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Tehanu (The Earthsea Cycle, Book 4) by…

Tehanu (The Earthsea Cycle, Book 4) (original 1990; edition 2004)

by Ursula K. Le Guin

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3,407391,584 (3.78)94
Title:Tehanu (The Earthsea Cycle, Book 4)
Authors:Ursula K. Le Guin
Info:Pocket (2004), Paperback, 288 pages
Collections:Read but unowned

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Tehanu by Ursula K. Le Guin (1990)



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by Ursula K. Le Guin
Bantam, 1991
ISBN 0553288733 (paperback), 252 pp.

Review date: August, 2015

From 1968 to 1972, Ursula K. Le Guin published a series of three books aimed at older children and teens, a series which soon became a recognized classic of the high fantasy genre: the Earthsea trilogy. For fifteen years, it seemed that the trilogy, and a couple short stories preceding it, would be all of Earthsea the world would see—and, as I wrote in my review for the final book, The Farthest Shore, the series came to an acceptable end, with the primary protagonist, Ged, finding his life as a wizard at an end and returning home to the isle of Gont, from which he had removed so many years before. But then, in 1990, a fourth book appeared. Entitled Tehanu, it picked up the story begun in The Tombs of Atuan, the second book of the trilogy, reintroducing the Kargish exile Tenar, former child priestess of the dark powers of Atuan, now a 40-year-old widowed farmwife on Gont, whither she fled with Ged some two and a half decades before.

I've said before that although the Earthsea trilogy was written for children, adults might get even more out of it than younger readers. That certainly holds true for Tehanu, with its protagonist no longer a teenager as she was in her previous appearance, but now well into middle age—or probably even old age in a pre-industrial society such as Earthsea's. Moreover, the themes are heavier and darker than those encountered in the previous books, with Tenar finding herself the caretaker—indeed, the adoptive mother—of a young girl who was repeatedly raped and beaten, and finally burned in a campfire and left for dead. (If this had been published online, it probably would have come with a trigger warning. With this book, the Earthsea Cycle has finally matured, along with its author and its readers. Although the original trilogy is often billed as children's fiction, I'd say that this book, with its gritty realism, is definitely for older teens and above.)

In my reviews of the original trilogy, I classified each as a bildungsroman, a coming-of-age tale that follows the subject's inner development—psychological, moral, emotional, etc.—from youth to adulthood. Some may argue that while Le Guin's books might indeed count as coming-of-age tales, they aren't necessarily bildungsromans in the strictest sense, not going into enough psychological depth or not covering a great enough length of time, I believe otherwise: that the focus of each book is one of the deepest, most critical psychological changes in each character's life, and the length of time, varying from many months to a few years is enough to see the characters move from late youth into early adulthood, especially given the dramatic changes that occur. In a way, Tehanu too is a bildungsroman, for within its pages the young girl, Therru, whom Tenar adopts is herself seen growing up, perhaps too soon, coming to terms with her trauma and finding her true self.

But more than being a bildungsroman on its own, it is the capstone to the Earthsea trilogy, the book that takes the merely acceptable ending of the previous one and draws it out into a satisfying one. Mirroring the structural pattern of The Tombs of Atuan, the book begins with the focus on Tenar (and Therru), only later introducing Ged into narrative—in this particular case, immediately after the events of The Farthest Shore. Thus continuing Tenar's story, it could be seen as a continuation of her coming-of-age, or a second stage in its progress, but even more so, it is a continuation of Ged's own story, turning the entire series thus far into one great bildungsroman, for Ged in his old age must now come to terms with his loss of magical power after the events of the previous book, and he finds himself emotionally stunted, something of the teenager he was when he first embraced a life of magic. I discussed in my review for A Wizard of Earthsea how that book adhered to the stages of the traditional Campbellian monomyth—but what this book does is subsume that book, making it only the beginning and enlarging the entire trilogy (or rather tetralogy) into the full series of stages of the monomyth, with Ged finally "done with doing" and now focused simply on being, or at least learning just to be, making his final Return to his home.

Although there is a definite plot, the narrative of Tehanu is much more subdued and character-oriented. There is not a lot of intense action, and it is not exactly fast-paced, yet it is captivating enough to be a fairly quick read. It is less symbolic, less epic, less traditional fantasy than the previous books; whereas many authors strive to build realistic worlds so that there is a touch of the familiar in their fantasy, Le Guin might be said to have crafted here a work of realism with a touch of the fantastic; but it is not a work of magic realism, nor even contemporary/urban fantasy, no, but high fantasy yet. It's a refreshing, different type of book to read, the likes of which I've not seen before nor since. Even more than that, she has not just written a story, she has, as always, given it depth, commenting on our own reality: the roles of women and of men, the emotional effects of aging and of choosing a life of celibacy, the hidden strengths we all have inside, and the nature of evil when there is no epic evil force at work—only the darkness that lurks within humanity itself.

In many ways this is a better book than the three previous ones, and yet it does not and cannot stand alone. Much of its strength lies in the fact that we already know many of its characters, have seen them when they were young, have watched them grow and learn already. It weaves the thread of the previous tales together and ties them off, creating a full story, closing a full circle, and making the Earthsea trilogy not a tetralogy as would be expected but a single narrative split into multiple volumes. With this book, the Earthsea tales have truly come into their own and like Ged and Tenar themselves they have grown and matured, and although it is not "The Last Book of Earthsea" as its subtitle bills it, and not even the last appearance of many of its beloved characters, it is the last book of this particular epic story, and the beginning of a new age and a new focus in the land of Earthsea, continued (thus far) in two other books in the series.

For those who enjoyed the original trilogy, Tehanu is a must-read, and to those who found they didn't really care for the original trilogy, but did manage to make it all the way through nevertheless, I would also suggest reading this book, for it may very well bring the full satisfaction you didn't quite get from what really is an incomplete story without Tehanu.


4 stars: Outstanding. The work displayed a skill beyond the reach of most others. I am likely to add it to my permanent collection and recommend it wholeheartedly to others. This rating may be more subjective than others, as it relies to a slightly greater extent on my tastes in genre and style. Creative writing is more likely to receive four stars than conventional nonfiction. Equivalent to a school grade of 'A'. ( )
  tokidokizenzen | Aug 3, 2015 |
The fourth book of the Earthsea series. This book brings the first three stories together nicely as we again meet Tenar from The Tombs of Atuan and Arren (now Lebannen) from The Farthest Shore. The story overlaps with The Farthest Shore and then they coalesce when Ged arrives back in Gont and we discover what happens to him after his return from his greatest battle where he lost his powers.

The book successfully wraps up the three stories as well as telling the compelling new story of Therru, a small child who has been the subject of the cruellest of abuse and been left scarred, both physically and mentally.

I loved the ending! ( )
  nebula21 | Mar 19, 2015 |
Le Guin's books are a little more difficult to read despite the thinness of the novel. It is a little more difficult because her characters do not follow traditional paths where characters succeed triumphantly or the plot that good wins so clearly. But it is a thinking book. One that makes you pause and question the issues the characters are wrestling with.

I have to admit, I cannot help but always want Ged to succeed because he's the protagonist and I love him. It was difficult seeing him struggle with losing his powers. It was difficult reading about Tenar ragin at his supposed selfishness and shame. But no matter how difficult it is to read, I liked it. It's not like a typical scifi action fantasy book where characters can power up and always be strong. Rather, this book shows strength in the absence of power.

This is a book written beyond its time for women. The way Tenar struggles with a woman's freedom and the reasoning behind a woman's fear is just heart wrenching. The musings of ethics and of philosophy are refreshing. So often in more modern books, the ethics or philosophical ideas in a book have a distinctly religious spin - and depending on the authors tone and stance, can sometimes be a severe detriment to my enjoyment of the book. But hers are about strength and fear and character behind one's appearance. About reputation Nd the difference between a man and a woman. It is refreshing.

I was a little disappointed in the plot. This book was more of an extended aftermath or epilogue to the trilogy, showing us what happened to the remaining characters and how they dealt with all of the events. But throw in a new, mysterious girl ward and twenty pages of a villain and you kinda get a plot. I don't hate it, but it don't think this book is worth more than three stars because of it.

Three stars. Lackluster plot with beautiful character writing and lovely thought provoking dialogue.
Recommended for those who already know this author's style. ( )
  NineLarks | Sep 15, 2014 |
Well, I forgot to take notes on this one. I guess I got drawn in to its spell. I remember LeGuin’s feminist voice showed through strongly in places, but it seemed to quickly dissolve into the voice of the heroine, Tenar. There is a sense of great power and great deeds hiding in the shadows, but the story is told from the perspective of the powerless, the old, the plain folk, the abused, and the middle-aged farmer’s widow. But the magic is still there, as is of course, a dragon. ( )
  drardavis | Apr 23, 2014 |
It's depressing, to find out what happened to Tenar after The Tombs of Atuan. One wishes she would have had great adventures, but Tehanu shows that wasn't the case at all. This is a feminist rewriting of the original three Earthsea books-- but it's done by the original author, like if Charlotte Brontë wrote both Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea herself. Which I like: it means that when the world of Earthsea changes, that the actual world of Earthsea changes, not some kind of ersatz version of it.

This is the moment that stuck out to me the most, where Tenar reflects on what it's like to be a woman of a different race than everyone else around you: "I wonder what a white woman's like, white all over? their eyes said, looking at her, until she got older and they no longer saw her."
  Stevil2001 | Aug 30, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ursula K. Le Guinprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Alsberg, RebeccaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bergen, DavidCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rikman, KristiinaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Only in silence the word,
only in dark the light,
only in dying life:
bright the hawk's flight
on the empty sky.
—The Creation of Ea
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After Farmer Flint of the Middle Valley died, his widow stayed on at the farmhouse.
Information from the Polish Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
Poza najdalszym zachodem, tam, gdzie kończą się lądy, mój lud tańczy na skrzydłach innego wiatru.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0689845332, Mass Market Paperback)

Ursula K. LeGuin follows her classic trilogy from Earthsea with a magical tale that won the 1991 Nebula Award for Science Fiction. Unlike the tales in the trilogy, this novel is short and concise, yet it is by no means simplistic. Promoted as a children's book because of the awards garnered in that category by her previous work, Tehanu transcends classification and shows the wizardry of female magic. The story involves a middle-age widow who sets out to visit her dying mentor and eventually cares for his favorite student.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:34 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

In this final episode of "The Earthsea Cycle", the widowed Tenar finds and nurses her aging friend, Sparrowhawk, a magician who has lost his powers.

(summary from another edition)

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