Review

Tehanu (The Earthsea Cycle, Book 4)

by Ursula K. Le Guin



Winner of the 1990 Nebula Award for Science Fiction, TEHANU is, in
many ways, a radical departure from A WIZARD OF EARTHSEA, THE TOMBS
OF ATUAN and THE FARTHEST SHORE. In 1972, THE FARTHEST SHORE was
published and the popular trilogy appeared to be complete. But
Ursula K. Le Guin, who always described the Earthsea series as "a
four-legged chair missing a leg," finally wrote the fourth book 20
years later.  

In TEHANU, Ged and Tenar (the teenage priestess from the second
novel) are reunited, but Ged is now powerless and Tenar has adopted
an abused child, Tehanu. Le Guin may be working with the same
characters, but her attitude towards them and Earthsea has become
more complicated. While it is not necessary to read A WIZARD OF
EARTHSEA and THE FARTHEST SHORE to understand TEHANU, reading THE
TOMBS OF ATUAN will show readers how Ged and Tenar's romantically
charged meeting in an underground labyrinth evolved into love and
commitment. As the most powerful wizard on Earthsea, Ged was
required to remain celibate and attend to a number of dangerous
quests. Tenar, yearning to be accepted by other people after her
escape from the Tombs of Atuan, married a farmer and settled down
on the island of Gont.  

Returning from his last quest injured and ashamed, Ged seeks out
Tenar and Ogion, his former master. Twenty-five years have passed
since Tenar's escape from the Tombs and she is now a widow. Le Guin
uses Tenar's encounters with men and women to make a feminist
critique of Earthsea and its sexist traditions. Although readers
were not usually privy to the internal monologues of characters
like Ged and Ogion, Le Guin tells us exactly what Tenar is feeling.
The widow and her adopted child are frequently ignored, humiliated
and condescended to by wizards and other powerful men. In TEHANU,
Le Guin looks back on the civilization she created in the first
three novels of the series and finds it frustrating and deeply
flawed. If only men can be wizards or kings, how and where can
women cultivate their own special power? The only thing Tenar feels
that she can do is raise children and do housework. Of course, by
nurturing Tehanu and creating a loving home for her with Ged, Tenar
ultimately saves her own life.

Unlike the other Earthsea novels, TEHANU lacks urgency and tends to
meander. The novel is episodic and Le Guin doesn't try to make any
of the new supporting characters especially sympathetic. Although I
loved reading about Ged and Tenar and enjoyed the book, I felt that
it ended abruptly and left a lot of questions unanswered. For a
novel that is supposed to complete a tetralogy, it seemed
inconclusive.

In TEHANU, Le Guin seems to have discarded many of the themes and
attitudes that dominated the first three novels. Instead of
speaking of equilibrium, power and balance, she focuses on the
importance of domesticity, female power and self-sacrifice. It may
be a different type of novel than the rest of the tetralogy, but it
is a worthy addition to Le Guin's impressive body of work.

Reviewed by Allie Cahill on January 23, 2011

Tehanu (The Earthsea Cycle, Book 4)
by Ursula K. Le Guin

  • Publication Date: February 1, 1991
  • Genres: Fantasy, Fiction
  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Spectra
  • ISBN-10: 0553288733
  • ISBN-13: 9780553288735