The later novels and short stories in Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea series are notable for their dramatic shift in tone, narrative voice, and subject matter compared to earlier entries. The novels Tehanu (1990) and The Other Wind (2001), and the short story collection Tales from Earthsea (2001), all participate in radical revisions of the series’ worldbuilding and storytelling to parallel Le Guin’s own evolving feminist politics. Accompanying these texts’ newfound emphasis on women’s subjectivity, attention to gendered violence, and disinterest in patriarchal authority figures is a renewed interest in dragon lore, which in turn destabilizes the series’ previously established mythology, challenging its essentialist focus on ‘true names’ and immutable being.

This presentation will argue that the figure of the dragon in the Earthsea series increasingly becomes the means by which Le Guin extends and refines the project of fantastical gender-queering begun in her 1969 novel The Left Hand of Darkness. Through analysis of the characters of Kalessin, the fisherwoman of Kemay, Tehanu, and Irian, it will examine how the shapeshifting dragons of Earthsea can provoke imaginative reflections on embodied subjectivity that unbuild the walls set up by binary gender, and may help to alleviate the violence it legitimizes. These characters are united in their refusal to be confined within reductive identity categories, their ever-changing and contingent body morphologies troubling the notion of a fixed and unitary essence and rendering them inscrutable within the patriarchal logic of the art magic practiced by the wizards of Roke. This analysis will thus also bring attention to the ways in which the fantastic intersects with historically intertwined, but nonetheless contentious, discourses on gender put forth by queer and trans theorists, including those concerned with decolonizing gender.

About the speaker

Taylor Driggersis a PhD researcher at the University of Glasgow, focusing on how fantasy texts provide a narrative ground for re-visioning religion from queer and feminist standpoints. His work has appeared in the Journal of Inklings Studies and in the collection The Inklings and King Arthur edited by Sørina Higgins.

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