Martine's Reviews > Tehanu

Tehanu by Ursula K. Le Guin
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Sep 13, 2008

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bookshelves: fantasy, modern-fiction, north-american
Read in October, 2005

Tehanu is the fourth entry in the Earthsea Cycle. It was written years after the original trilogy, and it shows: It is markedly different from the other books, both in style and in substance. Sadly, it is also inferior to the earlier books. Le Guin had picked up a strident feminism in between The Farthest Shore and Tehanu, and it shows in Tehanu in the worst way possible. Literally every female character in the book is worthy (even dirty, crazy Aunty Moss), whereas all the men in the book are weak and ineffective at best and downright obnoxious at worst. There are so many scathing remarks about men in the book that it made me groan at times. (And I'm not even male. I can only imagine how a male reader must feel about this book.)

It's a pity Le Guin had to ruin her book like this, for the story itself, about the former High Priestess of Atuan who adopts a special girl and finds she is very special indeed, is interesting. It successfully weaves together loose threads from the previous books and sets up a new series, which, alas, I haven't read yet. I look forward to reading more about Tehanu in The Other Wind, which I hear is much better than Tehanu. But still. What a sub-par book. Three stars because I like the characters and the story, two stars for the writing.
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09/06 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-14 of 14) (14 new)

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Michael As for the remainder of the books, I really disliked Tales and really loved The Other Wind. I may be in the minority on TOW, though.

Martine I don't think you are. From what I've seen, most people like The Other Wind quite a bit.

Out of curiosity, what was it about Tales that you disliked?

Michael None of the stories drew me in the way that the first trilogy did. I also read it after TOW, which made it an even bigger letdown.

Martine Ah. Well, in that case, I'll make sure I read the stories before I read The Other Wind, to prevent that kind of disappointment. Thanks for the warning!

message 5: by Martine (last edited Sep 13, 2008 08:58AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Martine Sherri, perhaps it helped that I'd read so many negative reviews of Tehanu that I went in with lowered expectations. In fact, I'd read so many negative reviews that I came close to not reading the book at all. I'm glad I did, though, because the story does weave the loose threads together very nicely.

Still, I can see why you were so frustrated with Tehanu. My impression after reading the first three chapters was, 'God, this is mawkish.' But then it got better, or maybe I simply got used to her new style. In the end, I didn't really mind the story; the only thing I disliked about it was its militant, man-hating feminism.

I guess I could sum it up by saying it wasn't as good as I'd hoped, but it wasn't as bad as I'd feared, either.

message 6: by Summer (new)

Summer I felt like Tehanu was LeGuin's way of making up for the problematic gender politics in the earlier books - Tenar was the only real female character, and even she was the passive victim of a Wrong and Evil religion who had to be saved by the Big Strong Wizard. Women didn't do advanced magic and were pretty much in the books as generic fantasy staples.

Although admittedly, as much as I loved the Earthsea books when I was a kid, I literally haven't read Tehanu in sixteen years and it's the only book in the series I don't own, so I can't really comment any further than that.

Martine Sherri, I think you should give Tehanu another chance. I completely agree it's not the best book out there (as I said, I shook my head in disbelief at the first few chapters), but it's not as horrible as you remember it to be. It's just... not great.

I haven't read any of Le Guin's sociological and/or science fiction tales. I guess I should keep it that way? :-)

I do hope to read Lavinia one day. Ginnie loved it, and I tend to like what Ginnie likes, so I'll give it a chance.

Summer, I can see that Tehanu might be a 'make-up-for-previous-wrongs'-kind-of book. Personally, I didn't mind the relative lack of strong women in the original trilogy; I think it reflected what Earthsea's society would have been like at the time. It bothered me less than, say, Tolkien's near-complete lack of women in The Lord of the Rings (a book I otherwise love to bits). But yes, I can see why a feminist would want to make amends in a new book. I just wish Le Guin had gone about in a more subtle way. She could have created strong, appealing female characters without putting all the men in the story down. I would have admired her for that. But no, she had to include a bunch of weak or horrible men and shove their flaws down our throats. It's very unsubtle writing, and it disappointed me, as the original trilogy had a subtlety about it that I rather enjoyed.

I still liked the book, though, despite its flaws. :-)

Cary This was the last Earthsea books I read and I agree the weakest to that point. I was very disappointed. Alas.

message 9: by Dr M (last edited Jun 25, 2009 09:08AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Dr M I could not agree more with this review. Very much to the point. And yes, as a man, I felt like Le Guin didn't really want me to listen to what she said, as much as she wanted to give me a good beating with a big stick, for no other reason than she wanted to because I happen to be male. I see the point Le Guin is trying to make (and she does have an important message, even if most of it comes across as directed at my grandfather's generation rather than mine), but it is all but lost in a wave of misandry that is no more palatable than the misogyny she's rallying against.

I think the reason that this book has so many problems is precisely that she wrote it more for the purpose of "making up for the problematic gender politics in the earlier books" (not that I think the gender imbalance in the first three books was really a problem), than because she had a story to tell. The fact that this book is still well worth reading is a testament to what a great storyteller Le Guin is.

Tales from Earthsea suffers from the same problems to some extent, but it also has other problems of its own. The Other Wind makes up for it all. Here Le Guin really does have an interesting story to tell again, and she does exactly what she should have done in Tehanu: she lets strong female characters take a natural place in a good story. It doesn't quite have the full power and magic of the original trilogy, but it does come close, and it has other qualities.

message 10: by Lane (last edited Jan 15, 2012 09:07PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lane "Literally every female character in the book is worthy (even dirty, crazy Aunty Moss)" Actually dirty, crazy Aunty Moss is just that—dirty and crazy, although it's a great sadness.
"I can only imagine how a male reader must feel about this book." I'm male and I was quite entertained by it. It's a drastic but welcome shift in focus from the earlier novels, and if some parts made me feel uncomfortable 'as a male' then by virtue of that I can't simply excuse the misogyny that appears in the earlier Eathsea novels (not to mention in other sci-fi/fantasy works).

message 11: by Lane (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lane Dr M, you seem to have a chip on your soldier. Le Guin is not at all the misandrist you claim her to be—if you got that from her book then frankly you need to reread it. At the very least you have not mastered a very basic skill of reading comprehension (alas, lost on so many) which is to differentiate the views of individual characters from the overall point of the book. Aunt Moss, for example, appears to be a misandrist, but it is clear that she has very deep emotional problems influenced by her past and the second-tier place she has in society, so it is completely understandable in context that she would reach her views. To assert that the book overall is misandrist you'd have to do all kinds of intellectual gymnastics to explain away views in the novel that are clearly more reconciliatory or nuanced (not least the developing attitudes of Tenar herself, and the highly sympathetic light in which Sparrowhawk is cast). Possibly you are offended by the portrayals of misogynist males in the novel—but it's clear that Le Guin is in no way characterizing males categorically in this way (again, what with the sympathetic Sparrowhawk, the very 'masculine' dragon serving as 'good guys'), and if you're offended by very realistic descriptions of real male faults, then you need to do some soul-searching. Or at least read the book again, but you missed the point entirely.

Estella I happen to have read this book without the benefit of having read the trilogy that came before it. Although the book was clearly meant to portray the woman's perspective, I felt it was not feminist in the obnoxious way. I thought for the most part it was a genuine question: "Why do they fear women?" In other words, why are women both weak and powerful? Where does that power come from? I thought there were several male heroes (the king, Ogion, and Sparrowhawk) who were heroes in the same way that the women were - they were open to love and learning from the least likely (the powerless woman, the scarred child). This gave them a strength that was to be admired. Sparrowhawk was interesting in particular because like Ogion, he did "women's work" and he had lost his so-called male power, and yet he prevailed. He is a strong male figure in this book.

Scott agreed, everyone who thinks this book is merely anti-male should see estella's comment: there are three main male characters who are put in a very positive light: ogion, ged, lebennan.

message 14: by Patrick (new)

Patrick I just finished Tales from Earthsea and I can say she was a bit heavy handed with feminism. While I do find some authors like Piers Anthony to come across as sexist sometimes, it doesn't quite overtake the entire work and is still enjoyable. I started this book today. I hope it has female empowerment rather than some half-handed jackson katz-like message

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