A Wizard of Earthsea trilogy vs. quartet?
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The original three are A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, and The Farthest Shore. These were written in quick succession, form a single unit, and you can easily stop there. The fourth book, Tehanu, written more than 15 years later, (originally subtitled "The Last Book of Earthsea", though more recent editions probably omit that) is quite different in tone and style -- in part it's Le Guin bringing a more developed feminist sensibility to a trilogy that, as you've probably realized by now, had some rather dated gender issues.) I'd still recommend it, but it's not necessary. (Oh, and it's a sequel, set considerably later.)
Then, after another long gap, came The Other Wind, which is weak and not very memorable, and the collection Tales from Earthsea, which is definitely worth reading.
But I'd fully agree that the Tales from Earthsea is very worthwhile - mostly a prequel, it is a collection of short stories covering a range of times.
Tales from Earthsea provides a variety of short stories. Some provide back story for people and institutions in the earlier four books, and some take place concurrently with the main books.
The Other Wind is the last story in the sequence. It builds on the events of several of the preceding books, including one of the stories from Tales from Earthsea. Personally, I found it a very satisfying conclusion. There were various elements of the later books (Tehanu and Tales from Earthsea) that didn't mesh well (for me) with the original trilogy. I felt that The Other Wind not only told an interesting story, but it also did a great job of reconciling these different perspectives on what Earthsea is in a way that made all of the books better.
Does The Tombs of Atuan improve on those fronts and worth it to check out, or is the series just not for me?
I would have to reread to comment on the trilogy's alleged gender issues. I really appreciate what Le Guin does with Tenar in The Tombs of Atuan.
Less-than-her-best LeGuin is still better than a lot of other books.
I totally agree with you.
When I first read Earthsea it was as a quartet, so Tehanu didn't seem to me so much of a different book. It still had a different tone that the other three, but I enjoyed it. I really liked The tombs of Atuan and was really happy to have Tenar as a main character again.
The other wind felt to me a bit unnecessary, more like an epilogue to story than really a continuation of it.