1. Coming of Age

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Like the previous Earthsea books, transitioning from one stage of life to another is an important theme here. While the previous three focused on the transition from adolescence to adulthood, this book deals with other transitions: Tenar from wifehood to widowhood to something else; Ged from a man of power to just a man; Therru from childhood to adolescence; Ogion from old age to death. What are your thoughts on these transitions?

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    There's a lot about women coming into power, and men losing theirs. Tenar comes into some ability with magic. Therru changes from crippled girl to maturing dragon. Ged comes to accept his new position of partnership with women. Aspen, the mage, refuses to share his power and is destroyed by it.

    How much of the transitions are from solitary power to collaboration? Is that one of the messages of the book?

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    I have the sense too that the book is deliberately exploring issues that UlG left unexplored in the earlier books, and particularly the role of women in various situations. Not only Tenar and Tehanu, but also the various witches we meet. So although there are personal transitions, these are (I think) less prominent than the basic conditions that people, especially women, tend to occupy in EarthSea.

    But also, I feel there is a social transition going on - Ged and the new king have just won the battle and so in theory made peaceful rule possible. But Gont is far from being in that happy state, with roving gangs on the lookout for easy prey, and magicians who are more than keen to abuse their position. So far as Gontish people are concerned, the transition they feel is actually from comparative peace to one of unsettlement. The king's rule is a very long way from being enforced.

    In fact, it occurred to me that this social condition - one of near-utopia beginning to break down into a more dangerous and fragile state - is one that she likes exploring. The Dispossessed has similar qualities, as does Always Coming Home. maybe the question she likes to explore is how people behave when their social norms and expectations are challenged?

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    Lots of liminality, in this book, for those enamoured of it.

    Is this a post-apocalyptic book? Ged has had a personal apocalypse. Tenar has too, hasn’t she? She seems so very much disconnected from her family and even her social circle.
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    @RichardAbbott said:

    But also, I feel there is a social transition going on - Ged and the new king have just won the battle and so in theory made peaceful rule possible. But Gont is far from being in that happy state, with roving gangs on the lookout for easy prey, and magicians who are more than keen to abuse their position. So far as Gontish people are concerned, the transition they feel is actually from comparative peace to one of unsettlement. The king's rule is a very long way from being enforced.

    I think it's a transition from a stable but unhappy state to a better one. After all, Gont was in large part controlled by selfish lords and powerful gangsters. The assertion of "rule of law" should improve things, even if the transition is difficult.

    In fact, it occurred to me that this social condition - one of near-utopia beginning to break down into a more dangerous and fragile state - is one that she likes exploring. The Dispossessed has similar qualities, as does Always Coming Home. maybe the question she likes to explore is how people behave when their social norms and expectations are challenged?

    I think The Dispossessed is about someone realising that societies aren't as good (or as bad) as they stories he was told. With Always Coming Home, it seemed to be more about how social norms get reestablished when challenged. The Condor people attempt to disrupt life for the Kesh, but fail.

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    I like @RichardAbbott 's idea that this book explores society's transmission from one state of development to another one. Unlike the other books that frame their transitions as a journey, this one takes a domestic point-of-view. This is what a changing society looks like from ground level.

    Like @NeilNjae , I would not call it a transition from a utopian state to a fragile one. I do think that the reign of King Lebannen is running up against older ideas of what is the "way things ought to be." But those older ideas were not necessarily good ones.

    Look at Spark's thoughts on why his ship was seized. They were just running cargo, as they had always done. It didn't matter to him if they were stolen goods or not. So long as he didn't do the stealing, his hands were clean. Just like he didn't kick his mother off the farm. He just made it clear her contribution would never be valued, it's not his fault that she chose to leave.

    People who prosper from corruption and injustice would certainly see the coming of a just order as an unwarranted attack on the "way things ought to be."

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    Hmmm, let me clarify what I meant. Not that the society was in a Utopian state at the beginning of the story (I'm going to limit myself to Tehanu and The Dispossessed for the time being, as I don't feel I know ACH well enough to comment). Rather, that in both cases, a Utopian society was part of reasonably recent social memory - not just a vague sense of "the good old days". And in both cases, this idyll was under serious threat, and daily life was changing under the pressure of this threat.

    So the time when all EarthSea was ruled by a king, and was at peace, was not fable but history. To be sure - in the earlier three stories - there was no king actually ruling at the time, but that was rationalised as a temporary hiccup in the normal state of affairs. What Tehanu does is show that down at grass roots level, rather than the rarefied realms of mages and such like, things are far from idyllic. Social unrest and abuse is in actual fact sufficiently common that it has become just part of normal life.

    In The Dispossessed, the society was established and grew up in a state of intense commitment and excitement - here was a totally new experiment in society which would transform all relationship. The people knew that not everything was perfect - there were droughts and hardship, for example - but they felt fervently that their new model of social relationship was far and away the best way to meet those challenges. By Shevek's time, cracks had begun to appear. Hierarchy and dominance have started to appear in unexpected ways, but are beginning to challenge the ideals on which the society is based. Again, the changes in social fabric have become obvious, and are affecting the central characters.

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    @RichardAbbott , we have different interpretations of the stories.

    In Earthsea, the high kings have been gone for a long time. Certainly outside living memory, perhaps several centuries (Wikipedia suggests "several millennia"). The rule of kings is, I think, looked back on as a golden age. Ged doesn't notice the thuggery and criminality of Gont and other places, first because of his youth and later because of his position as Archmage. Tenar/Goha doesn't have this privilege and has to live with the imperfect society that exists (perhaps made worse by the lessening of magic in the run-up to The Farthest Shore). The accession of Lebannen means the stable state of self-serving rulers is coming to an end, causing more turbulence.

    In The Dispossessed, I read it as Odonian culture always having been corrupt at the highest levels. Shevek starts the story as a believer in the Odonian ideals, but comes to understand the political power structures that exist as his work expands in scope. It's not so much that the cracks are growing and becoming obvious to all, but that the cracks were always there but Shevek is coming to see them.

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    @NeilNjae fair enough! I guess it's tribute to UlG that her books can give rise to differing interpretations. The political romantic in me wants to believe that Odonian society fundamentally works, and originally did work, and only slips away from that ideal as the imperfections of human nature start to assert themselves.

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    @RichardAbbott said:
    @NeilNjae fair enough! I guess it's tribute to UlG that her books can give rise to differing interpretations. The political romantic in me wants to believe that Odonian society fundamentally works, and originally did work, and only slips away from that ideal as the imperfections of human nature start to assert themselves.

    I think we're in whole-hearted agreement on all of these points.

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    Btw, I can’t wait for the next instalment in this collection of books. Are there two more? The Other Wind has already been mentioned. Was the other a collection of stories?
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    Tales from EarthSea is the collection of stories, and The Other Wind is the conclusion of the whole. As I have mentioned once or twice, I reckon The Other Wind is totally awesome, not just as a piece of writing but as a way to subvert and overthrow all the expectations of that world that were built up in the first three. Tehanu started that process but broke off before finishing.

    It's a long time since I read Tales from EarthSea but I remember enjoying it as a way to fill in a few gaps in the picture.

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