August 03, 2004
Tehanu: the last book of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin
Between 1968 and 1972, Le Guin published the Earthsea trilogy: "A Wizard of Earthsea", "The Tombs of Atuan" and "The Farthest Shore". The Earthsea trilogy is that rare brand of fantasy trilogies that is truly engaging and in a new voice that does not mimic any of the traditional bell-wethers of fantasy literature, whether you consider John Milton, Lord Dunsany, J.R.R. Tolkien, or Mervyn Peake.
In 1990, Le Guin decided to add a fourth book to this trilogy: a novel named Tehanu. The perils of established authors revisting their earlier triumphs are quite familiar. The failure rate is almost complete (you can see a perfect example of this in Arthur C. Clarke). In this case, however, the trepidation is uncalled for. This book is the perfect follow-up to the earlier trilogy.
In the Earthsea trilogy, the first book followed Ged, the second was the story of Tenar, while the third returned to Ged. So, logically, Tehanu returns to the story of Tenar. As the story opens you learn that The Eaten One who renounced her faith in "The Tombs of Atuan" has left behind the study of high magic and the companionship of a powerful mage to lead a simple life as a farmer's wife. The story begins as Tenar's life becomes intertwined with that of an abused and horribly burnt little girl when Tenar adopts her as her child. Ged does make an appearance later in the book, but the events will probably not be as you expect them to be. There are many surprises: including the rejection of magic. While the Earthsea trilogy had a balanced view of what magic could accomplish, in this book magic is mostly shunned by the characters: in Ged's case, because of his previous life. After reading Danny Yee's review (see Danny's Reviews), I agree with his conclusion that Tehanu to a large extent abandons the Taoist bent of the original Earthsea book. However, while it stands apart from the other Earthsea books, it is still a notable achievement.
The title of this book contains the promise The Last Book of Earthsea. This is a promise broken by Le Guin in 2001 when she wrote a fifth book in this series entitled "The Other Wind". Defying all odds, even this overextended visit to Earthsea is not accompanied by a repetition of old ideas. Le Guin seems to re-open the story only when she has something new to say.
Ursula Le Guin has always extended the genre of fantasy fiction, for instance, her series of Hainish short stories typically categorized as fantasy read more like anthropological science fiction. Her Hainish short stories (which can be easily found in the "Year's Best Science Fiction" collections edited by Gardner Dozois) and "The Left Hand of Darkness".
%T Tehanu %T :the last book of Earthsea %A Ursula K. Le Guin %I Bantam Books %D 1990 %G ISBN: 0553288733 (pb) %G ISBN: 0689315953 (hc) %P 226 %K fantasy
Review written: 2000/11/18Posted by anoop at August 3, 2004 04:41 PM