THE OTHER WIND Discussion, Witch Week 2018
Add any general questions you would like the group to discuss here.
CHRIS: Interestingly, since the theme is Fantasy+Feminism, there’s precious few traditional fantasy elements in The Other Wind so I’d like if possible to discuss how the fantasy melds with the feminist themes and whether the balance is successfully maintained.
LIZZIE: I agree with you, Chris, about the few fantasy elements of TOW. I’ll think about this as I reread. Something I’d like us to think about is male-female relationships between characters. This can be parent/child (Tenar and Prince Arren), or partners (Arren and the Kargish Princess; Irian and the Patterner), or something else I haven’t noticed.
LORY: What traditional fantasy elements do you find to be absent, CHRIS? I’ve just read the first chapter so far, but I find the presence or mention of magic-working, dragons, and spirit journeys already quite in line with traditional fantasy. But I’ll think about how these are shaped by a feminist view as I read.
What came to mind as I read through the series is that this is the first time I’ve read most of these books -- definitely the later ones -- since I became a mother myself 12 years ago. How does that change my experience -- as a woman, and as a reader? The character of Tenar has always been especially dear to my heart, and now I think even more so. There are aspects of her experience that I couldn’t fully grasp before, and my own experience of motherhood will certainly color my discussion of feminist themes.
I’d never want to argue that this should be applied in some uniform way - that a man can never understand women characters, for example - but it’s always so interesting to me to observe how my own life experience affects my reading. (And vice versa!)
CHRIS: I think my reading of TOW is largely determined by Tehanu, my impression of which was that the everyday experiences of Tenar and Therru were more to the fore that the magical elements. But even after a very recent rereading I'm still unclear about much of the action. It mayn’t be helped by the fact that my head is currently still enmeshed in Tales from Earthsea and those stories as well as other novels. TOW won't be neglected, however, and I’ll add comments about Chapter I in the next couple of days.
LORY: Right, I agree in these last books there is an emphasis on “everyday life” and not so many magical fireworks. For me this brings the books closer to our own experience, not located in such a distant mythological sphere -- the fantasy reaches more into the emotional, psychological realm. They’re less obviously numinous, more subtle in a way.
OK, on another note, I just read this in a book about male depression: “For decades, feminist researchers have detailed the degree of coercion brought to bear against girls’ full development and the sometimes devastating effects of the loss of their most complete, authentic selves. It is time to understand the reciprocal process as it occurs in the lives of boys and men.”
I find this relevant, as feminism can too often be thought of as a one-sided campaign for “women’s rights.” But particularly in the last two Earthsea novels, I think Le Guin was looking at how all human beings (not to mention dragons!) were wounded by the limiting, divisive methods of channeling power that had for many years held sway in that world. Now, there seems to be a movement toward change, opening, new ideas, new ways of living that can lead sentient beings toward their “most complete, authentic selves.”
How does this dynamic play out in the fantasy world, and the so-called real world? What is male, what is female, what is human, what is animal? Is there something in us that transcends all such divisions and limitations, and how does it live in a divided world? Where are the points of resistance and conflict that prevent the healthy unfolding of authenticity? Having gone through the journey of the first four novels (I didn’t read all the Tales…) these are the questions I’m left with, and wondering how TOW is going to address them.
LIZZIE: So true, Lory, about how motherhood affects our readings. I ALWAYS cry (am tearing up now as I write this) at the end of TOW. I’ll try to figure out exactly why when I add my notes on the last chapter.
For now, I want to add some quotes I pulled out of “Dragonfly”, Irian’s story from Tales of Earthsea. Irian sees the Roke school “as stone walls enclosing one kind of being and keeping out all others, like a pen, a cage. How could any of them keep their balance in a place like that?” So, yes, Le Guin is questioning the excluding practices of any group. Feminism isn’t a solution if it merely tips the scales in the other direction. This ties in with your point, Lory, about male/female depression.
Re the “fantasy elements” -- The shift struck me as starting in Tehanu, because the central characters did not have magical powers to use. Or, at least, not the ones we’d come to expect from the first 3 books. Another imbalance that Le Guin is trying to correct? In the Foreword to Tales, she writes “In the years since I began to write about Earthsea I’ve changed, of course, and so have the people who read the books. All times are changing times, but ours is one of massive, rapid moral and mental transformation. Archetypes turn into millstones, large simplicities get complicated, chaos becomes elegant, and what everybody knows is true turns out to be what some people used to think.” Le Guin seems to be arguing that Earthsea is a living entity that must grow and change as part of being alive, even when she isn’t around to write about it. I LOVE that idea.
CHRIS: Finally got round to another reread of TOW and have finished the first chapter, so will add comments below on that.
So, just to respond to a couple of the excellent points you’ve both raised above.
I agree, Lory, that there are several mentions of magic at the beginning but for me the sense of the domestic, allied with the magic being reported mostly in direct speech rather than described by the omniscient author, seems fundamentally of a different kind to the first three books, as you have both suggested.
That sense of ‘everydayness’ is one that I think us older readers appreciate. It’s interesting that in the UK Puffin Books published first the trilogy, then adding Tehanu, but that the last two books are in the Orion imprint, seemingly angled towards the YA if not the adult fantasy market.
The changing role of males I’ll start treating in the discussion below, but I too will admit to approaching a silent weep as I reread it, at Alder and Sparrowhawk’s awareness of their vulnerabilities and at their sensitivity towards each other.
LIZZIE: Alder and Sparrowhawk’s situations are not what make me weep. Very interesting indeed. Worth exploring?
CHRIS: Perhaps ‘silent weep’ is too strong: I certainly felt for the two. But let me revisit the end of TOW before I comment on its emotional impact for me.
CHAPTER BY CHAPTER THOUGHTS
Chapter I. Mending the Green Pitcher
LIZZIE: Ready, I think, to start this. I’m glad to see Ged play a part in the action -- to hear his reference to Tenar as his wife, and watch him only minimally regretful/angry about the loss of his powers. When Alder talks of walking in the Immanent Grove, Ged looks up towards the forest on the nearby mountain and says “I’ll go walking there, … in the forest, come autumn.” I believe he means Gont, but I can’t help thinking he yearns a bit for Roke. Yet, he also seems to know, “Got to let go of the things that keep you tethered/Take your place with grace and then be on your way” (Bruce Cockburn, “Mighty Trucks of Midnight”). Le Guin said (in a 2004 interview for The Guardian) that she wasn’t punishing Ged by taking away his powers, she was rewarding him (I have the link if you need it). I think that’s important -- his reward is finding a partner in Tenar, a family with her and Tehanu.
CHRIS: Though I haven’t done a definitive timeline, TOW feels like a few years, ten maybe, since Tehanu. LIZZIE: It’s at least 15 -- I think Tenar mentions this at some point -- putting Tehanu in her early 20s. (CHRIS: You’re right, I reread some notes I did last night. Also now been poring over this Earthsea timeline: http://www.tavia.co.uk/earthsea/timeline.htm) [LIZZIE: Time lines! Just saw in year 730 “formal mascularisation of wizardry”, only 270 years before birth of Ged, so not so distant in the past -- i.e., recent enough there ought to be clearer memory of (or lore about) women as wizards -- absence of which must mean a concerted effort by male wizards to erase evidence of female wizards. CHRIS: Yes, this is a curious ‘slip’ on UKLG's part unless explained away. ] Time enough for Ged to be better reconciled to his loss of power and status (as his attitude to locals’ chilliness/antagonism suggests). He derives a quiet joy from mundane tasks and routines, but it is now Alder/Hara who is confused by his acceptance of a massive change of status, and why he won't go to see Lebannen.
As a male who is now the age that Ged here appears to be, I can confirm that maintaining status, any status, is hard work, even or especially when you’re retired (voluntarily or not) -- and one learns to question its value when one no longer has it. Maybe I'll return to this!
LIZZIE: I love this chapter’s title -- it’s so mundane and practical, even though Alder uses magical skills to make something whole again. I can almost see the relief Ged must feel, knowing that Tenar won’t come back from her trip to find a much-used pitcher clumsily glued back together.
CHRIS: The title is brilliant, particularly when it's bookended by the last chapter, Rejoining, almost a prefiguring of what hopefully is to come.
LIZZIE: How easy it is for Alder to do this for Ged, which begs the question of what it will take to mend the imbalance in Earthsea.The imbalance is due to the separations: powerful/powerless, wizard/ non-wizard, male/female, human/dragon, living/dead (I know I’m getting ahead in the story, but I’m unable to forget what’s coming up).
LORY: Ged has made a huge journey through the novels. We meet him as a proud, insecure, sometimes arrogant young man, eager to acquire and display power. He matured into a wiser man who recognized the importance of balance and restraint. Now, having given away his extraordinary powers to restore balance to the world, he recognizes the value of the mundane and ordinary. It’s where all the magic comes from, after all, and what it should serve. It makes me think about our own world and the power of simple acts: mending, tending, healing, caring.
But I still wonder: Why does Ged refuse to meet the King or his fellow wizards? Is it really shame and regret? Or does he simply not fit into their world any more, would he feel too out of place?
LIZZIE: I’ve wondered about that too, Lory. It could be both of those, and also a desire to step aside and let others have their chance. “He is done with doing,” someone says of Ged much later in the book (I’ve just finished it), and he must know that wherever he goes, everyone will look to him for the answer. He no longer has answers, so why force people to defer to him?
LORY: Yes, I think it’s in that direction. There does seem to be an element of shame at first, in Tehanu when he first returns from his ordeal -- but I think he overcomes this during the time he spends alone in that book, herding goats in the mountains. We never know exactly what passes through his soul during that time, but it does seem to bring him to peace, and to an acceptance that he must fundamentally alter his relationship to the powerful men of Earthsea. They can’t yet comprehend the change, so he has to make the break himself.
CHRIS: I’ve just reread the bit in chapter 2 where Lebannen posits that when Ged had handed over power to the young king he wanted not to appear to be a power behind the throne, that to in any way seem to be an adviser to Lebannen was to limit the young king’s capacity to act. Not a full explanation of Ged’s motives in withdrawing from the world but it seems to be an explanation for Lebannen, that transfer of absolute power. (Perhaps the author was influenced by the difficulties posed by the last Steward of Gondor being reluctant to hand over power to Aragorn.) If this is partly true then it’s a typically masculine thing to attribute power-play as the rationale behind actions.
LORY: It makes sense that after bearing such great power for so long, there should be a need for a time of readjustment and re-integration to come to a new wholeness. And this is in fact a “feminine” capacity -- the ability to gestate in silence, to allow something to grow inwardly without public display and interference. Showing the value of this process, whether in man or woman, is to me what feminism is about. (And what makes it so discouraging that some readers find it a “punishment” to put Ged through such a process.)
LIZZIE: Le Guin also finds that idea of “punishment” surprising. She says (2004 interview in The Guardian), “I thought I was rewarding him.” [Just noticed, on a reread of our comments, that I already mentioned this.] I think the reward has at least 2 parts: one, of course, is the loving relationship with Tenar, but the other is the ability to live a life outside the realms of power, no longer responsible for saving the world. What a lot of weight that must be to carry. I love your point, Lory, about the time Ged spends alone, coming to understand his new self, as being a feminist approach to change. Would Le Guin argue that it’s Taoist? I don’t know anything about Taoism, but it seems that silence, which Ged learned from Ogion, is a type of meditation.
LORY: I don’t know much about Taoism either but I think that contemplative practices exist in all religious and spiritual streams. It’s the essential counterforce to the extroverted, action-oriented part of our being -- which gets a lot of emphasis in our male-dominated Western culture, as in the “old” Earthsea. Ogion already knew this, and some of the other wizards (the Patterner, the Doorkeeper). Yet still, they perpetuated the separation, the division that gave the power of speech to certain parts of society and silenced others.
But now the silent feminine side is gaining a voice, a more active presence, something quite new! What will it say?
CHRIS: In Tales from Earthsea, ‘The Finder’ sees Le Guin retro-engineering the origins of the Roke School to involve women as well as men, with the women taking the initiative and men taking the backseat. With Tales published just before TOW (I think her intro to Tales says as much) she was quite rightly refraining the terms of reference, which for me makes Alder and Sparrowhawk’s relationship especially touching: both are vulnerable, and acknowledge it in their own ways, and miss their respective partners who clearly play, or played in Lily’s case, no submissive role.
Chapter II. Palaces
LIZZIE: Everyone seems uncomfortable in this chapter -- no one’s “at home” in either of the palaces, not even Lebannen, whose home this is. Either they’re homesick (Tenar, Tehanu, the Karg princess), or troubled (Alder by his dreams, Lebannen by the inconveniences of others’ expectations). Only Tenar seems to be without fear (I count this as a benefit of her age -- one of the reliefs of reaching middle age is being able to discard many irritants, because they just don’t matter any more -- does this make her a perfect mediator?). CHRIS: I find these very useful points, Lizzie, especially the observations about Tenar: she seems a sort of fulcrum around which everything pivots, the eye of the storm as it were, and her quiet presence and unassuming actions often appear to make a difference.
LIZZIE: Does “home” have feminine connotations? Is everyone’s discomfort another signal of the imbalance that must be addressed? If the world ever regains balance (is that even possible?), does that mean that everyone will feel at home everywhere?
A moment when Le Guin may perhaps be a bit too obvious: p. 84, where Tenar resents “Lebannen’s failure or inability to take the girl’s point of view.” Yes, that is one of L’s problems, but I think he also doesn’t like what agreeing to the marriage would mean: a change in how he lives his life, a loss of control over his decisions, because he has to take someone else’s desires into account. Lebannen is over 30, but not yet mature enough to accept this as a good thing.
Another important moment is when the Roke wizard Onyx (p. 101) says, “Sire, this is very strange, this is a strange time, when a dragon is a woman, and when an untaught girl speaks in the Language of the Making!” The existence of Irian and Tehanu troubles the wizards of Roke, and Onyx reveals his fear, which he’s been taught by other wizards. I read “when a dragon is a woman” in two ways. I think Onyx means “when a dragon is at the same time a human”, but it could also mean “when a dragon is a woman and not a man”. Le Guin then writes that Alder, hearing Onyx, “wondered why he himself felt no such fear. Probably, he thought, because he did not know enough to be afraid, or what to be afraid of.” True -- he hadn’t learned this from Roke (echoes of Ogion telling Tenar to teach Tehanu all, “not Roke. They are afraid.”). But Alder also had something the wizards lacked: an equal and loving relationship with a woman -- a true partnership.
LORY: Lebannen is still learning how to be a king, and a true king is not a free agent. To be a healing influence for the land, rather than a selfish and destructive tyrant, he has to be a servant of the whole. So when it comes to marriage -- the supreme symbol of wholeness -- he can’t only consider his own desires; yet nor can those desires just be ignored and suppressed. For marriage to be itself a healing influence we have to encounter and work through our desires, and incorporate them into the relationship in a new, individual way.
This is not easy; it’s much simpler to compartmentalize our lives and have a wife for public, community-oriented purposes and a mistress for private pleasures -- or as with the wizards, to put aside sexuality altogether. But Earthsea is changing, again, and those walls are coming down, along with the wall between the living and the dead.
Maybe that’s why Lebannen resists meeting the princess or trying to understand her. Having passed through death, he knows the need to create bridges and restore wholeness. But he’s nervous about taking on this task in what should be his most personal, intimate relationship, which yet at the same time has be to be utterly public and impersonal, because he’s a king. There’s so much at stake and the price for failure is very high.
He had to take on so much, so young … no wonder there are parts of him that have not yet come to maturity. Tenar’s motherly wisdom is helping him, in the absence of his own mother. She does play the role of mediator in this book, in many ways.
CHRIS: Lebannen’s angst over the princess comes, I believe, from a sense of powerlessness, a lack of control, born out of his irritation with the Kargad ploy. But he has the sense to appeal to the ideally-placed Tenar to intercede, the happy result of his instinct to call on the White Lady and the Woman of Gont in the first place. Le Guin's portrayal of Lebannen and Ged is always subtle, and I continually admire the way she paints males as other than the conventional men of action that are too often the protagonists in male-authored books.
LIZZIE: Good point, Chris. This ties in with what Le Guin says in her “Earthsea Revisioned” talk, on trying to redefine what a “hero” and “heroine” are and do. Who’s the hero of this story? If it’s Lebannen, he certainly doesn’t act like the traditional hero. If Tenar is the “hero”, she’s more an observer/mentor than a doer. She waits and watches, nudging occasionally. It’s so interesting to watch the interplay among all the characters.
LORY: Lebannen is disturbed at not being in control here, but he has to learn that being a king means knowing how and when to give over control. This entails a reframing of masculinity; kingship is the masculine archetype par excellence, yet the greatest rulers are always the ones who serve the wholeness. Thus, who are in touch with their feminine side, which involves an experience of vulnerability. Otherwise, how can they protect the vulnerable among their subjects?
With this character and others, Le Guin does wonderfully portray the subtle challenges of being male. Heroism can be quiet and profound, as well as loud and flashy. We really need to recognize those heroes in our literature, as in life.
CHRIS: Chapter 2 sees more emphasis on the women (we’d only met two old female friends at the end of the previous chapter when Alder received his kitten companion in a very touching scene). Tenar, the enabler. The as yet unnamed Kargad Princess who starts to be revealed. The promise of a reacquaintance with Irian from Dragonfly. And Tehanu, still the shy enigma but who begins to show her true self and power.
Irian and Tehanu are I think the most perplexing of Le Guin's characters. If I came across them in our world I would suspect they’d be on the autistic spectrum. Their sense of their own otherness, their solitariness mistaken as aloofness, their capacity to speak only truth as they see it, a lack of guile, different physicality and unique sensitivity -- all these and more suggest females on the spectrum, of a different order from that presented by males.
LIZZIE: Autism spectrum aside, Chris, I agree with you about Irian and Tehanu. Their dragon halves/selves are perhaps what makes them solitary and truthful. I’d argue that LeGuin wanted us to understand, by the end of Tehanu, that the initial attack on her was an attack on her otherness, on her dragon-self.
Chapter III. The Dragon Council
LIZZIE: I’m fascinated by the idea of the Vedurnan -- the choice humans made to have magic -- giving up death-and-rebirth in exchange for sorcery. When Seserakh says humans “agree never to die”, I think she means they agreed to stay away from the Other Wind, the place where every other living thing goes after dying. But (and of course there’s no answer to this question), who made that agreement? Was there any discussion? Who/how many took part? Majority rule? Consensus? Will the “change” that many have seen coming (Ogion, Tenar, Ged) result in the loss of sorcery? Must humans give up knowledge in order to mend the world? (Tenar wonders, “Maybe nothing we knew will be left to us.”)
No matter. It’s women who hold remnants of this history: the Woman of Kemay, Seserakh, Orm Irian, Tenar. There’s also Seppel, the Pelnish wizard, who did not study at Roke.
I particularly like the crusty Lady of O-tokne’s brief interchange with Onyx. Regarding the marauding dragons in western Havnor, she demands, “Are we to grovel before mindless beasts? Are there no heroes left among us?” -- i.e., no men brave enough to take on the dragons. And Onyx puts her in her place: “They are beasts as we are beasts. Men are animals that speak.” If everything is changing, then traditional solutions to long-standing problems must also drop away. (If, to a hammer, every problem is a nail, then, to a hero, is every solution a sword? CHRIS: Oh, Lizzie, this is a ‘saying’ worthy of Earthsea lore itself! )
LIZZIE: Onyx, in a later interchange with Tenar, says the Language of the Making “teach[es] our souls to conquer death.” And then Tenar replies, “That place where nothing is but dust and shadows, is that your conquest?” In Tombs of Atuan, it becomes clear that Kargish ideas about the afterlife are quite different from the rest of Earthsea; the lack of sorcery in Kargish lands could be related to this -- they didn’t join with the rest of Earthsea in the Vedurnan.
Final query. On p. 152 in my edition, Orm Irian reports that Kalessin said (to the dragons after taking Ged and Lebannen back to Roke), “in every generation of our people … one of us is born who is also human. Of these one is now living in the Inner Isles. And there is one of them living there now who is a dragon.” Tehanu and Irian, right? If so, that gives us 3 examples of the dragon-human melding (don’t forget the Woman of Kemay), and all of these are female. I’m just sayin’.
LORY: That does seem significant. In archetypal terms, women are the ones who hold the secrets of life and death within their bodies, through their monthly cycle and through motherhood. They are not disconnected from the sources of life.
Men don’t have such immediate access to this experience; they must achieve it in another way. That forms a great opportunity for independent consciousness, but is also highly dangerous.
In the first book of the series, we learned that there are wizards with an awareness of equilibrium who are respectful of the balance of the whole, not using power carelessly or thoughtlessly. These seemed like “good” wizards in comparison to the “bad,” selfish ones who grabbed power for themselves. But now it seems that the very basis of wizardry upset the balance of nature in a fundamental way. How will this disjunction be healed? Can there be a wisdom that respects the feminine, more nature-connected principle -- the dragonish part of us that never forgot the language of the Making -- rather than seeking to “conquer” and subdue it? It is a fascinating question.
LIZZIE: Lory, can you say more about what you mean by “independent consciousness”? And what is the other way that men achieve it? Through wizardry?
LORY: In the context of Earthsea, yes. Wizardry is a metaphor for what I’m talking about. In our world, which is apparently without magic, we achieve independent consciousness by freely grasping the principles that govern and sustain life. Through thinking, you could say. But this should not be only a dead intellectual thinking that spreads death in its wake -- rather, a living thinking that moves and changes, as our living world is constantly evolving.
Both men and women can strive towards this goal. But women have an extra help through their bodily experience, and men can benefit from listening to them and understanding the feminine way of being. In fact, I think that’s the only way forward, for all of us.
I find it wonderful to look at how Le Guin wrestled with these questions and evolved her own vision of Earthsea. To people who wanted more of the same, the later books were a disappointment, but I see them as an enhancement.
LIZZIE: Thanks for this, Lory. We haven’t yet made explicit any connection to #MeToo and #TimesUp (I’m not sure I want to, in the public version of this conversation), but the implications are there, in your points about “independent consciousness” and “thinking that moves and changes”. The moves are nearly impossible and take so much time and conscious effort -- Lebannen models reluctance and resistance, Ged models slow acceptance (how many years out on his own?).
LORY: We’re in a time of ferment and change in our own world, for sure. And just as in Earthsea, what initially seems threatening and disastrous can hold the key to future growth.
There can be no healing if you won’t even look at the wound, won’t even admit it’s there. But those long-held wounds are hard to look at, at first. The resistance is discouraging, but there are also acts of great courage to see and celebrate. Le Guin shows us a picture of this, in her courageous women (and dragon-women) and the men who listen to and learn from them.
Chapter IV. Dolphin
LIZZIE: Here Seserakh shows her strengths, through her acceptance of her situation and willingness to put up with discomfort. I like how Tenar (Le Guin) forced Lebannen to stop seeing the Princess as a silly, ignorant barbarian, or at least to recognize that Seserakh is not “a mindless thing”. (Tenar as chiding mother-figure, again.)
Tenar, walking in the palace garden before the Dolphin sails, wonders why men fear women. “Not as individuals, but women when they talked together, worked together, spoke up for one another -- then men saw plots, cabals, constraints, traps being laid.” (p. 174) And then, “Of course they were right. Women were likely, as women, to take the next generation’s part”. Links vs chains, bonds vs bondage. The four elements come into making the balance within an individual: “... if he truly was nothing unless he was independent. If he was only air and fire, no weight of earth to him, no patient water…”. There is so much packed into those two paragraphs -- about relationships between men and women, about how individuals become their best and most complete selves, about balancing present and future needs. This was a key paragraph for me too.
LORY: Links vs chains, bonds vs bondage is indeed the issue. I have to reference again this book I’ve been reading, I Don’t Want to Talk About It by Terrence Neal. It’s about the covert depression that many men carry as they are systematically socialized, and often individually traumatized, out of experiencing and valuing the relatedness and connection that every human being, regardless of gender, needs for healthy development. Of course, bonds can become bondage, there can be emotionally unhealthy dependence and so forth … but what is little recognized is the “passive trauma” caused by the thoughtless neglect and disconnection so rampant in our society, by the raising of boys in particular to be indifferent to their own feelings. Contempt for the so-called “feminine” will inevitably maim and incapacitate a vital part of their own souls.
And this creates an endless cycle of trauma and abuse, until someone wakes up and decides to break it. Again, Le Guin has given us so many pictures for this process. Tenar taking in the damaged child feared by others. Ged renouncing his spectacular powers, putting mere knowledge in service of the greater wisdom of love. Seserakh putting aside her veils so that Lebannen can see her and be changed by the encounter. Alder consciously suffering the pain of separation from his wife, a pain wizards avoid by not marrying at all.
We have to overcome our fear of enslavement, and connect to one another in freedom, compassion, and love. Then the world may be mended.
CHRIS: I don’t think I can add much to what you’ve both said, all of which I agree and strongly believe in.
Chapter V. Rejoining
LIZZIE: And we’re back to mending the green pitcher -- in this case, Earthsea.
The dreams pile up, all hinting at the problem as well as the solution. I think the woman (in Seppel’s dream) whose “hair was dark with a glint of red in it” is Alder’s wife. The 4 women on board the ship form a special group -- 2 Kargs, 2 dragon-humans. The Karg’s dream about broken taboos, the dragon-humans about trying and failing to get to a place. Dreams are a place where at least 2 worlds meet -- Earthsea and the Dry Land. Is the Other Wind a 3rd place that can be found in dreams? Or perhaps not yet -- not until the breach has been healed. Perhaps that’s why Orm Irian can’t go there in her dreams.
I don’t think I have any new insights at this point -- perhaps once the two of you have added your responses I’ll be able to bounce off of them.
Except -- the moment that always brings me to tears is Tenar’s and Tehanu’s separation. It has to be, yet it’s wrenching. Ged’s words, as he and Tenar are looking west at the end, console me: “If she comes, she’ll come from there. And if she doesn’t come, she is there.”
LORY: I just have to say, I want to get to go to the Immanent Grove too. Maybe all the woods in our world join up there too … as DWJ indicates in Hexwood, there is one great Forest …
CHRIS: For me it’s the point where Tenar, sitting by her friend Alder’s body, is told by Azver, “I saw Tehanu. She flies golden on the other wind,” and the Patterner agrees that she is whole. The hard, bitter, silent tears are for her daughter, for Alder, for everything.
OTHER IDEAS OR COMMENTS
LIZZIE: This could include connections to other books in the series (or places where you see Le Guin correcting previous gender imbalances (can either of you come up with a better phrase?)
Where I see the feminist thread in the series:
1. In Wizard, Le Guin gives us the “weak/wicked as women’s magic” idea, something that ought to raise questions among readers (and may, in fact, signal the male-centered world of traditional fantasy?). No explicit discussion of sex, but I have to wonder if Jasper (like Ivory in “Dragonfly”) leaves Roke because he can’t stick the celibacy. But of course we don’t find out about this “rule” until Tehanu.
2. In Tombs, we have a female protagonist, but Ged’s arrival is the catalyst for her escape (I won’t say “rescue”, unless it’s that each rescues the other). One minor objection: In my edition, Ruth Robbins’ chapter heading illustration for “The Anger of the Dark” shows Ged leading Tenar out of the labyrinth, but it’s actually Tenar who leads Ged, because only she knows the way. Does this mean that Robbins couldn’t let go of the male lead? An unconscious bias?
In this chapter we also get details about the different beliefs -- Kargish death+rebirth, disdain for wizardry.
3. I didn’t reread Shore for this project, so I could be wrong, but I don’t remember any sign of this thread. CHRIS: I believe you’re correct here: TFS seems mostly to be an odyssey undertaken by Ged and Lebannen, with women only mentioned in passing, as in the West Reach raft folk.
LORY: There’s a woman master weaver/silk farmer, a character I found intriguing on this go-around (since I’ve become involved in weaving myself). And a woman in Roke Town who used to sell charms I think … but yes, otherwise it’s a pretty manly book.
LIZZIE: 4. Tehanu -- too obvious to require a comment.
5. The first story in Tales (“The Finder”) shows an early school at Roke established by both women and men, and Otter definitely has a loving relationship with Ember. There’s also the woman in the mercury mines who helps him escape his bondage to Losen. The story’s ending hints at factions developing which will probably result in the expulsion of women from the school. Later, in “Dragonfly”, we learn that some of the teachers/leaders (all men by now) have forgotten this history, as well as the history of the school’s role in crowning the king. I can’t remember who said it, but nostalgia for the “good old days” requires a short memory.
LIZZIE: pp 77-78: “the power that power had over the minds and hearts of men” This is Lebannen wondering why Ged won’t come to him, so it makes sense that he would think of “men”. Is he intentionally excluding women from this statement? Or using “men” as the default reference to all humanity? Whatever the case, I have to wonder if this means that power has no power over the minds and hearts of women. It seems ok for women (but not men) to meet a dragon’s eyes. We never find out if men can actually do this, since no one dares try.
Off topic, but p. 79, where Lebannen remembers his journey through the dry land w/ Ged: “the memory of that land, the darkness of it, the dust, was always in his mind just under the bright various play and the movement of the days”. That’s such a beautiful way to describe how we all have an awareness of our own death lying just beneath the surface of our awareness. It rises up occasionally (for me, 3 am is when it’s at its worst), but we’re unable to maintain that awareness throughout our daily lives. A good thing, too.
CHRIS: From Chapter IV ‘Dolphin’: Tenar is worrying that she has estranged Lebannen by suggesting he should ask Seserakh to join them going to Roke. Lizzie has already drawn attention to this passage:
‘How men feared women! she thought, walking among the late-flowering roses. Not as individuals, but women when they talked together, worked together, spoke up for one another -- then men saw plots, cabals, constraints, traps being laid.
Of course they were right. Women were likely, as women, to take the next generation’s part, not this one’s; they wove the links men saw as chains, the bonds men saw as bondage. She and Seserakh were indeed in league against him and ready to betray him, if he was truly was nothing unless he was independent.’
Almost every other paragraph in TOW seems to me to speak wisdom and truth in abundance, as this one does. Here UKLG talks of the weakness of men wanting to appear strong and independent, suspicious of what they see as threats; she affirms the strength women get from talking and working together. Tenar comes across as the quiet mover and shaker; along with Alder (who, like Ged, has voluntarily given up his power), she has sensed where there is unease, disunity, things not right with the world; unlike Alder she is unobtrusively proactive, persuading Tehanu to come out of shell, advising Lebannen, coaching Seserakh, comforting Alder until he is able to unite with his beloved Lily.
From Chapter V: the convocation in the Immanent Grove, Irian has just railed against the men who stole from the dragons.
“Sister,” Tehanu said. “These are not the men who stold from us. They are the one who pay the price.”
A silence followed her harsh, whispering voice.
“What was the price?” said the Namer.
Tehanu looked at Irian. Irian hesitated, and then said in a much subdued voice, “Greed puts out the sun. These are Kalessin’s words.”
Greed puts out the sun. Published in 2001, TOW was not necessarily prescient but it becomes more and more true, more and more urgent, and the warning may even be too late. We are endangering the world, upsetting the balance. And when I say we I mean specifically men: male politicians, CEOs, rogue nations led by men. Lizzie, above you quote Lebannen: “the power that power had over the minds and hearts of men”. I think UKLG is conscious of the power of words and does indeed mean just one half of the population.