Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 745
Genly Ai (GEHN-lee AY-ee), an envoy to the planet Gethen from the Ekumen, a league of planets. Not yet thirty years old, dark-skinned, and somewhat taller and stronger than the native Gethenians, Ai is occasionally impatient, quick to despair and to rejoice, somewhat of an innocent, and not always aware of the motives of others. Ai’s mission is to prepare the way for Gethenians to join the Ekumen, offering opportunities for “communication, trade, treaty, and alliance, nothing else.” He begins his stay on Gethen in Karhide, a country loosely run by a monarch and his council. Betrayed, as he believes, by the prime minister, Therem Harth rem ir Estraven, he travels to Orgoreyn, a country tightly controlled by the Commensal, the thirty-three heads of its districts. There, he is truly betrayed and sent to a work camp, from which Estraven rescues him. The two cross the vast northern expanse of ice back to Karhide, a difficult journey during which they become friends.
Therem Harth rem ir Estraven
Therem Harth rem ir Estraven (THAYR-ehm hahrth rehm ihr ehs-TRAY-vehn), the “King’s Ear,” or prime minister of Karhide. Stocky and dark, with a layer of fat to protect against the constant cold of Gethen, he has black eyes and sleek hair. Estraven is an androgyne, neither man nor woman but both, as are all Gethenians. A cautious, authoritative, methodical, far-seeing person, Estraven is the first to believe Ai and perceive the importance of his mission. When Estraven falls from favor with the monarch (for suggesting that Karhide join the Ekumen) and is exiled, he travels to Orgoreyn and attempts to prepare the way for Ai there. Estraven’s preparation and steadfastness play a large part in the success of the journey over the ice, and his understanding of the politics of both Karhide and Orgoreyn lead to the eventual success of Ai’s mission. Estraven is killed as he attempts to cross back from Karhide to Orgoreyn and safety.
Argaven XV (ahr-GAH-vehn), the monarch of Karhide. Insane, as have been all the kings of Karhide, Argaven perceives only the threat to his own power in Ai’s mission and exiles Estraven as a traitor as a result of Estraven’s counsel to join the Ekumen. He nevertheless later receives Ai’s ship, thus tacitly agreeing to join the league of planets, to save face for his country.
Pemmer Harge rem ir Tibe
Pemmer Harge rem ir Tibe (PEHM-muhr HAHR-geh rehm ihr TEE-beh), Argaven’s cousin. Tibe becomes prime minister after Estraven’s exile and then regent when the king becomes pregnant. Tibe thrives on intrigue and power and attempts to unify Karhide by talking of “pride of country and love of the parentland,” trying to achieve unity of fear and anger against the “other.” It is on Tibe’s orders that Estraven is shot.
Faxe the Weaver
Faxe the Weaver (fahks), a Foreteller. A Weaver is the focal point of a Handdarata foretelling group; thus, Faxe practices a philosophical discipline and has the ability to interpret (or weave) as a whole the individual forces of a foretelling group to provide answers to questions about the future. Tall, slim, beautiful, and extremely intelligent and wise, Faxe answers Ai’s question about whether Gethen will become a member of the Ekumen. Later, Faxe is elected by his district to the king’s council, where he becomes a member of the opposition, a...
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