Tehanu (The Earthsea Cycle, Book #4)

by Ursula K. Le Guin

Paperback, 2001



Local notes





Saga Press (2001), Edition: 1st, 252 pages


Summary: 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

252 p.; 4.19 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 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 Venarain
Made the farthest shore worth reading
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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 KalessinAstarno
This book didn't really get me - which may have been because I never read the first three books of the series. (I think it nowhere said that this was not a standalone.) I actually only finished it because I started using 'Kalessin' as a nickname. It wasn't a bad book, just one that did not touch me.
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 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 kukkurovaca
I'm not a huge fan of author's going all revisionist history on their own series. While the original version of Earthsea was awfully misogynistic (as a young boy, I was a little surprised), it was also a coherent world unto itself, and I think the later revisions break the artistic integrity.
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 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 elenaj
I enjoyed the first three Earthsea books - fun adventure stories with thoughtful philosophical explorations woven through. But this book is something different. This is Le Guin at the height of her power, weaving together the mundane and the miraculous. This book is a revelation and a delight. I
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feel lucky that I saved it for so long, and got to read it for the first time now. I look forward to returning to it again and again, until it becomes a familiar friend.
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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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LibraryThing member endolith
well that ending was sudden
LibraryThing member LisCarey
Twenty-five years ago, Tenar was a young priestess serving in the quite sinister Tombs of Atuan, and Ged was a powerful wizard. They escaped from the Tombs together--and then they parted company. Tenar chose the unmagical life of a farmer's wife, and Ged went on to become Archmage of Roke.

Now Tenar
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is a widow,who has taken in a child, Therru, badly maimed by fire. Ged is no longer a wizard at all; he poured out all his power in defeating a major threat to the world of Earthsea. Tenar takes Therru with her when the wizard of Gont, Ogion, who taught both Ged, and, for a time Tenar, sends word that he is dying, and asks her to come. This is the start of another great change in the direction of Tenar's life.

Both Ged and Ogion had seen power in Tenar, wanted her trained. Tenar chose to live a normal, unmagical life as a farmer's wife. When Ogion meets Therru, he tells Tenar to teach her. "Teach her everything."

When Ogion dies, Tenar is in no immediate hurry to return to the farm in her own village. Therru is starting to relax a bit, open up. The local village witch, Auntie Moss, is becoming a reliable if sometimes difficult friend. There was a brief confrontation with the local lord's wizard, Aspen, but that seems to pass quickly.

Then the Archmage Sparrowhawk, true name Ged, arrives. He's no longer the Archmage; he's no longer a mage. And by "arrive," I mean, is delivered by a dragon--a dragon who speaks to Tenar and tells her his name.

Ged wishes she would just let him die; she nurses him back to health. Because they stay on, in the village and in Ogion's cottage, there's time for one of the men who inflicted Therru's terrible injuries to arrive and see the girl. There's time for Aspen to decide he really resents Tenar's reputation as a woman with real power. There's time for royal messengers hoping to summon Ged back to the king's city for his coronation to arrive--but Tenar gets word just in time to let Ged get out of Ogion's village and off to Tenar's, where he will seek work at Tenar's farm.

Yet the real meat of this story is a look at the underdogs of Earthsea society--the women who are not supposed to have any power more than that of a village witch, the ordinary working people, those who don't have the power of magic, or violence, or wealth. These are the people we didn't see much of in the earlier Earthsea books; they're at the center of the story here. And Ged, once so arrogant in his younger years, is now one of them. This is Le Guin doing what some writers never manage to do, looking at what she overlooked in an older, much-loved, but necessarily imperfect work.

I loved the Earthsea trilogy; I love Tehanu.


I bought this audiobook.
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½ (1191 ratings; 3.8)
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