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Cover of first edition (hardcover)
Author Ursula K. Le Guin
Country United States
Language English
Series Earthsea
Genre Fantasy novel
Published 1990 (Atheneum Books)
Media type Print (hardcover and paperback)
Pages 226
ISBN 0-689-31595-3
OCLC 19975630
[Fic] 20
LC Class PZ7.L5215 Te 1990
Preceded by The Farthest Shore
Followed by Tales from Earthsea

Tehanu: The Last Book of Earthsea is a fantasy novel by the American author Ursula K. Le Guin, published by Atheneum in 1990. It was the fourth novel set in the fictional archipelago Earthsea; a sequel following almost twenty years after the Earthsea trilogy (1968–1972); and not the last, despite its subtitle.[1][a] It won the annual Nebula Award for Best Novel[2][3] and the Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel.[4]

Tehanu continues the stories of Tenar, the heroine of the second book of the Earthsea series The Tombs of Atuan, and Ged, the hero of the first book, A Wizard of Earthsea.


Tehanu begins slightly before the conclusion of the previous book in the series, The Farthest Shore, and provides some information about the life of Tenar after the end of The Tombs of Atuan. She had rejected the option of life among the aristocracy of Havnor, which Ged had opened to her, and arrived on Gont. For some time she lived with Ged's old master Ogion - but though fond of him, rejected Ogion's offer to teach her magic. Instead, she married a farmer called Flint with whom she had two children, called Apple and Spark, and became known to the locals as Goha. It is mentioned that Ged was a bit disappointed in - and did not understand - Tenar's choice of a life. This is not explicitly explained, but there are hints of her feeling a lingering guilt about having been an arrogant Arch-Priestess and ordering people to be cruelly put to death. Moreover, in the beginning of The Tombs of Atuan it is mentioned that Tenar was born to a farmer's family and at a young age was taken from her loving parents by the Temple servants, and that as a child she was fond of apple trees.

At the book's outset, with her husband now dead and her children grown up, Tenar lives on her own at Flint's property Oak Farm, and is lonely and uncertain of her own identity - is she the simple farm woman Goha, or the ex-Kargish priestess Tenar? She adopts the child of wandering vagabonds after the child's natural father pushes her into a campfire and leaves her for dead. Tenar helps to save the child's life, but the child is left with one side of her face permanently scarred and the fingers of one hand fused into a claw. Tenar gives the child the name Therru which means 'flame' in Tenar's native Kargish language.

Tenar learns that the mage Ogion, her former tutor, is on his deathbed and has asked to see her. She sets out to visit him at his house outside the town of Re Albi, taking Therru with her. On the way, she encounters a group of ruffians, one of whom is Handy, who was involved in the original attempt on Therru's life, and claims to be her uncle. She stays with Ogion, tending to him in his last days. He instructs her to teach Therru, but his instructions are vague, and hint at her being more than she seems. After his death, she stays on at his cottage, tending to his orchard and goats and pondering her future. She befriends a local witch called Moss and a simple village girl called Heather. Her tranquil existence is dramatically broken by the arrival of Ged (also called Sparrowhawk) on the back of the dragon Kalessin, unconscious and near death. Ged - once the Archmage of Roke - has spent all his wizard's powers in sealing the gap between the worlds of the living and the dead created by the evil wizard Cob. She nurses him back to health, but when the new king Lebannen sends envoys to bring him back to Roke to resume his duties as Archmage, Ged cannot face them, fearing them due to his loss of power. He accepts Tenar's offer to return to Oak Farm to manage things there in her absence and flees there to take up a life as a goatherd. While at Re Albi, Tenar is confronted by the local lord's wicked mage, Aspen, who attempts to put a curse on her, but is initially thwarted.

Tenar informs the king's men that she cannot reveal Ged's whereabouts, and they accept the situation and depart. Tenar is initially unsure whether to stay or leave Re Albi, when her safety is threatened again by Aspen and Handy, so she flees with Therru. Her mind confused by Aspen's magic, she is almost overtaken by Handy, but manages to escape, taking refuge in the ship of the king himself. Lebannen takes Tenar and Therru to Valmouth, where Tenar eventually returns to Oak Farm to find that Ged is away tending goats in the mountains for the season. Tenar settles back into life on the farm, until one night, several men attempt to break into the house and apprehend Therru, but are driven off by Ged, who happened to overhear and follow them on their way toward the farm. Tenar and Ged begin a relationship, acknowledging that they had always loved each other. Ged wants nothing more than to settle down and live an ordinary life, far from the concerns of an Archmage. Together, they teach and care for Therru and manage the farm. The order is upset however when Tenar's son Spark returns home suddenly from a life as a sailor and tells her he wishes to run the farm. Under Gontish law Oak Farm belongs to him and Tenar has no claim to it.

Before they have time to work out what will happen, Tenar hears word that Moss is dying and wants to see Tenar. She, Ged and Therru leave immediately for Re Albi. However, the message was a trap set by Aspen, who reveals himself to be a follower of the defeated wizard Cob, who despises Ged and Tenar, and fears Therru. When Tenar, under Aspen's curse, leads Ged toward the lord's mansion, Therru escapes. Ged is powerless to prevent Aspen from capturing the two and holding them prisoner, beating and humiliating them in the process, especially Tenar. Meanwhile, Therru runs to the cliff behind Ogion's cottage, where she calls to the dragon Kalessin for help, and reveals her true nature: she is in fact "a double being, half human, half-dragon." [5] Aspen and his followers bring both Tenar and Ged up to the clifftop. Under the influence of Aspen's spell, they are both just about to jump to their deaths when the dragon Kalessin arrives and burns and crushes Aspen and his men to heaps of ash and rags. Kalessin addresses Therru by her true name Tehanu, calling her his daughter, and asks her if she would like to leave with him, but she decides for now that she will stay with Tenar and Ged. The novel ends with all three of them settling down to a simple life of farming and goat keeping at Ogion's old cottage.

There is, however, the clear suggestion that Tehanu is the "woman on Gont" who is destined to ultimately become the Archmage at the Magic School of Roke. Obviously, innately knowing as her "mother tongue" the True Speech which is the basis of all magic - rather than having to spend years in laboriously learning it, as ordinary mages need to do - would give her an enormous head start. Also, already as an untrained child, she is by definition a dragon lord - i.e., "a person which dragons talk to" - a distinction which only a few grown mages achieve even at the height of their power.

Major characters[edit]

Archmage of Roke. Called Sparrowhawk.
A twisted mage and follower of Cob. Called Aspen.
The eldest dragon.
A burned child, a woman-dragon. Called Therru.[5]
Former priestess of the Tombs of Atuan, and White Lady of Gont. Called Goha by the locals.

Major themes[edit]

Gender issues[edit]

Tehanu differs from the first three novels in that it is written from the female perspective. The novel makes clear that women's magic is every bit as strong as men's, the former being described by the witch Moss as being 'deeper than the roots of trees, deeper than the roots of islands, older than the Making, older than the moon'. Although it is less concerned with authority and dramatic actions than male power, in its own simpler and compassionate way women's magic is equally valuable. Wizards are portrayed as emotionally stunted, somewhat arrogant and detached. For the first time it is made explicit that wizards lead a life of celibacy because they are expected to devote all their energy to their magic. These shortcomings are laid bare in Ged after he has lost his power. He is completely at sea and is described by Moss as having the emotions of a fifteen year old boy. He does not have the courage to face the King's men to tell them the difficult truth that he can no longer be mage and flees. He is reliant on Tenar to work out a solution for him, and find somewhere for him to recover his sense of identity. It is only when he acknowledges his feelings for Tenar and enters into a relationship with her that he begins to grow and develop emotionally. Thus although he has lost his male power as an archmage, Ged is able to be reborn by deferring to female power, and so discovering his own feelings and the value of down to earth simplicity. In so doing he reaches a new maturity and depth to his character that he never would have done if he had remained Archmage. The dark wizard Aspen is also a very negative portrayal of a wizard and it is obvious that his loathing of Tenar is based on a hatred and fear of her womanhood.

Le Guin's exploration in her fiction, particularly in Always Coming Home, of gender power issues has grown more overt in the years between the publication of The Farthest Shore in 1972 and Tehanu in 1990. Tehanu revisits the world of Earthsea with this sensibility and explores questions such as why women can't be wizards, why men are seen as superior to women in Earthsea, and what kind of power may be open / natural to woman if they are denied the power of wizardry.

Whilst a central tenet of feminism is gender equality, some readers[who?] have nevertheless remarked that the book is, if anything, anti-feminist, because the lead female characters are largely shown as victims and require the recognition and acquiescence of the patriarchy to give them freedom.

Being and Doing[edit]

Following the Taoist thread running through the first three books and many of Le Guin's other works, a further theme in Tehanu is Ged's transition from a man of doing and action to a man of generally passive being in harmony with his feelings and with nature. This was foreshadowed in the first book of the trilogy, A Wizard of Earthsea, in the contrast between Ged's first teacher Ogion the Silent and Ged himself as a young student, and also in The Farthest Shore, at the end of which the Master Doorkeeper of Roke states of Ged: "He is done with doing: he goes home." This implies that Ged's full maturity lies not in doing but in "going home" to the part of himself that he has yet to embrace.


Magic in general has a much smaller role in Tehanu than in the previous trilogy. The book's text suggests that, to some extent at least, this is prompted by Le Guin's redefinition of the world of Earthsea and the questions she asks about the differences between male and female 'power'. In other words, the reduced emphasis on magic appears to be not just a difference in the kind of narrative Le Guin decided to tell, but in the actual role she felt that magic (as defined in the earlier trilogy) would play in the future of Earthsea.

Literary style[edit]

The style of the book is noticeably different than the initial Earthsea trilogy. Whereas the initial trilogy was written around classic fantasy tropes such as perilous quests, heroic actions and larger-than-human forces, Tehanu is more a study of social interaction and emotional resonance. The pace is far slower, the mood much darker and more introspective.

The initial trilogy focuses on the character and quests of Ged, with Tenar introduced as the central character of the second book. Tehanu uses the lens of everyday events and a strong anti-patriarchal viewpoint to not only explore the future of these two characters—and of Earthsea itself—but to reinterpret them. According to Sharada Bhanu, Le Guin sees this reinterpretation as a more balanced view of the world of Earthsea, which is written in the first three books from an implicitly patriarchal (or at least, male) viewpoint.[6]


  1. ^ Two short stories set in Earthsea preceded the trilogy. A fifth novel and a collection of stories and essays were published about ten years after Tehanu. See Earthsea Cycle series listing at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database.


  1. ^ Tehanu title listing at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (ISFDB).
  2. ^ "Nebula Awards". Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). Retrieved 2012-02-25.
  3. ^ "Nebula Awards". Locus Index to SF Awards. Locus. Retrieved 2012-02-25.
  4. ^ "Locus Awards". Locus Index to SF Awards. Locus. Retrieved 2012-02-25.
  5. ^ a b Petty, Anne C. Dragons of Fantasy: The Scaly Villains & Heroes of Tolkien, Rowling, McCaffrey, Pratchett & Other Fantasy Greats, (Cold Spring Harbor, NY: Cold Spring Press, 2004)
  6. ^ Tehanu: A Return to the Source, by Sharada Bhanu excerpt on the Ursula K. Le Guin website
  • Bernardo, Susan M.; Murphy, Graham J. (2006). Ursula K. Le Guin: A Critical Companion (1st ed.). Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-313-33225-8. 
  • Cadden, Mike (2005). Ursula K. Le Guin Beyond Genre: Fiction for Children and Adults (1st ed.). New York, NY: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-99527-2. 
  • Drout, Michael (2006). Of Sorcerers and Men: Tolkien and the Roots of Modern Fantasy Literature (1st ed.). China: Barnes & Noble. ISBN 978-0-7607-8523-2. 
  • Martin, Philip (2009). A Guide to Fantasy Literature: Thoughts on Stories of Wonder & Enchantment (1st ed.). Milwaukee, WI: Crickhollow Books. ISBN 978-1-933987-04-0. 
  • Mathews, Richard (2002). Fantasy: The Liberation of Imagination (1st ed.). New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-93890-2. 
  • Petty, Anne C. (2004). Dragons of Fantasy: The Scaly Villains & Heroes of Tolkien, Rowling, McCaffrey, Pratchett & Other Fantasy Greats (1st ed.). Cold Spring Harbor, New York: Cold Spring Press. ISBN 978-1-59360-010-5. 

External links[edit]