(Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

Ursula K. Le Gum’s Tehanu is her fourth book to take place in the fantasy world of Earthsea, a large group of islands in a primarily oceanic world. In A Wizard of Earthsea (1968), Ged learns the magic arts of his world through error and suffering. In The Tombs ofAtuan (1971), Tenar is persuaded by Ged to abandon her service to the nameless gods of nonbeing on the island of Atuan. In The Farthest Shore (1972) Ged, now Archmage of Earthsea, finds and defeats Cob, a renegade mage who has found a way to become immortal at the cost of destroying creation.Tehanu begins about the time Ged is fighting Cob, with Tenar as the protagonist.

On the island of Gont, Tenar has lived for twenty-five years since Ged persuaded her to leave Atuan. Though Ogion, Ged’s friend and teacher, befriended her and attempted to teach her magic, she rejected this teaching for what she felt was her woman’s power and destiny, to marry and bear children. Now, after her children have grown and left home and her husband has died, she finds her function in life at an end. She has learned, however, that such endings are not final, that there is always a new beginning in every ending. This beginning comes to her from two directions:

a child snatched from death and a man who is also at an ending.

The child is Therru, a little girl whom, Tenar believes, her parents and uncle raped and beat nearly to death and then threw into a fire to destroy the evidence of their crimes. Tenar takes Therru into her home when it appears that she will survive her wounds and burns. Therru’s face is severely scarred, one eye is lost, her voice damaged so she can only whisper, and one hand is reduced to a thumb and a finger. The relationship between Tenar and Therm grows closer as Tenar’s love learns to transcend pity and as Therru learns trust and love. Tenar, however, becomes increasingly aware of the limits of love, which cannot heal Therru, restore her outward beauty, or protect her from more harm.

The man who is also at an ending in his life is Ged. He has been the Archmage of Earthsea, the most powerful man in his world. He has heroically sacrificed all of his magical power in a successful struggle to defeat Cob. The Farthest Shore ends with his victory over Cob and his rescue from death by Lebannen, who is destined to unite all Earthsea under his kingship.

The novel opens with Tenar taking in the wounded Therru. When the girl has nearly recovered, Tenar is summoned to Ogion’s deathbed. There she learns that Therru has a special destiny and that everything has changed. Wise Ogion has sensed that Ged has overcome Cob, and he has glimpsed the form of the new age to come. He asks her to wait at his home. This waiting ends when Kalessin, the dragon who carried Ged and Lebannen away from the island of Selidor at the end of The Farthest Shore, brings a badly wounded Ged to Ogion’s home. Tenar nurses him back to health with the help of Moss, the kindly and eccentric local witch.

Having lost his mage’s power, Ged is in despair about how to live. When Lebannen sends a delegation to invite Ged to crown him, Ged flees to avoid contact with his old associates. Tenar protects him, sending him back to her farm, where he begins to heal spiritually in a long period of isolation as a goatherd in the mountains. Aspen, a wizard corrupted by Cob and the local lord, drives Tenar away from Ogion’s cottage. Trying to return to her farm, she encounters one of the men who hurt Therru. She is rescued by Lebannen, who has come in search of his old friend, Ged. Lebannen travels in the company of a master of the Roke school of wizards, who is seeking the new Archmage.

Having returned home, Tenar begins to teach Therru the history of Earthsea, following Ogion’s injunction to teach her everything. Threatened again by the family of Therru, she is helped by Ged, who had returned from his isolation with renewed self-confidence. He is now ready to make a new life, and Tenar becomes his teacher. He enters into the family, becoming Tenar’s partner and lover and one of Therru’s teachers. When their life seems to have settled into happiness and order, Tenar’s son, Spark, returns from the sea to claim his father’s farm. Tenar finds that she...

(The entire section is 1750 words.)

The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Although Tehanu carries the subtitle The Last Book of Earthsea, more Earthsea books could follow. Tehanu contains no definitive endings to the themes of Ursula Le Guin’s earlier Earthsea novels, A Wizard of Earthsea (1968), The Tombs of Atuan (1971), and The Farthest Shore (1972), all three collected as Earthsea (1977).

Tehanu’s protagonist is Tenar (Goha Flint), also protagonist of The Tombs of Atuan. Tenar, at the urging of Ged, the Archmage of Earthsea, has left her native Atuan. Now in her forties, Tenar has lived for twenty-five years on Gont, where she married a farmer and suffered through his death. Their two children, now grown, have left home.

Ged’s friend and teacher, Ogion, tried to teach the young Tenar some of his magical powers. Tenar, however, resisted. She strove only to be a wife and mother, roles she thought defined her power as a woman. With her husband dead and her children gone, she appears to have reached the end of the existence that is meaningful to her. Unlike the book’s men, who view endings as final, however, she ferrets out from this ending a new beginning. The first element of it is Therru (Tehanu), an eight-year-old girl raped by family members, beaten badly, then thrown into a fire meant to destroy the evidence her body bore of those familial misdeeds.

Therru narrowly escaped but received burns that scarred her face extensively, badly injured one hand, destroyed one of her eyes, and left her with almost no voice....

(The entire section is 633 words.)


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Earthsea, a group of islands forming an archipelago, is an imaginary world similar to western Europe's middle ages. In place of the church...

(The entire section is 238 words.)

Literary Qualities

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Several motifs help structure Tehanu: the education or growth plots of Tenar, Ged, and Therru; the heroic romance of Therru's...

(The entire section is 346 words.)

Social Sensitivity

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Clearly Le Guin has done what she could do to make Tehanu a feminist novel. Just as a thinker such as Plato could win an argument with...

(The entire section is 328 words.)

Topics for Discussion

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. "High fantasy" is a term some critics use to define books in which the author creates a world entirely different from our own. Is...

(The entire section is 199 words.)

Ideas for Reports and Papers

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. Alfred Kroeber, Ursula K. Le Guin's father, wrote a pioneering study early in his career entitled Handbook of the Indians of...

(The entire section is 200 words.)

Related Titles / Adaptations

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Le Guin has had a remarkably full writing career with many volumes of poetry, criticism, fantasy, science fiction, adolescent fiction,...

(The entire section is 397 words.)

For Further Reference

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Barrow, Craig, and Diana Barrow. "Le Guin's Earthsea: Voyages in Consciousness." Extrapolation 32,1 (Spring 1991): 20-44. This essay...

(The entire section is 321 words.)