Monday, September 28, 2015


Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea series continues with Tehanu, which despite the long authorial pause between books, starts about 10 minutes after the previous book ended. Ged is powerless and lost, Tenar is a widow, landowner, farmer, and responsible for an abandoned child (herself victim of horrible abuse).  They must all figure out how to live in the world again, each relying on the others. The book --- like so many of Le Guin's books --- is ultimately a gentle, soft paean to the power of community, and of the people standing behind the heroes (or even distantly offstage).

The book's main actions are small and the fantasy world's magic is secondary, since none of the main characters have any puissance left (Ged spent his in book #3, Tenar in book #2), so this book ends up being mostly about daily choices, doing chores, resolving again and again to live on past tragedy. It is a book of small enjoyments, where a single peach, ripe and juicy, is a recurrent focal point. The conflict is not clear (at least to this reader), and does not build steadily to a climactic denouement; rather, the many small conflicts of daily life are each resolved, or deferred, as they arise, and eventually the book has a very unexpected dramatic scene, then it ends.

Because I am on an Earthsea binge, this book was over before I realized; it is quiet, and subtle. The author's note at the end contains many noteworthy thoughts about the book, as well as summarizing various critical responses which touched on my too-fast reading: it was heavy-handed, or nothing happened, or it was radically pro- or anti-feminist. Really it's none of those things, but calling this a continuation of a "young adult" series is, IMHO, misleading ---- this book requires much more thought and slow consumption than usual young adult fare. Or perhaps I misremember my youth of voracious reading; this book will certainly be better savored in a reread, as the point is not what happens in the plot or even how the plot is written, but rather, what happens in the characters' minds between and around plot events. This requires a lot of attention from the reader to simulate and examine.

Still recommend! Start at the beginning of the series, though. Otherwise the emotional weight of these characters, making these decisions, will be missing for you.

This post's theme word is hircine, "of or relating to a goat; having a strong odor; lusty, lewd." The island of Gont has much that is hircine: goat milk, various wools, shepherding, etc.

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