re-reading Earthsea: ‘A Wizard of Earthsea’ (Le Guin. 1968.)

I don’t want to write too much about Tehanu before i actually get to that book in my re-reading, but i do want to mention up front that i feel very lucky to have first encountered the Earthsea trilogy in about 1989/1990 because it meant that Tehanu was published very shortly thereafter and so there was only about a year or so in between when i read the trilogy and when i read the 4th book.  I say that this makes me feel lucky because i feel that the short distance between the Trilogy and Tehanu for me made the 4th book feel as tho’ it was a natural, organic progression of the stories of Earthsea.  I am not one of those who hates Tehanu and everything else after it that Le Guin has written in the world of Earthsea.  Quite the contrary: i can’t imagine Earthsea without Tehanu.  I, in fact, absolutely loved Tehanu.

I mention this now because it’s hard for me to not keep Tehanu (and all the stories that have come after that novel) in mind as i re-read the Earthsea trilogy this time thru’.  And especially, returning to the original 3 Earthsea stories as a 40-year-old who has had decades to think about their place in the world as a woman — to re-think their gender entirely –, it’s impossible for me to not think about the genders of Earthsea, to not think about the expectations of and limitations on the women of this world.

And … Earthsea is a completely male world.  Women are typically mentioned only because of a connection they have to a man.  Any magical power a woman has is immediately put into context as being lesser/stupider than the true magic that men wield.  It really bothers me a lot.  I do keep finding myself hoping that beyond the farthest Reaches, beyond the open sea is a land on the other side of the world where women have power that’s valued, that gives them status and worth that isn’t tied to the men in their lives.  I start The Tombs of Atuan tomorrow and i can’t wait to meet Arha/Tenar again.  I’m curious how her world will strike me on this re-read.

Other thoughts on A Wizard of Earthsea:

*)  It’s interesting to me that the main character is referred to in the narrative by his true name, whereas everyone else is referred to by their use-name.  Whenever anyone calls Ged “Sparrowhawk” — or, more jarring still, “Lord Sparrowhawk” — i am momentarily thrown out of the story as i try to reconcile the use-name with the main character.

*)  I am caught between 2 sides of Ged that i can’t quite reconcile in my mind.  On the one hand, he so easily moves into the role of wizard where he simply accepts/expects that people will give him things solely because he’s a wizard and carries a staff — something i noted most keenly when he met the castaway prince and princess on the uncharted island and he simply commanded the old man to build up the fire, and then helped himself to clothes and several nights’s rest, as tho’ all this were his due.  Yet, on the other hand, the narrative makes it clear when he’s in the village in the Hands that he feels most at home amongst poor folk.  This is simply my own set of U.S. class issues pressing against the story, i know, but nevertheless they are 2 attitudes that don’t quite sync up for me.

*)  Reading this now that i’ve lived in Seattle for over a decade one thing is very clear to me:  This is a deeply Pacific Northwest story/world.  The inland sea, the wild coasts, the islands.  And, over all, my god — THE WEATHER.  Is this world ever not grey?  Is there no sun??  DOES THE RAIN NEVER END?!?!