Tehanu (The Earthsea Cycle, Book #4)

by Ursula K. Le Guin

Hardcover, 1990



Local notes

Fic LeG




Atheneum (1990), Edition: Reissue, 226 pages. $15.95.


When Sparrowhawk, the Archmage of Earthsea, returns from the dark land stripped of his magic powers, he finds refuge with the aging widow Tenar and a crippled girl child who carries an unknown destiny.

Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

226 p.; 5.88 inches

User reviews

LibraryThing member lbowman
This was remarkably good. It was described to me as even more misogynistic than the original Earthsea trilogy, but it's not at all. The Earthsea first trilogy assumes and accepts an unconscious misogyny, which it therefore reinforces. But "Tehanu" drags all that woman-hating out into the open for
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examination, and explicitly describes a misogynistic culture which even at its best gives women very little power, and asks what the differences are between male and female power and allows the reader to see how much of this is culturally constructed, and how much of our own culture is constructed along the same lines. In the end Tenar sees a little farther than Ged does, which is not surprising, because the system gives him all his power so of course he will find it harder to see it. Tenar, who is disempowered, naturally sees more clearly. But even she takes a long time to see. And it's a love story between two people whose gender-based culturally-constructed sources of power are now gone, and so have to come up with new rules, which I thought was great.

And then there's the magical part, where the raped, beaten, burned, disfigured and nearly murdered 8 year old girl turns out to be the very powerful, extremely magically powerful dragonlord/dragon. I loved that.

And finally there is the question we also struggle with. Ged does not want to give up his essentialist vision that men and women are fundamentally different, with different powers, and different magics, and truly powerful magic pertaining only to one sex, not just because his is the sex that gets to have all the power, but also because otherwise, he is afraid that nobody will have any power, and all the magic will be gone.

But isn't that exactly what we all fear? The loss of all the magic, if we throw away the vessels that traditionally hold it? Le Guin goes a long way here to explaining why we're afraid to let go of social systems even when they clearly aren't working for most of the people they affect.
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LibraryThing member paradoxosalpha
When I finished my reread of The Farthest Shore, it was obvious to me that there needed to be a fourth Earthsea book to continue Tenar's story and pass it to a next generation and a new form of power, just as the third book had done for Ged. So it was no surprise to me when Le Guin claimed in her
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2012 afterword to Tehanu that she had begun that work straight away after finishing The Farthest Shore. But it took her eighteen years to write, because it demanded more acquired perspective. In The Farthest Shore, the viewpoint passes to the young Arren immediately, and he carries it through the book, but in Tehanu, it is still Tenar who serves as the viewpoint character for the first thirteen chapters, and Le Guin needed more of her own "ordinary, unmagical life" (271) to explain Tenar's experiences to herself and the reader.

Publishers were no doubt happy with the incomplete work that could be sold as a "trilogy," and while Tehanu won the 1990 Nebula award for best novel, it has been frequently noted as a marked turn from the earlier Earthsea books, rather than their natural fulfillment, as it seemed to me in my recent reading. The diction was consistent with the earlier books, and it constantly returned to their themes and expressions. Perhaps a sticking point for some readers was the fact that it overtly addressed not only sex but the patent fact that sex had been sublimated in the earlier books.

An occultist magician will easily read these first four Earthsea tales as an elaboration of the formula of Tetragrammaton, expressed in Ged/yod, Tenar/heh, Lebannen/vau, and Tehanu/heh. The story of the Woman of Kemay (13-15) intimates the shin to be added to the formula. This nested tale brought my attention back to Michael Moorcock's recent Elric book The Citadel of Forgotten Myths, and its emphasis on an ancestry shared by humans (well, Elric's people) and dragons. It seems likely that Moorcock was influenced by Tehanu on this count, even if not consciously so.

I do feel a strong sense of completion in Tehanu, and I will pause before moving on to the short stories collected in Tales of Earthsea. The texts so far have given me confidence that Le Guin's later fantasies will continue to inquire gracefully into "who we are, and where our wholeness lies" (16).
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LibraryThing member ChrisRiesbeck
Though the cover boasted "The Last Earthsea" book, two more were to follow. This was LeGuin revisiting the trilogy to attempt to address its narrow male focus, by following not only what happened to Ged but Tenar from The Tombs of Atuan. Strong through early LeGuin was, this is clearly a more
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mature author at work. The tone is much more up close and personal, compared to the distanced telling of the trilogy. There's a suspenseful scene when Tenar is besieged in her cottage that is unlike anything I recall in other LeGuin novels. Overall I prefer this to the original books, especially the scenes where the male wizards struggle to understand that there are more powers in the world than theirs. I found the discussions on men versus women to be shallow, and as disappointing as similar passages in The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed.

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LibraryThing member horomnizon
Even while reading the book and now while thinking back, I'm almost surprised that I liked it so much. Of the first three Earthsea books, I did not much like Ged and Tenar's first meeting - it seemed so slow and mental - not enough action for me. Yet this revisiting of the pair later in life held
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my interest though it again did not have much action. It is more a romance and a bit of feminist romp as Tenar thinks back on her life and how different Ged is from her deceased husband.

So maybe it isn't all about the action...I thoroughly enjoyed this look at the pair as they have aged and hearing the story from Tenar's point of view and through her thoughts. And, with a bit of a cliffhanger, I'm looking forward to finishing out the cycle soon.
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LibraryThing member raschneid
Brilliant concept, brilliant writing, brilliant characters. Le Guin writes a fantasy novel about the everyday, domestic female world that the first three Earthsea books have overlooked, essentially providing a feminist critique of her own world. And she does this without being preachy or boring.
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More fantasy novels like this need to be written.
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LibraryThing member Venarain
Made the farthest shore worth reading
LibraryThing member jasmyn9
Tehanu returns us to the world of Earthsea, to the time after the The Farthest Shore and The Tombs of Atuan. Tenar has grown older, had a family, and is now a widower when she received an urgentl from Sparrowhawk's former mentor Ogion, the mage that took her in when she first came to the area. As
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she journeys to her cottage we are introduced to the little girl Therru, marked by horrible tragedy and evil.

While at Ogion's cottage, Sparrowhawk returns to Tenar, but he returns scarred and damaged, missing part of himself. Tenar, Sparrowhawk, and little Therru make a life journey together to put the pieces of themselves back together and bring the work back to a better place.

This book was a fantastic read. it gave me what I've always wanted at the end of a series....just one more book. A book to show me how they ended up, what their family was like, and who would continue on after them. Tenar and Ged (also called Sparrowhawk), reunited after many years, are still the same characters I had grown to love in the earlier books. Only this time they are wiser, and will need to use all of their wisdom to help little Therru. Therru drew my sympathy from the start, and I admired her spirit and her tenacity to overcome her difficulties. This was a great addition to the Earthsea Cycle.

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LibraryThing member ed.pendragon
As a fantasy novel Tehanu is a tough read: it touches on child abuse, rape, misogyny, prejudice, paranoia, xenophobia, torture and psychopathy. But against all these evils we also witness loyalty, support, care, consolation, compassion and love. Does magic come into it? Well, a bit. And let's not
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forget dragons, or at least one particular dragon.

This instalment of the Earthsea series is set immediately after the events in The Farthest Shore. That ended with the promise of a crowning and Sparrowhawk's return to his place of birth, the island of Gont. Great events had shaken the archipelago, but one might have hoped that the overthrow of one evil would have returned Earthsea to some stability. Much has happened in the twenty years since Tenar was rescued from the Place of the Tombs on Atuan: the former child priestess has married a Gontish farmer, had children, and has lately been widowed. But things remain awry; indeed, they may be getting worse.

There was always a hint of menace in the original Earthsea trilogy -- Sparrowhawk's shadow, a likely slow death in the confined spaces of Atuan's Labyrinth, the gradual leaking away of magic in the archipelago and its consequences for the inhabitants of that world -- but in Tehanu that menace is less a plot-driver than a reflection of the ill-will of human individuals, in particular certain men. Tenar is the main focus of Tehanu, as she was in The Tombs of Atuan, but here she lives the lowly life of a farmer's widow on Gont; and in fact, unlike two of the earlier books which ranged more widely, all the action is set in and around this island, including a short sea journey. Things start to change when she rescues a young girl who has been horrifically abused, leaving the right side of her face and hand and arm badly burnt.

In this era of #MeToo, of gender imbalance and of misogyny both insidious and invidious we are only too aware of a gross societal injustice being met upon a good half of the global population by too many of the other half, an injustice that has gone on for far too long. How can things be different in an Earthsea which has so much in common with our own world? Up till now we have largely been aware of male wizards, male adversaries, male rulers, male movers and shakers. As witness to Earthsea being no idyllic example of an utopia, it's widely accepted that no witch can be a wizard. And what kind of men would leave a child to die in the remains of a camp fire? And then stalk the rescuer and the rescued?

There is light, however, amidst the doom and gloom. Sparrowhawk, who has succumbed to that familiar male angst and shame when his ability to fill a role (for him, as Archmage) becomes redundant, slowly starts to lose his listlessness and self-pity when he finds there are compensations for relinquishing his power. Tenar, who has taken responsibility for the hurt child whom she calls Therru, finds an unexpected reward for that selflessness when she is at her lowest ebb. And Therru, scarred and damaged by fire, is able to call upon unforeseen resources when she and her adoptive parents are rescued by fire of a different kind.

Without us needing to be told, there are clear signs here that in the years between the original trilogy and this book Le Guin had reconsidered the basis of the secondary world she had created and had found it wanting: we can see it in the discourse between characters, in the apparent mundanity of Tenar and Therru's lives for most of the narrative, in the almost peripheral appearance of magic in Earthsea.

To readers wedded to sword-and-sorcery scenarios this may well have been a disappointment, even a betrayal; this is to assume that fantasy must stick to conventions, conform to expectations -- to me, that way lies moribundity. But, far from disappointing the perceptive reader, who might possibly have expected more of the same -- the basic premise of fantasy being that magic pervades everything -- I believe that Tehanu goes to the heart of what all true narrative is about: what it is to be human.

And what about dragons? Why our fascination with them? Are they not an aspect of what we perceive to be latent within us? If in this novel dragons are associated more with the feminine principle, then that may only be right and apt: Le Guin is after all trying to redress the balance that has gone awry in her world and -- clearly -- remains to be righted in ours. It can't come soon enough.
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LibraryThing member xicanti
As always, Le Guin's writing is simply beautiful. I find her very appealing on a purely aesthetic level. And yet, I can never really connect with her books because I don't feel as though she really gets involved with her characters. It's like she's riding around on their shoulders, recording what
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they see but glossing over how they feel. I find this distance somewhat frustrating, given the beauty of the writing.

But despite this naggling and persistent issue, I enjoyed the book. It may not be emotionally engaging, but it's certainly thought-provoking. Le Guin raises all sorts of fascinating questions about the powers each gender commands, and I really appreciated her examination of how our places in the world shift and change as we ourselves change. Ged and Tenar both find themselves in a very different place from where they began. It would be simple to view this shift as a loss, but Le Guin doesn't treat it as such. Instead, she shows the reader how these two characters carry on and find fulfillment, even in the face of great change.

One part near the end threw me off a bit, though. It almost felt as though Le Guin decided she'd toss out something vague and metaphorical lest she be accused of handing out too many answers. I may revise my opinion once I've read this again, but for now... well, it didn't work for me.

Still, good book. I recommend you read the first three in the Earthsea series prior to this one, though, so you know where Ged and Tenar are coming from.
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LibraryThing member Sullywriter
Le Guin's political and philosophical messages are a bit too obvious here and not quite as well intergrated into the story as they are in the others in the cycle.
LibraryThing member nebula21
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
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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!
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LibraryThing member NineLarks
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
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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.
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LibraryThing member drardavis
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
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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.
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LibraryThing member Stevil2001
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
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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."
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LibraryThing member TadAD
This and The Other Wind came along well after the first three were done. While I enjoyed them, I sort of wish she had just left it at the near-perfect first trilogy.
LibraryThing member satyridae
4th book in the Earthsea trilogy. A masterpiece, of course. What Le Guin isn't? This one gives us a clearer picture of Ged as an old man, and so much more besides.
LibraryThing member Kplatypus
Tehanu is the last book of the Earthsea Cycle, at least as far as I can tell. Like the other books, this is a fantasy novel but, also like the other books, it has its own distinct theme. Tehanu picks up the story of Tenar, from The Tombs of Atuan and the action starts at about the same as that of
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The Farthest Shore. Since her arrival in Havnor, Tenar has created a life for herself as the wife of a farmer. She is a mother and recent widow, and seems to have left her adventuring days behind. One day she hears of a little girl who has been raped, beaten, burned, and left for dead by a group of beggars. Although the little girl is severely injured, Tenar takes her in and adopts her as a daughter, her own children having grown up and moved away.

The story line follows Tenar and her adopted child as they return to Ogion, Ged's first master from A Wizard of Earthsea. Never welcomed by the people of Re Albi, Tenar must now deal not only with their distrust of her but also their malice towards her child. Into the middle of this arrives Ged, broken down by the final battle in The Farthest Shore and looking only to escape. The three of them must redefine their relationships with each other as they adjust to the new world they find themselves in.

Filled with plot twists and connections, Tehanu} makes for an enjoyable addition to the Earthsea Cycle. Le Guin tied up a lot of loose ends and gave her characters endings that while happy, were not saccharine. The plot twists were somewhat transparent, but then, the book was written for adolescents. Like the other Earthsea novels, these were less filled with adventure than your typical fantasy novel but had characters that were developed enough to compensate. The child, Therru, was the only one that I wish had been more fleshed out, since her character was intriguing. The way that Le Guin dealt with the aging of her protagonists and their attempts to deal with the accompanying changes in their lives was admirable, and I for one will be sad to see the last of them.
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LibraryThing member RBeffa
Tehanu is the 4th in the Earthsea books. Of the four original novels, it is my least favorite. It shouldn't be but certain elements made it so. As a story it fits in extremely well with the other books in the series, but I felt it suffered more than a bit from a preachiness to it. I enjoyed the
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novel a lot but felt it would have been a better book if we weren't constantly told how bad women had it in the world of Earthsea. Near the end when a bad wizard forces Tenar to crawl and delights in kicking her breasts I said "enough!". Although Earthsea has certainly been seen as a world with troubles, we had no reason to be "treated" to this display of abuse, nor much of the screed and abuse that preceeded it. There was simply no good reason for Le Guin to incorporate this stuff in her story. It also was rather unsettling how damaged Ged was throughout almost the entire book.
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LibraryThing member DriderQueen
Tehanu was one of the first book (with EarthSea) that my father gave me to read as a child. I loved the story, the magic in the lives of them and the strange child named Tehanu. It's a tale of hardships and love.
LibraryThing member mattclark
I loved the first three Earthsea books, brilliantly conceived and executed. The third book ends so neatly I just assumed that the fourth would be about new characters, or a different perspective or something. Not this. While it's well written, and captures grief, loss and the broken nature of the
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Earthsea society well, it is just... boring. Nothing of note really happens, the main characters grapple with being normal people in a bad society. I suppose I can see why some people might enjoy this exposition and the critique on our own society, but I couldn't get into it.

I once read a Harry Potter fanfiction set post-Deathly Hallows. The set up was basically Harry, Ron and Hermione struggle with middle age - marriage breakups, parents aging, dementia... Obviously the writing style was not in the same class as Le Guin, but Tehanu gave me the same feeling. Why would I want to read about these fantastic heroes struggling with the minutiae of daily life? I read other books for that. Ones set in a more realistic world in which real world problems actually resonate. When you have dragons flying round and evil wizards, normal problems just seem dull.
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LibraryThing member maggie1944
Written considerable afte the first 3 of this series, this book is considerably different in tone. All the characters, male and female, are well rounded and interesting to me. I liked the book, it was homey and comfortable. Familiar fantasy themes. Although I thought the use of dragons was a bit
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too much convenient.
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LibraryThing member ragwaine
No plot until the end. More like an interlude to fill some holes. Good writing.
LibraryThing member Katissima
Published by LeGuin after a long hiatus from writing about Earthsea, it reexamines some of the basic tenants of her world. Notable is the focus on women. Also contains perhaps my favorite love scene in all of literature.
LibraryThing member Jerry.Yoakum
This is an excellent "see the world through someone else's eyes" book. There will be parts that might be distasteful but that's how parts of people's lives are. Another person's opinions might not be correct but they exist nevertheless. I found the afterward really interesting. The way the author
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talked about writing the book made it sound like a process of discovery instead of creation.
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LibraryThing member leslie.98
While I found the theme of women's power & role in life and the fear some men have of powerful women interesting and relevant, the writing in this 4th Earthsea book was not as skillful as in the earlier books. Many of Le Guin's ideas were put to the reader in a heavy handed manner with too much
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repetition. In general, I am a fan of her writing so that I felt let down in this one; readers who are unfamiliar with her work outside the Earthsea series might not feel the same.
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½ (1258 ratings; 3.8)
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