Second review of Ursula K. Le Guin, aaaaaaand I still have to remind myself that this is first-wave feminism and they didn’t operate like the—what are we on by now? Third, fourth-wave feminism?
Here’s where I recognized the Jungian archetype, because again, Frank Waters’s People of the Valley. It’s the feminine one, if not exactly the maternal one, because we’re dealing with virginal priestess types, but it’s a whole lotta darkness and secrecy and conniving. To compare-contrast CS Lewis again, he used this kind of imagery-idea in Till We Have Faces, the Batta-like thing that nurtures and smothers all at once.
Of course, nowadays this is frowned upon because it associates femininity with bad-evil things, and that is not kosher for obvious reasons. But, it was one of the first time a fantasy novel had featured female main character and put femininity in the spotlight, as dark a skew as was put on it. Yay baby-steps, I guess?
But Le Guin is aware of this changing of the times—she commented as much in her afterword attached to this addition. And apparently the fourth book, Tehanu, is supposed to subtly address some of this issue with the difference between sixties’ first-wave and eighties-ish second-wave feminism. Another part of the problem is that the female character has to be rescued by a male, which is a difficult trope to parse out, but again, Le Guin is aware of this and explained in the afterword that she preferred to emphasize interdependence between the genders, and I’m kumbaya enough to find that acceptable.
Might I just say that it’s refreshing to find a genre author this aware of the conversation surrounding his/her work? Of course, she’s no stranger to the snobbish literary circle, but I can’t help but admire someone who has the versatility and skill to speak to literary snobs on their level and also have enough popular appeal to make actual money not dependent on English majors’ syllabuses. Not to mention, Studio Ghibli adapted her work into a movie, though it was a questionable adaptation. But it’s Studio Ghibli.
Anyway, the plot is about Arha, whose name—title, really—translates as the Eaten One, was taken as a five-year-old child to be dedicated to the Nameless Ones, ancient gods of the dark. Her name, Tenar, was taken from her, and she grows up in the temples the in the middle of the desert, never to leave or do anything but the same repetitious rites to the gods and learn the ways of the dark labyrinth under the gods’ stone monoliths.
Until Ged shows up. She traps him in the labyrinth, but something—curiosity, some uneaten pocket of humanity—keeps her from starving him to death, and he eventually convinces her to run away from the temples and the Nameless Ones and regain her life as Tenar.
Which is the sticky part for third-fourth-wave feminism, because we like empowerment and stuff, because being dependent pretty much sucks, which is why feminism happened in the first place. But interdependence, that’s a different ball of wax, something a little more…egalitarian, I guess. A little more levelling. But lemme tell you, if I had to depend on a man to pull me out of my funk last autumn, I would still be in a curled ball of fucked-upness. I mean, sure, my counselor is male and the doctor who prescribed my antidepressants is male and my dad whose job provides the insurance to afford this is male, but none of their help was contingent on gender. They would have done the same if I were male or if they were female. Or agender. Or wherever in the lumpy space generally described as trans* or queer.
But that’s also a nice example of interdependency, but I don’t think that’s contingent on gender, either. So let’s pull out the tie-dye and bell-bottoms and enjoy hippie-dippy kumbaya moment and don’t harsh the mellow.