Ursula Le Guin

I think Ursula Le Guin was the first author who I noticed wrote both for children and adults.

Long before JK Rowling was writing children’s fantasy, and schools of magic, there was the wonderful and prolific Diana Wynne Jones. Her first book, “Wilkins’ Tooth”, was published in 1973, and she also wrote magic at boarding school (the fabulously funny and complex “Witch Week”, published in 1982) although a lot of her magical education takes place in stately homes.

But earlier still was the wizarding education of “A Wizard of Earthsea”, published in 1968, one of the earliest works of Ursula Le Guin.

I’m not really qualified to write about Le Guin. I did read “A Wizard of Earthsea”, but to be honest I think I was too young to appreciate it. Of her adult novels, I’ve only read “The Dispossessed”, “The Lathe of Heaven”, and a few short stories.

It doesn’t qualify me to pontificate. But it does qualify me to recommend.

“The Lathe of Heaven”(1971) is about the power to change reality retrospectively by dreaming, and hence also about the arrogance of the human race. And the value of diversity. There are aliens, but not as we normally know them.

“The Dispossessed” (1974) with its intriguing but never confusing circular structure, is about whether and how a non-property-owning and authoritarian society might work. Which sounds boring. It’s not.

(I’m always interested in fictional naming rules. The fairly small anarchist society of Anarres has one of the oddest: a name is allocated to each child by a computer programme that randomly puts together 5 or 6 letter combinations and then eliminates the unsayable and the ones already in use by a living person. Hence Bedap, Shevek, Sadiq. In Sadiq’s case, her mother (on Anarres one would say “the mother”, as possessive words were rarely used) disliked “the name that the child had got”.)

Both these books remain in the memory, and for the best of reasons.

I’m not generally a lover of the short story format. But “The Author of the Acacia Seeds”, in which future humans manage to transcribe and translate written records of the animal kingdom, is the most poignant tale of lonely rebellion that I know. (The story is in a collection called “The Compass Rose”, 1982.)

All her work is beautifully written.

Occasionally of recent years, Le Guin has written clear and thoughtful and unpretentious SF reviews for the Guardian, which I always thought was rather a coup for the paper.

“The Left Hand of Darkness” is on my To Read list.

Love from the PPI Blogger

  • Malachi Malagowther

    26th January 2018 at 5:01 pm Reply

    One of the places where Ursula Le Guin is mentioned is in the film “The Jane Austen Book Club” where one of the members recommends books by Ursula Le Guin despite the fact that he is supposed to be appreciating Jane Austen. This doesn’t imply that she is on a par with Jane Austen but she is is still an important author in many people’s mind. I really ought to read some of her work.

  • Matthew Perry

    26th January 2018 at 5:31 pm Reply

    A wizard of Earthsea is one of my all-time favourite books and significantly better than Harry Potter in my opinion. The two sequels from the same era are good, the ones written much later do not seem to fit with the original world. I have never read any of her adult fiction, perhaps I should.

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