Original Research

Womanspace: The underground and the labyrinth in Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea narratives

Lynette Douglas, Deirdre Byrne
Literator | Vol 35, No 1 | a1070 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/lit.v35i1.1070 | © 2014 Lynette Douglas, Deirdre Byrne | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 23 July 2013 | Published: 22 August 2014

About the author(s)

Lynette Douglas, Department of English Studies, University of South Africa, South Africa
Deirdre Byrne, Department of English Studies, University of South Africa, South Africa


Ursula K. Le Guin’s renowned Earthsea cycle, spanning 20 years and five texts, is often acknowledged to be a textual space for the creative exploration and interrogation of gender. The two spaces in the title – ‘earth’ and ‘sea’ – are held in equilibrium, both by the author’s craft and by magic. Unfortunately, though, few critics have explored how these spaces function in the narrative. In this article, we explore the representation of underground spaces and labyrinths as meaningful landscapes in the Earthsea cycle. These spaces are found throughout Le Guin’s Earthsea fiction, but are foregrounded in four narratives: ‘The finder’ and ‘The bones of the earth’ (Tales from Earthsea), The tombs of Atuan and The other wind. Le Guin’s writing consistently identifies the earth as feminine, in keeping with the archetype of ‘Mother Earth’, and we find that subterranean spaces and labyrinths are depicted as sites of power and empowerment for women. Nevertheless, we argue that Le Guin’s affinity for gender equity and balance prevents these tropes from becoming another tired revisioning of an easy equation of earthy forces and ‘the feminine’. Rather, for Le Guin, the underground and the labyrinth are sites of union between masculine and feminine elements and characters, through the empowerment of the feminine.


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Crossref Citations

1. A Taoist Interpretation of Dragons’ Feminine Power and Genderless Nature in the Earthsea Cycle
Yini Huang, Hongbin Dai
Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction  vol: 64  issue: 2  first page: 173  year: 2023  
doi: 10.1080/00111619.2021.1962239