As for reading the first three books again over thirty years after my first outing to Earthsea, the experience was quite simply better than I’d imagined. I was both entranced and delighted by the books, not only by the clarity and drive of Le Guin’s narrative but also by the richness and depth of her always economic prose. I love The Lord of the Rings for its wealth and genius as an epic narrative, however, as a piece of fantasy writing, the world and people created by Le Guin in her Earthsea books have a depth and sense of reality with which Tolkien, in my opinion, never managed to imbue his land of Middle Earth or its characters - and she can cover in fifty pages what JRR would need most of a book to say. This was the first series I ever read that was about a school for the training of wizards, and whilst another school is almost certainly more popularly famous these days, if given the choice I’d definitely want my own wizard’s training to take place on Roke. The first three books were wonderful to read again, and the writing, perhaps not heeded by me then as much as now, was elegant and sublime.
This brings me to Tehanu , the final book in The Earthsea Quartet (as my volume, re-issued in 2012, is entitled). The writing is once again impeccable, however, this is not a tale of epic fantasy like the first three adventures. The main character of the first three books, Ged, is largely absent and the main focus of the narrative is Tenar who we first meet in The Tombs of Atuan. Tehanu has, unlike its predecessors a mainly domestic setting and is concerned (it seemed to me) with the process we all must go through of accepting and accommodating ourselves with life and to how our lives may ultimately fall out. Le Guin has a number of points she wishes to make about gender inequality and the differences between male and female power. I felt that she was (for Le Guin that is) a little heavy-handed at times in her treatment of these matters, and there were just a few moments when I wanted to declare: yes, I already got that. The Taoist philosophy of balance that so firmly binds together this world of Earthsea is never pointed-up or highlighted in such a deliberate way as these feminist issues are in Tehanu. However, Le Guin is a very fine writer and whatever her motives for writing Tehanu, perhaps she simply wished to redress the balance and tidy up the rather male-centric world she’d created in the first three books, and while I’m not wholly convinced that this book should ever have been marketed as the final part of a quartet (so as not to disappoint those anticipating something altogether different, perhaps it should have been presented as a separate story about Earthsea? Just a thought!) it is still a very good book indeed. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
So, I find myself with two more Earthsea books left to go. Perhaps I’ve had enough, already? Certainly not. I shall definitely be looking forward to reading Tales from Earthsea and The Other Wind in the not too distant future ... and who knows, with Christmas fast approaching, maybe Santa, or someone else perhaps, might well be reading this blog post?