Tuesday, November 25, 2008


my wife and i read together. startling to some, we have a prediliction to reading each other fantasy or science fiction novels.

we just finished Tehanu, by Ursula K. LeGuinn. it's the 4th book in the earthsee trilogy, mostly about a man named Ged, whom you first meet in the first book A wizard of Earthsea as a boy who goes to the island of Roke to learn to be a mage. the first book deals with ged's desire for power, his impatience, his pride. He ends up rending the border between death and life, and letting a ugly shadow of himself, a nameless dark across into the living word, and then, scarred from the ordeal, is hunted by his own evil, until he turns the tables and hunts and vanquishes himself.

but he loses a great deal in the encounters as well as growing. there is an undertone and understanding of death and life that is decidedly eastern, and clearly has an element of reincarnational thought, although it is only specifically stated in the 4th book, and then only once. in fact, it clearly has a recurrent depiction of death as a sunless, starless, timeless land where people exist only as shadows of themselves.

in the second book The Tombs of Atuan, he meets tenar, who is actually the focal character of the second and 4th books. she is taken as a child to be the high priestess of the dark ones, and is "eaten" so that she has no true name of her own, only living for the rites and sacrifices. ged comes to the tombs looking for the other half of the broken ring of erreth akbe, a historical piece that bears the rune of peace that can restore a king to the empty throne in havnor. some elements that are rather LOTR here. she trapps him in the labyrinth beneath the temple, and is commanded to execute him, but hides him instead, and starves him nearly to death, then nurses him back to life. Eventually, she see's her own imprisonment and together, they restore the ring (the other half of which she wears as a charm) and fight for their freedom together.

in the third book The Farthest Shore, we meet lebennan, the boy who will be that new king, and he and ged (now archmage of all earthsea) go on a great journey hunting a great evil, a mage who is promising immortality, but essentially draining the life-force of his followers to keep himself in a neither truly dead nor alive state indefinitely. they end up tracking him into the dry land itself, where ged battles with and destroys him. in the process, ged exhausts his power. the only way back to the living land is over the mountains of pain. ged knows the path, but the boy who becomes king has the passion, and carries his now-beloved ged back over the mountains home.

but ged is no longer a mage, and evil has not been eradicated, merely set back. so in book 4 we get a very interesting interplay of discussions about gender roles, the nature of power, and identity. we meet a young girl who has been badly burned, and a much older tenar, who is the widow of a wealthy farmer, we meet servants of the defeated enemy from book 3, and earthsea is ushered into a new age not by ged and tenar as heros, but as parents to someone else's crippled child.

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