Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Tehanu: Le Guin

The fourth book in Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea "Cycle" is Tehanu. It was shelved in the Juvenile section of the library, but, after reading it, I found that it was quite a departure from the first three books and seemed like it would appeal to a much older audience. For starters, the main characters, who were teenagers in the other three books (well, not Ged, he was maybe in his thirties in the third book), are now in their forties and fifties. They repeatedly comment on what old people they are. Also, there is not nearly the amount of action there is in the first three books and the main character, the wizard and dragonlord, Ged, is an old man with no power anymore. Throughout most of the book he mopes around feeling sorry for himself. And lastly, there are some disturbing elements in it.

And yet, this is hands-down, my absolute favorite book of this series. I loved the humanity of the characters and how they, too, struggle through life and life's changes and life's injustices, even though they are not inhabitants of our world as we know it. I just got off the phone with a friend yesterday who was saying how she really dislikes science fiction and fantasy. She told me how she got through The Lord of the Rings movies but had to watch them during the day so she wouldn't fall asleep and had to have her husband there so she could ask him lots of questions. She said she needs to be able to get involved in the characters and watch their dramas unfold and that's what draws her into the books and movies she likes. I really didn't respond much at the time, but upon thinking about it the rest of the day, what she described is exactly what I like about the fantasy I've been reading. It is about the characters and their dramas, and what makes it even more interesting is that they are still acting human, even though they are not part of our world or reality. It's almost like how I always love to hear stories of ancient people, like Romans, or even medieval people, and how they acted in ways and responded to situations much like we would today in similar situations. They suffered boredom and disappointment, had ambitions and fell in love. Of course, cultures are different and time causes change, but essentially humans are human, good and bad. That seems to be what I'm liking so much about this fantasy series. Humans are human--whether they are kings, wizards, students, or farmwives, whether they live in Earthsea or New Jersey. And I like to see what it would be like for someone to interact with dragons, or be disappointed in a son who grew up to be a rude misogynist, or lose the great powers you've had all your life.

The book explores the phenomenon of getting older and losing the virility one's enjoyed in the younger years, but it really gets into Le Guin's famous feminism. I hadn't really noticed it much in the first three books, except The Tombs of Atuan, but it's pretty heavy-handed in this book and I connected with that, too. I feel like most women who have a baby and decide to stay home suddenly morph into some degree of a feminist. Of course, some may already have been outspoken on matters of gender equality, but there's nothing like being in a situation where suddenly you alone are the main keeper of the "house and hearth" and have to figure out ways to make it equal. I know a lot of working husbands pitch in, but I also know that a lot don't. Anyway, I loved the way Le Guin's feminist ideologies were worked into the book. She explores questions like why the Archmage of all Earthsea could not be a woman, why males sometimes tend not to hear women, condescension and abuse toward women and girls, how a patriarchal society worms its way into many aspects of everyday life (the society of Earthsea is more primitive than ours).

And so, again, I thought this would be the last book in the series that I wanted to read, but now I desperately want the last two. I looked today in the Children's Section and the separate YA section in the library today and thought they didn't carry the last two titles, Tales from Earthsea and The Other Wind. But then I came home and searched the library catalog anyway to see if another branch carried them and it turns out my library did have them, but that these last two are shelved in Adult Fiction, sci fi section. If they're going to split them up like that, then I think Tehanu should go with the Adult books, too.

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Anonymous Julie said...

"I always love to hear stories of ancient people, like Romans, or even medieval people, and how they acted in ways and responded to situations much like we would today in similar situations."

Me too. I think about that all the time. Like, were medieval 12yo girls as catty as they are now? Did Roman 10yo boys indulge in potty humor? :)

9:08 AM  
Anonymous Camille said...

Julie- Yes! That's exactly what I mean! Like sometimes I look at the toddlers on the playground and imagine them in Pilgrim type clothes crying and fussing as kids have ALWAYS done. And I'm sure medieval and Roman kids did act similar to kids now. Of course, we have to make allowances for culture but deeper than that, I'm sure we've always been the same.

3:04 PM  

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