30 DoB Day 18: A Book That Disappointed You

As the weekend draws to a close and we’re all apparently still here, I spent some time giving thought to the next question in the 30 Days of Books list:

Day 18 – A book that disappointed you

Geez, there’s been lots of books that have been disappointments.  Anything that I rated 2-stars or below on Goodreads was probably a disappointment because obviously I’d hoped for something more.

But what came to mind for this question was a book that I had read with great expectation that not only was a disappointment, but managed to tarnish one of my all time favorite series.  That book was Ursula K. LeGuin’s Tehanu.

Tehanu was published almost twenty years after LeGuin’s third Earthsea book The Farthest Shore.  Now the original trilogy of Earthsea is one of my alltime favorite series.


In them, LeGuin wrote brief lyrical fantasy stories that managed to get outside the Tolkien sphere.  They are wonderful.

So, I was excited to go back to Earthsea when Tehanu came out, but it didn’t take long to figure out that this book wasn’t going to dovetail with the others.

In it, Ged, the hero of the first three books – the greatest wizard of the age – the man that saved the world – loses all his power.  Which isn’t so bad and might have been an interesting twist, but not only does he lose his power, he loses his will, his decisiveness, his personality — everything that made him who he was.  In the book, LeGuin heavy-handedly emasculates Ged and makes just about every other male in the book either weak or evil, while the only wisdom and power for good is to be found in the hands (and hearts) of women.

Now, I’m all for gender equality, but Tehanu not only failed to extend and enhance her previous writing, it tore it down.  With Tehanu LeGuin says, “Yeah, those first three books? Screw them.” – and in so, she undermines the entire mythos and wonderful stories that she’d created.  She is the George Lucas of fantasy writers.


8 thoughts on “30 DoB Day 18: A Book That Disappointed You

  1. Well—I didn’t like Tehanu for the reasons you cited, though I think what LeGuin was saying was that we shouldn’t rely on magic to fix our most difficult problems. In the first Earthsea trilogy, Ged was master of of his domain. In Tehanu it’s Tenar’s ability to nurture and heal that becomes the dominant “power.” It isn’t until the end that magic returns, and by then I was throwing my hands in the air and saying, “That’s IT! No more, I can’t deal with this!” I get that LeGuin was exploring some of the implications of gender and power in that particular novel, but why she had to tear down Ged to do so was just painful. George Lucas, indeed.

    • HG — I’m glad you commented on this one, because I think we’d alluded to Tehanu through a couple of other posts. It’s a great point about the change of focus — which I think could have been accomplished without trashing what I think was a wonderful character and great story from earlier. Though I suppose at that point she must have re-read them and thought they weren’t so great.

  2. It reminds me a little of Anne Rice writing all those BDSM novels, then finding Jeebus and writing Jeebusy books for some years. I think sometimes they hit a wall and figure only by radical change will they find inspiration. Maybe they’re right but it seems wrong to unleash crap on their adoring public!

    • MT — good point — I hadn’t thought about the Anne Rice comparison and her “conversion” — has she recently “back-converted”? I have no idea, I don’t pay attention to that sort of stuff. I’d read a couple of her books and they were okay, but a little too gothic and not quite compelling enough for me to stick with.

      It does raise an interesting question about what an author “owes” to their public. Of course, I think a writer should be able to write whatever they want — which of course has the corollary that if the changes aren’t good, no one is required to buy it or like it.

      • A friend in hs gave me interview and the next one to read. I liked them at the time (mid 80s). I think she is a pretty good storyteller but that’s going on a teen-me-memory. Somebody at work a year or 2 ago said she’d un-converted herself. I think it’s all pretty lame.

  3. Ouch, that’s a harsh comparison, though I can’t gainsay it because I haven’t read Tehanu. Of course it’s been so long that I barely remember the original series, except for the intriguing beginning of A Wizard of Earthsea and LeGuin’s unique geography. I should reread them eventually, but I think I’ll give Tehanu a skip — it sounds like I’d hate it, for the very reasons you cite!

    • David — I’ve stayed away from the most recent Stephen R Donaldson’s Covenant books because I don’t want my memories of that world colored. I really haven’t liked where his writing had gone between the long hiatus and I’m afraid any new material would reflect that too much.

  4. Pingback: Dystopian Days | Stevil

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