Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Tehanu by Ursula K. Le Guin

 I think I know, now, why I quit reading Ursula Le Guin in the late 80s. This was the last book by her that I purchased, and it was and is so tedious and only a fantasy novel by virtue of occurring in the realm of Earthsea, that I think I just gave up - on Ged and his companions, and on Le Guin, until I happened upon The Other Wind recently and was motivated to re-read the series.

The story begins almost simultaneously with the end of the quest in The Farthest Shore, when Ged and King Lebannen have defeated the sorcerer, Cob, on the other side of death. A farmer's widow, Goha, whom we once knew as Tenar, from The Tombs of Atuan, finds out that the mage, Ogion, is ill, probably dying and rushes to be with him in his final hours. When the city life overwhelmed her after she returned with the ring of Erreth Akbe, accompanying the archmage, Sparrowhawk, she was sent to stay with Ogion for a while as his ward, before she moved out and became a farmer's wife and a mother. She has taken on a ward of her own, a girl who was thrown in a fire and burned horribly, left for dead, whom she calls Therru. Therru has recovered somewhat physically from her ordeal, but not emotionally, and she is easily frightened, and does not socialize easily.

After Ogion's passing, a dragon visits the Isle of Gont, delivering Ged, who is nearly dead, and who has lost all the powers of mage craft he once had. A great deal of the book seems to deal with Ged, dealing with his identity crisis now that he is no longer a mage. The rest of the book seems to be about Goha's identity crisis, worrying about who she is now that she's no longer a farmer's wife and mother, since her children are both gone, and trying to reconcile her self image with how others see her. The nobility of Gont, such as it is, seems to dismiss her as a mere peasant woman whose opinion is of no matter, while the villagers respect her a bit more from knowing how much Ogion loved her, and when Lebannen arrives, she finds his automatic respect for her, as the one who brought peace to the kingdom, and the regard of his courtiers, a bit daunting, as well.

What I'm saying is there's just far too much soul-searching and angst, and not nearly enough action and adventure. I think Le Guin got to the point where she was trying to gain acclaim as a mainstream author, rather than a purveyor of young adult fantasy, and lost that special something that made her early readers love her.

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