Le Guin is speaking with a double tongue in [Tehanu]. On the one hand she’s saying very clearly that women’s domestic lives are central and important, and on the other the force of story is bending everything to have an actual plot, which needs an evil wizard and men and the world of action. The burned child Therru, who has been raped and survived, calls the dragon to the rescue. It’s too easy an answer, as well as being a nice trick if you can do it. And it denies the centrality of the importance of the well-lived life. She says that women’s lives matter, but she shows that they don’t, that what matters is magic and power and calling on dragons. This is a restless book with very strange pacing. Tehanu is a very problematic book for me.... I’m much more sympathetic to what she was trying to do in Tehanu than before I’d tried it myself--there’s a whole weight of expectation to do with the way stories go that she was trying to roll uphill singlehanded to make this book work, and it’s amazing it works as well as it does. But if you want a feminist fantasy about small-scale domestic life, I recommend Phillis Ann Karr’s At Amberleaf Fair. And if you want Le Guin telling confident fantasy stories set in worlds where women are people, I recommend the Western Shore trilogy.
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