to love in a more natural light. It's heartening to learn that, without the crutches of myth and magic and religion, they still stand as individuals, well-developed and interesting to read about. The moments of thrill and fear are well put together and memorable, but also down-to-earth: it's perfectly reasonable to expect that anyone could be put in danger during a moment of home invasion or by an unwelcome encounter on the road. Despite the simple, pastoral setting and the almost complete lack of magic, the story has a certain grandiosity to it that reflects the depth of its content. Tehanu is a book about people, the good and the bad, about life and growing up and the mysteries of someone else's way of seeing.


  3. Sean Barrs Sean Barrs says:

    Of all the fantasy realms I’ve read about, lived in, imagined, there is only one I prefer to Earthsea and that’s Tolkien’s. So I hope that illustrates how highly I regard this series.

    Earthsea is beautiful and as eloquently described as ever in Tehanu. There’s just something about the careful way Le Guin writes that makes this world seems so complete. She doesn’t waste words and her novels are always quite brief and very character driven, though somehow I have a keener picture of Earthsea than most other fantasy realms.

    Her stories never stop moving forward.

    This one focuses on a much older Sparrowhawk, one who has lost his sense of self. After years of saving people and performing great feats with his magic, he is dried up and spent: he has nothing left. What is a mage without magic? Nothing, he would tell you. And they’re sad words to hear because the character has always been somewhat of a leader, an inspirer of others who were ready to give up. So this takes on a rather introspective turn as he attempts to overcome his depression by reconnecting with some old friends.

    He is sad, forlorn and without hope and the writing is loaded with bleak emotions. The only other writer of epic fantasy I have found who can capture such human feeling within her books is Robin Hobb. I think returning readers need to be really careful with this one and approach it with an open-mind. This was unlike all the other books; yet, it brought them altogether perfectly and into what Le Guin originally thought was the conclusion before she wrote The Other Wind.

    “He was so intense, so serious, armoured in the formality of his rank and yet vulnerable in his honesty, the purity of his will. Her heart yearned to him. He thought he had learned pain, but he would learn it again and again, all his life, and forget none of it.”

    description

    Ursula Le Guin is one of my favourite fantasy writers. And she is painfully under read in comparison to some leading names. Her works are not as clever as Tolkien’s, and she did not invent her own language(s) or comprehensive history, though her world really has influenced a large part of modern fantasy. I see a lot of her ideas paralleled in video games (namely the elder scrolls universe) and the works of later writers.

    So, my point is, she’s not a writer to be missed for fantasy fans, especially those who want to read traditional fantasy at its finest. This is fourth book in this series now, a series that is consistently good yet manages to bring in new ideas with each new instalment.

    Earthsea Cycle
    1. A Wizard of Earthsea- Four worthy stars
    2. The Tombs of Atuan- A redeeming four stars
    3. The Farthest Shore- A strong four stars
    4. Tehanu - A sad four stars

    description

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  4. Kate Kate says:

    This is a difficult Earthsea book to read. After Ged's adventures crossing the sea and dealing with Kings, Princes and Mages, this book stays pretty much firmly on Gont and he hardly appears.

    Instead the book concentrates on Tenar (from the Tombs of Atuan) and her life on Gont Island and that of the small damaged girl Tenar finds in the road one day who has been so badly burned and mistreated that she is terribly deformed.

    The book deals with discrimination on the basis of appearence, the everyday sexism of the society, and the will of a strong woman to defy that sexism and live her life and protect her adopted, damaged child, and also care for her damaged rescuer turned lover (Ged).

    It's a quiet but incredibly powerful book with a stunning and unexpected ended. I highly recommend it.

    Another rereading this year (2012), and this book impressed me even more, it's utterly beautiful in so many ways. The power of love and it's ability to redeem is made clear here. It's hard to believe that this is considered a children's book as it has more powerful things to say about love and living than the majority of books written for adults.


  5. Brian Brian says:

    This is the fantasy book that I've always hoped would be written but thought impossible in the genre: a beautifully crafted tale of humanity where the magic and dragons take the back seat. It's ok if it isn't the best fantasy you've ever read, but to me it's the most perfect fantasy novel. It makes me want to be a better reader, a better writer, a better person.

    In 2017 I spent so much time reading ULG that many of the 133 books begin to pale. I haven't added up all the pages but between the entire Earthsea cycle, all of her novellas, two books of short stories and a Hainish cycle book I can say that I'm an Ursula Le Guin acolyte. She's a treasure. The world is a better place because she decided to put pen to paper and teach us.

    Rest in peace, Ursula. Your gift to humanity will forever remind us that we are made of stars.


  6. Annie Annie says:

    Yes, it's obvious this book is written by a woman.

    Your point, everybody?

    Like, God, do you even understand how many books are so obviously written by a man? Historically, nearly all books have been written by men. Certainly most of Western canon has been. And for most of those, there's no mistaking it: they were written by men, would not have been written by a woman, could not have been written by a woman.

    Why? Because in them, female characters are written only as decorations and toys for the male characters, are drawn so vaguely and so stylized that they're barely recognizable as human beings with internal lives and self-driven motivations and needs.

    (Let me just... let me just... have you ever read Hemingway? Seriously? Do you think a woman would ever, ever, ever have written a character as ridiculous and pathetic and unreal as Maria in For Whom the Bell Tolls? WHAT A JOKE.)

    In any case, I hardly think that's what le Guin's done here. Yes, she has richly drawn female characters around whom the story centers (can you even deal with it?) but her male characters don't suffer for it. Ged isn't exactly neglected or mistreated by le Guin. In fact, he seems more complete and deeper and more real in this novel than in the Wizard of Earthsea.

    Yes, there are a lot of shitty male characters, too. Of course, there are a lot of shitty men IRL. Them's the breaks.

    That's the rant. Anyway, what le Guin has done with Tehanu is nothing short of remarkable. It's sensitive, well-plotted and paced, sincere and warm and earnest. She treats the reader gently, tenderly, but firmly, and never succumbs to trite cliches. She never chooses the answer that is simply easier, or more exciting, if it reduces the bones of the story to something less honest.

    Perfect afterword, too. Maybe the change coming into Earthsea has something to do with no longer identifying freedom with power, with separating being free from being in control.

    And what le Guin says of the conversation between Moss and Tenar on the difference between men and women:

    Moss is pretty contemptuous of men in general, having been treated by them with contempt all her life. That's all right, and I find her discussion of men's power and women's power harsh, incomplete, but interesting. Then she goes off into an incantatory praise of mysterious female knowledge: 'Who knows where a woman begins or ends? I have roots, I go back into the dark!' And she ends with a rhetorical question- 'Who'll as the dark its name?'

    'I will,' Tenar says. 'I lived long enough in the dark.'

    I've often seen Moss's rhapsody quoted with approval. Tenar's fierce answer almost always goes unquoted, unnoticed. Yet it refuses Moss's self-admiring mysticism. And all Tenar's life is in it.

    UGH. Le Guin is just so... so together, so conscious, so self-aware.


  7. Charlotte Charlotte says:

    What cannot be healed must be transcended.

    Welcome back, all. Today I'll be discussing Ursula Le Guin's Tehanu, published in 1990 and that year's winner of the Nebula Award for Best Novel and the Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel. Spoilers follow, as well as some discussion of child abuse.

    So What's It About?

    Tenar, last seen as a teenage girl in The Tombs of Atuan, is now well into middle age and widowhood. After having felt adrift for some time, she finds a new sense of purpose when she takes in a severely burned little girl who was left for dead by her abusive parents. She and the girl, Therru, settle into life together, but their pattern is once again disturbed when Ged returns to Gont near death and bereft of his magic. What follows is a reflection on the true meaning of power and what it means to live in its absence.


    What I Thought/The F Word

    Very few books have ever resonated with me quite as much as Tehanu did. It's nothing short of brilliant in my view, a quietly transformative, meditatively powerful reflection on some of the most fundamental questions that characterize my own life. There are three key thematic strands that deftly weave their way through Tehanu's narrative, dealing chiefly with trauma, gender and power and how the three are inextricably linked.

    What cannot be mended must be transcended.

    There are some wrongs that may never be righted, there are some hurts that will never heal. But if this is true, how do you nevertheless forge onwards, find meaning in life and be more than what has been done to you? Maybe that transcendence looks different for everyone. It's how Tenar made the choice to fight for a normal, peaceful existence with a farm and a husband and children after the unimaginable darkness of her childhood. It's how Therru takes tiny, miraculous steps towards feeling safe and expressing herself through play and speech and trust in adults. It's how Ged slowly makes sense of his new identity after his entire life has been shattered.

    Tehanu makes it clear that the act of enacting harm against someone is also an act of expressing your power over them:

    It’s so easy, she thought with rage, it’s so easy for Handy to take the sunlight from her, take the ship and the King and her childhood from her, and it’s so hard to give them back! A year I’ve spent trying to give them back to her, and with one touch he takes them and throws them away. And what good does it do him—what’s his prize, his power? Is power that—an emptiness?

    The power that you achieve through harming others is, as Tenar puts it, an emptiness, but even the allure of that empty power is enough for some people to justify their actions against others. What is agonizing about this is how incredibly easy it is to enact that destructive power against others, while building up true constructive power through love and connection is a delicate process that requires time, vulnerability and trust.

    There is also the question of the stigma that accompanies trauma. Therru carries the physical markings of what has been done to her, and because of that people fear and shun her. They cannot stand the thought of a child being thrown into the flames or raped or beaten, and deal with that inability by projecting their fear and disgust onto the survivor instead of the perpetrator. Just as it is easier to tear someone down for empty power, it is easier to blame a victim than it is to confront a world where parents would be capable of doing what has been done to Therru. I never loved Tenar more than when she insisted on how wrong this was, and told Therru that she is defined by who she is and what she can do instead of what has been done to her:

    “You are beautiful, Tenar said in a different tone. Listen to me, Therru. Come here. You have scars, ugly scars, because an ugly, evil thing was done to you. People see the scars. But they see you, too, and you aren't the scars. You aren't ugly. You aren't evil. You are Therru, and beautiful. You are Therru who can work, and walk, and run, and dance, beautifully, in a red dress.”

    Tehanu is equally preoccupied with questions of masculinity and femininity as it is with questions of trauma. There are several meditations on inherently masculine and feminine types of power, and my favorite of these occurs between Tenar and a witchwoman named Moss. Tenar asks Moss what is wrong with men, and Moss replies as follows:

    “The best I can say, it's like this. A man's in his skin, see, like a nut in its shell ... It's hard and strong, that shell, and it's all full of him. Full of grand man-meat, man-self. And that's all. That's all there is.

    A woman's a different thing entirely. Who knows where a woman begins and ends? Listen mistress, I have roots, I have roots deeper than this island. Deeper than the sea, older than the raising of the lands. I go back into the dark ... I go back into the dark! Before the moon I am, what a woman is, a woman of power, a woman's power, deeper than the roots of trees, deeper than the roots of islands, older than the Making, older than the moon. Who dares ask questions of the dark? Who'll ask the dark its name?”

    Moss has completely subscribed to the idea that there are inherent, boundless differences between men and women and the kinds of power that they embody. It can be tempting to subscribe to this view sometimes - that women are essentially divine, mystical, pure and powerful in a way that men are not. Tenar, however, and Le Guin, do not seem to be convinced by this idea. Tenar mildly responds that the horrors of her childhood were perpetrated entirely by women, complicating Moss's celebration of pure, mystical female power. Later, she says the following to Ged:

    It seems to me we make up most of the differences, and then complain about ’em.

    By arguing that we make up most of the differences, Le Guin supports the notion that sex and gender by and large social constructs that we perpetuate in order to simplify the world into easy, false dichotomies. Making up most of the differences also complicates notions of biological essentialism that dictate certain traits as inherently masculine or feminine.

    What is clear, however, is that while gender may have started out as a social construct, it has come to be an extremely real thing to the people who live within its rules, power dynamics and expectations on a daily basis. The impact of gender expectations is conveyed most clearly through Ged's story- the unmanning that he experiences in Tehanu through the loss of his magic. When Ged loses his magic - his masculine-coded power-he experiences an agonizing identity crisis. His shame puzzles Tenar:

    But even so she did not feel she understood his shame, his agony of humiliation. Perhaps only a man could feel so. A woman got used to shame.

    In this way it is clear that Ged's shame as a result of his loss of power is gendered as well - a woman, who lives with a constant lack of power and plenty of the shame that accompanies being a denigrated gender-cannot be caught up by the conundrum of ego that masculinity causes.

    For a significant portion of the book, Ged essentially sees himself as nothing without his magic, and as a result is completely cowed, self-absorbed and emotionally stunted, unwilling to care about anything but nursing his wounds and stewing over his downfall:

    Ged—the one who might really have helped—Ged ran away. Ran off like a whipped dog, and never sent sign or word to her, never gave a thought to her or Therru, but only to his own precious shame. That was his child, his nurseling. That was all he cared about. He had never cared or thought about her, only about power—her power, his power, how he could use it, how he could make more power of it. Putting the broken Ring together, making the Rune, putting a king on the throne. And when his power was gone, still it was all he could think about: that it was gone, lost, leaving him only himself, his shame, his emptiness.

    This, Le Guin argues, is what our construction of masculinity can make of men. Even a courageous, heroic, truly good man like Ged has built his entire identity upon having more power than other people, and when that is no longer the case he reverts back to being a terrified, emotionally-repressed teenager again. The rest of the wizards in the book are presented in much the same light- emotionally repressed, terrified of losing their power, and arrogant. It is only when Ged's worst fears do in fact come true that he is able to actually begin to live in a genuine way and forge a healthy identity for himself as a real man as opposed to a man whose entire sense of himself is constructed on notions of empty power. As Le Guin puts it in the afterward:

    In Tehanu he can become, finally, fully a man. He is no longer the servant of his power.

    This is the strange, pitiable paradox of masculinity: men have constructed themselves as the more powerful gender, but this construction of power leads to constant fears of being perceived as weak and unmanly. Again we come back to the notion of empty power- if your power is built on others' fear and leads to your own constant fear of weakness, what is it truly worth? And with that in mind, what are the other ways that we might be able to define power in a healthier and more grounded way?

    “Why are men afraid of women?
    If your strength is only the other's weakness, you live in fear, Ged said.
    Yes; but women seem to fear their own strength, to be afraid of themselves.
    Are they ever taught to trust themselves? Ged asked, and as he spoke Therru came in on her work again. His eyes and Tenar's met.
    No, she said. Trust is not what we're taught. She watched the child stack the wood in the box. If power were trust, she said. I like that word. If it weren't all these arrangements - one above the other - kings and masters and mages and owners - It all seems so unnecessary. Real power, real freedom, would lie in trust, not force.
    As children trust their parents, he said.”

    Again, what cannot be mended must be transcended. We must find a way to transcend what is unmendable and unendurable in our current construction of power dynamics, and the quiet revolution of Tehanu offers just one promising alternative.


    About the Author

    Ursula Le Guin lived from 1929 to 2018. She was born in Berkelely, California, and after a master's degree in French, abandoned her doctoral work to begin a writing career in the 1950s. Her first published book was Rocannon's World in 1966, but critical acclaim became hers with The Wizard of Earthsea in 1968. She was the first woman to win a Nebula Award for Best Novel, and over the course of her career she was awarded with numerous Hugos, Nebulas and Locus Awards, as well as being appointed the second female Grand Master of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Her works often featured explorations of cultural anthropology, feminism, alternative distributions of power and Taoism. She is also notable for her early and continued exploration of non-heterosexual sexuality and non-white worlds .


  8. Bradley Bradley says:

    I think this was an interesting installment for the Earthsea books not because it continued the grand tradition of huge fantasy implications and events, but because it flips our expectations and gives us a very domestic view of Earthsea.

    That's not to say that evil things don't happen, because they do, but the scope is pulled all the way back in, with Tenar from book 2 and Ged meeting up again after almost a lifetime, with her as a middle-aged woman and Ged much changed after the events of book 3, having lost his magic.

    Reader expectations can be a huge complication to any tale that wants to be told. If I hadn't gone into this with my eyes wide open, I might have been rather upset. As it is, I judged this book in my mind against a vast collection of fantasy novels rather than the highest expectations of LeGuin's other novels and I didn't find it wanting. In fact, I quite enjoyed the deeper exploration of what it means to be a woman in Earthsea, with the different kinds of magic, the complications, and the down-to-earth feel. If Ged is the wind, then the female side is the earth. No surprise, I'm sure, but it was quite well done.

    As for the plot, it didn't drag for me. I've read much, much worse. :) The setup at the end was quite interesting, too.

    Final estimation? It's not on the same level as the other three, but it does explore the world of Earthsea in a rather interesting way that includes two of my favorite characters from the previous books. Sparrowhawk isn't mighty and righteous or just trying to fix his mistakes. He's just a man. That's okay. :)


  9. Apollo Hesiod Apollo Hesiod says:

    Very enjoyable, now I need to find out what happens with Therru, on to the next book.


  10. Barbara Barbara says:

    I must have been about 10 when I read the original Earthsea trilogy for the first time and was just blown away by it. I loved it and have re-read it many times since. I daydreamed about going to Roke and proving to all those narrow-minded wizards that a woman could be as good at magic as a man. I even tried to make my own model of the tombs of Atuan.

    I was thrilled when Le Guin decided to write another story in that world - until I read it. I was deeply disappointed by this heavy-handed update in the series. If at 10 I was able to see that the Earthsea society was patriarchal and misogynistic, as an adult I certainly don't need it Spelt Out To Me In Words Of One Syllable So I Get The Point. I'm also capable of understanding that an author can craft a world and put words in mouths of characters without necessarily approving of it all.

    Perhaps my biggest objection is the violence she had to do to the characters of Tenar and Ged to fit into her brave new world. Le Guin is a talented writer. She could have made her point without being anywhere near this clumsy.

    I remember getting into a discussion about this book when it first came out, back in the dim, dark ages of Usenet. One of the posters said there are actually two Ursula Le Guins. Good Ursula is a gifted storyteller who writes beautifully crafted and thought provoking novels. Bad Ursula never lets the story get in the way of The Message. Tehanu was written by Bad Ursula.


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Tehanu [BOOKS] ✫ Tehanu By Ursula K. Le Guin – Thomashillier.co.uk 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 pleasu 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 ownOnce, 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 needthe physically and emotionally scarred child whose own destiny has yet to be revealed.