Worlds of Ursula K Le Guin
May 31, 2018 4:35 AM   Subscribe

Director Arwen Curry’s forthcoming [documentary] Worlds of Ursula K Le Guin, which Curry worked on with Le Guin for 10 years, will premiere on 10 June at the Sheffield Doc/Fest.

Official trailer (SLVimeo).

More from Alison Flood in the Guardian in 2016:
“Seven years is a long time to wave a camera in someone’s face. I’ve filmed Ursula in the now-infamous high desert of southeastern Oregon, on the rocky coast, and at her family’s home in the Napa Valley, where she first heard many of the legends and tales that would come to influence her fiction,” she said. “We’ve also filmed a lot in her living room, and shared some meals. As a person, she’s an incredibly wide-ranging but firmly planted person, and always paying attention. As a writer, she opened doors for generations of fans and younger writers, both inside and outside of genre fiction. She made that boundary porous in a way that enriched literature for all of us, without ever spitting on her genre roots.”

In other Le Guin news, her novel The Telling is being adapted for the big screen
posted by womb of things to be and tomb of things that were (28 comments total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
I'm re-reading my way through the Hainish Cycle. It's been like (always) coming home, encountering things I'd forgotten that I read 30 years ago and yet have informed my entire world view.
posted by signal at 6:08 AM on May 31, 2018 [4 favorites]

I need to reread everything she has written I think. If I had to recommend just two works to people, it would probably be "A Wizard of Earthsea" and the short story collection "A Fisherman of the Inland Sea (which I only read for the first time recently.

Despite my unrelenting love of her fiction, I've never really been too interested in Leguin the person (and the whole Tao Te Ching thing really turned me off), but I'm certain I will check this out nonetheless.
posted by 256 at 6:09 AM on May 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

If I had to recommend just two works, they'd probably be "The Left Hand of Darkness" and "The Lathe of Heaven," but I've read, like, a tiny fraction of the Le Guin I need to.
posted by 4th number at 6:40 AM on May 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

Woo! I kickstarted this and had pretty much forgotten it existed.
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 7:00 AM on May 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

I came across the hardbound Hainish Cycle at Elliott Bay Books while looking for Gene Wolfe's The Book of the New Sun for a birthday present for my friend Vera. I was so blown away that I got them both. And later pitched the equivalent concept -- the Gaean Reach -- at Jack Vance dot com. For which.I received an email from John Vance, his son, expressing his interest in the merit of the concept, which made my day, week, month and probably year.

As for Ursula K. Le Guin, I have been a follower since Rocannon's World and then A Wizard of Earthsea. I was not a big fan of fantasy per se but, man, her dragons -- Orm Embar and Kalessin come to mind -- were so utterly majestic that I was hooked thereupon.
“That is a good song,” the chief said. His voice was uncertain, though he strove to speak impassively. “It would not be well to end the Long Dance before it is completed. I will have the lazy chanters beaten with nilgu thongs.”

“Comfort them, rather,” Sparrowhawk said. He was still afoot, and his tone was stern. “No singer chooses silence. Come with me, Arren.”

He turned to go to the shelter, and Arren followed him. But the strangeness of that daybreak was not yet done, for even then, as the eastern rim of the sea grew white, there came from the north flying a great bird: so high up that its wings caught the sunlight that had not shone upon the world yet and beat in strokes of gold upon the air. Arren cried out, pointing. The mage looked up, startled. Then his face became fierce and exulting, and he shouted out aloud, “Nam hietha arw Ged arkvaissa!”-which in the Speech of the Making is, If thou seekest Ged here find him.

And like a golden plummet dropped, with wings held high outstretched, vast and thundering on the air, with talons which might seize an ox as if it were a mouse, with a curl of steamy flame streaming from long nostrils, the dragon stooped like a falcon on the rocking raft.

The raft-folk cried out; some cowered down, some leapt into the sea, and some stood still, watching, in a wonder that surpassed fear.

The dragon hovered above them. Ninety feet, maybe, was he from tip to tip of his vast membranous wings, that shone in the new sunlight like gold-shot smoke, and the length of his body was no less, but lean, arched like a greyhound, clawed like a lizard, and snake-scaled. Along the narrow spine went a row of jagged darts, like rose-thorns in shape, but at the hump of the back three feet in height, and so diminishing that the last at the tail-tip was no longer than the blade of a little knife. These thorns were grey, and the scales of the dragon were iron-grey, but there was a glitter of gold in them. His eyes were green and slitted.

Moved by fear for his people to forget fear for himself, the chief of the raft-folk came from his shelter with a harpoon such as they used in the hunt of whales: it was longer than himself and pointed with a great, barbed point of ivory. Poising it on his small, sinewy arm, he ran forward to gain the impetus to hurl it up and strike the dragon's narrow, light-mailed belly that hung above the raft. Arren waking from stupor saw him, and plunging forward caught his arm and came down in a heap with him and the harpoon. “Would you anger him with your silly pins?” he gasped. “Let the Dragonlord speak first!”

The chief, half the wind knocked out of him, stared stupidly at Arren and at the mage and at the dragon. But he did not say anything. And then the dragon spoke.

None there but Ged to whom it spoke could understand it, for dragons speak only in the Old Speech, which is their tongue. The voice was soft and hissing, almost like a cat's when he cries out softly in rage, but huge, and there was a terrible music in it. Whoever heard that voice stopped still and listened.

The mage answered briefly, and again the dragon spoke, poising above him on slight-shifting wings: even, thought Arren, like a dragonfly poised on the air.

Then the mage answered one word, “Memeas,” I will come; and he lifted up his staff of yew-wood. The dragon's jaws opened, and a coil of smoke escaped them in a long arabesque. The gold wings clapped like thunder, making a great wind that smelled of burning: and he wheeled and flew hugely to the north.
From The Farthest Shore
posted by y2karl at 8:14 AM on May 31, 2018 [15 favorites]

LeGuin is one of my heroes. Her writing taught me new ways to see the world and continues to teach with each visit. I can't wait to watch this doc!
posted by Lighthammer at 8:49 AM on May 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

From The Farthest Shore


When I read those words, I ache with a longing, a nostalgia, for a life I never had.
posted by darkstar at 8:49 AM on May 31, 2018 [10 favorites]

That documentary looks fantastic - I really want to watch it! My girls just turned 12 and I've been waiting for the right time to introduce them to Le Guin. I reread A Wizard of Earthsea just a few months ago in preparation. I savor the introduction of favorite authors to my kids! They read a ton and often they find some of my favorite books on their own, but they haven't hit upon Le Guin yet and I can't wait. We're just about there...
posted by widdershins at 8:55 AM on May 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

Music And Poetry Of The Kesh also came out earlier this year, and it's pretty nifty.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 8:56 AM on May 31, 2018 [3 favorites]

Holy cow, widdershins, I was going to write almost the exact same post -- my twin boys are 12 and given what they already read, they're just about ready for Le Guin. And *I* was just re-reading A Wizard of Earthsea a few months ago, and one of the boys saw the cover and the title and has been asking me for it regularly. As soon as I re-read The Farthest Shore, I'm going to turn them loose... And yes, it's going to be terrific!
posted by martin q blank at 9:18 AM on May 31, 2018 [2 favorites]

For years I’ve been winnowing hard copies of almost all of my books in order to de-clutter, and to put the books back out there in the universe where other people can meet and get to know them. I have them on Kindle or PDFs anyway, if I want to read them.

Still, I’ve allowed myself the latitude of two short, glass-doored bookcases to contain the works I definitely want to keep in hard copy. Maybe 150-200 books, total.

In my drive to de-clutter and simplify, the guiding principle has been to ask: is this object imminently useful, or does it truly bring me joy to behold?

Reader, I kept Le Guin on both counts.
posted by darkstar at 9:21 AM on May 31, 2018 [5 favorites]

See also
"You are a very young wizard," the dragon said, "I did not know men came so young into their power." He spoke, as did Ged, in the Old Speech, for that is the tongue of dragons still. Although the use of the Old Speech binds a man to truth, this is not so with dragons. It is their own language, and they can lie in it, twisting the true words to false ends. . . "Is it to ask my help that you have come here, little wizard?"

"No, dragon."

"Yet I could help you. You will need help soon, against that which hunts you in the dark . . . What is it that hunts you? Name it to me."

"If I could name it -- " Ged stopped himself. . .

"If you could name it you could master it, maybe, little wizard . . . Would you like to know its name?". . . .

"But I did not come here to play, or to be played with. I came to strike a bargain with you."

Like a sword in sharpness but five times the length of any sword, the point of the dragon's tail arched up scorpion-wise over his mailed back, above the tower. Dryly, he spoke: "I strike no bargains. I take. What have you to offer that I cannot take from you when I like?"

"Safety. Your safety. Swear that you will never fly eastward of Pendor, and I will swear to leave you unharmed. . .

A grating sound came from the dragon's throat . . . "You offer me safety! You threaten me! With what?"

"With your name, Yevaud."

Ged's voice shook as he spoke the name, yet he spoke it clear and loud. At the sound of it, the old dragon held still, utterly still.
From A Wizard of Earthsea
posted by y2karl at 9:45 AM on May 31, 2018 [9 favorites]

oh dang.... I really need to read more of her work. There is so much - can anyone suggest a few good ones to start with? Already read the earthsea series...
posted by rebent at 11:11 AM on May 31, 2018

Changing Planes is short stories and might be a good place to start.
posted by Lexica at 11:45 AM on May 31, 2018 [3 favorites]

"A Fisherman of the Inland Sea" (which I mentioned at the top of the thread) is a great collection of short stories and it includes two that are set in the universe of the Hainish Cycle, which might be a way to gauge if that series might be up your alley.
posted by 256 at 12:03 PM on May 31, 2018

...I’ve been reading her all of my adult life. I read her before I thought of writing myself, and I read her after. I read her for pleasure, and I read her for comfort, and I read her for guidance, wisdom, and inspiration. I read her for poetic leaps and for scholarly discourse. I read her to spend time in the many incredible worlds she created.

And then I was lucky enough to get to know her personally.

I can’t possibly provide a complete list of what she taught me, by word and example. But here is my starter list. Feel free to add and revise to make your own.

In no particular order:

1. There is no reason a book of ideas can’t also be deeply moving, gorgeously written, and inhabited by people who take rooms in your heart and never move out...

10. And finally—immortality has never worked out well for anyone. Avoid it at all costs.
Ten Things I Learned from Ursula K. Le Guin
posted by y2karl at 12:07 PM on May 31, 2018 [6 favorites]

I think The Dispossessed and The Left Hand of Darkness are good standalone novels to start with, within the Hainish cycle—you don’t need to know anything about the other novels to get what is going on with those, and they both create really rich and wonderfully different (from each other) self-contained worlds. And then three first-published Hainish books are tightly connected to each other and worth reading in order of publication, before or after The Dispossessed and Left Hand: first Roccannon’s World, then Planet of Exile, and then City of Illusions. You also need the earlier books for the background to Four Ways to Forgiveness, and to the short story collections.
posted by Aravis76 at 12:35 PM on May 31, 2018 [2 favorites]

Seconding Changing Planes. I also love to evangelize for her mindblowing essay "The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction."

posted by panhopticon at 12:40 PM on May 31, 2018 [3 favorites]

Changing Planes is a little schlocky in some stories, and beautiful in others.

I still think about her story "The Matter of Seggri" all the time. It's in a collection called The Birthday of the World which is a great starting place.

Four Ways to Forgiveness is also a good intro to the Hainish stories, in that you get perspectives from various Hainish people and the people of another group of worlds that they interact with.

There's no "right" order to read her science fiction. Her stories relate to, but aren't exactly prequels or sequels to, each other. Only a few characters ever appear in more than one story, even if they are supposedly in the same universe. It's sort of the opposite of Star Wars in that way; the universe is very large and most people never meet each other.
posted by emjaybee at 4:42 PM on May 31, 2018 [2 favorites]

LeGuin is one of my heroes

Me too. She reminds us about a real world being born all about us, one often barely seen, and assures us that one day it will step forward to displace all that came before.

Huzzah, madam.
posted by Twang at 4:55 PM on May 31, 2018 [3 favorites]

Wow, I kickstarted this, have Music And Poetry Of The Kesh on order, and in the last year have read (for the first time, apart from Wizard) the first four Earthsea books and Always Coming Home. I guess that makes me a fan?
posted by misterbee at 5:01 PM on May 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

I was first introduced to Le Guin when, in my 20s, I picked up a copy of The Wind’s Twelve Quarters, a collection of some of her early short stories. Semmle’s Necklace, Darkness Box, The Word of Unbinding, and The Rule of Names are awesome short pieces, setting the stage for many of her later novels.

I kick myself that I’d missed the opportunity to get to know her work earlier. When I was 18, in college, it was the Humanities Seminar course taught by Dennis Moran. The course was for students who had tested out of English Comp, so it was a little more loose and free flowing in format. Dr. Moran (we called him Dennis) assigned one book every week or two, we read them, discussed them in class, and then wrote an essay based on a selection of prompts he provided.

Dennis exposed us to some fantastic work: Loren Eiseley’s Immense Journey (my favorite book of all time and the core of my basic life philosophy), Catch-22, Wind in the Willows, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

It was in the second semester when, after writing an essay on a prompt related to the structure magic, he wrote on the front of my essay (he always typed out long comments on the front, rather than critiquing passages) “In this essay I’m sensing something of you that I have not yet even slightly perceived in any of your other writing. You appear to be a rather benign and fatherly type, in the main. A sort of Wizard of Earthsea vibe permeates your handling of this material. I think you could expand this into a longer piece, if you wanted.”

He graciously allowed me to submit new chapters of the proto-book, instead of writing essays, for the rest of the semester.

I never got the courage to write for publication (other than in academic fields), which I’ve always regretted, but his comment and encouragement were hugely pivotal in the way I viewed my own, internal dialogue. I AM rather benign and fatherly, in the main.

Still, I blew my chance to follow up on the Wizard of Earthsea then. It wasn’t until I’d read The Wind’s Twelve Quarters some years later and then went looking for Le Guin’s other work that I saw that, son of a gun, it was a key part of her canon. What a wonderful discovery.

Thank you, Dennis — those seasons spent learning from you mean more than words can express.
posted by darkstar at 7:58 PM on May 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

By the way, The Books of Earthsea, an Earthsea omnibus illustrated by Charles Vess comes out in October. Vess consulted with Le Guin on the art.
posted by Zed at 1:22 PM on June 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

...The wind blew from the sea. A tiny thistle growing in a cleft in the rock near her hand nodded and nodded in the wind from the sea.

Ged was beside her. They were crouched side by side, the sea behind them and the dragon before them.

It looked at them sidelong from one long, yellow eye.

Ged spoke in a hoarse, shaking voice, in the dragon’s language. Tenar understood the words, which were only, “Our thanks, Eldest.”

Looking at Tenar, Kalessin spoke, in the huge voice like a broom of metal dragged across a gong: “Aro Tehanu?”

“The child,” Tenar said—“Therru!” She got to
her feet to run, to seek her child. She saw her coming along the ledge of rock between the mountain and the sea, toward the dragon.

“Don’t run, Therru!” she cried, but the child had seen her and was running, running straight to her. They clung to each other.

The dragon turned its enormous, rust-dark head to watch them with both eyes. The nostril pits, big as kettles, were bright with fire, and wisps of smoke curled from them. The heat of the dragons body beat through the cold sea wind.

“Tehanu,” the dragon said.

The child turned to look at it.

“Kalessin,” she said.

Then Ged, who had remained kneeling, stood up, though shakily, catching Tenar’s arm to steady himself. He laughed. “Now I know who called thee, Eldest!” he said.

“I did,” the child said. “I did not know what else to do, Segoy.”

She still looked at the dragon, and she spoke in the language of the dragons, the words of the Making.

“It was well, child,” the dragon said. “I have sought thee long.”

“Shall we go there now?” the child asked. “Where the others are, on the other wind?”

“Would you leave these?”

“No,” said the child. “Can they not come?”

“They cannot come. Their life is here.”

“I will stay with them,” she said, with a little catch of breath.

Kalessin turned aside to give that immense furnace-blast of laughter or contempt or delight or anger—“Hah!” Then, looking again at the child, “It is well. Thou hast work to do here.”

“I know,” the child said.

“I will come back for thee,” Kalessin said, “in time.” And, to Ged and Tenar, “I give you my child, as you will give me yours.”

“In time,” Tenar said.

Kalessin’s great head bowed very slightly, and the long, sword-toothed mouth curled up at the corner.
From Tehanu

Which I bought and read today in two hours. For the first time -- and here I thought I had read it and forgotten it. Oh, not a chance I would have forgotten it, had I had read it, that I can say now with certainty. What a wise wise woman was she who wrote it.
posted by y2karl at 2:57 PM on June 1, 2018 [2 favorites]

I was first introduced to Le Guin when, in my 20s, I picked up a copy of The Wind’s Twelve Quarters, a collection of some of her early short stories. Semmle’s Necklace, Darkness Box, The Word of Unbinding, and The Rule of Names are awesome short pieces, setting the stage for many of her later novels.

Er...that should be Semley’s Necklace. (I have no idea why it stuck in my mind as being spelled “Semmle”.)

First published as a short story in 1962, this short story is Le Guin’s precursor to Rocannon’s World and, thence, the rest of the Hainish stories. Re-published in 1975 in the collection The Wind’s Twelve Quarters, itself an awesome way to get introduced to Le Guin’s work, imho.

My personal favorite of the short stories in the compilation is The Word of Unbinding, which prefigured the Earthsea novels.
posted by darkstar at 9:02 PM on June 1, 2018

I've just started reading The Tombs of Atuan after finishing A Wizard of Earthsea. Her prose sings off the page without sounding overdone. It's a rare talent.
posted by Nieshka at 12:00 PM on June 2, 2018

This thread inspired me to re-read the Hainish books. I just finished Rocannon’s World. What an achingly good story...
posted by darkstar at 3:16 PM on June 6, 2018

Saw the film yesterday - and it was not a disappointment. Elegantly put together, with a really interesting array of discussions of everything about her career - previous science fiction authors and themes; UKL's relationship with the feminism of the 70s (not easy, not fixed, not dismissable); the eventual acceptance by the literary mainstream; the thoughtfulness with which she addressed her own career, and the world of writing and writers in general; the admiration of so many current writers that I have a lot of time for; the history of her family, and Ishi; and some animations of scenes from her books (particularly the Earthsea sequence) which were very respectfully done (and approved by UKL).

My wife and I, both long-time fans of her books, both came away with insights we had not previously appreciated - so I recommend this documentary to anybody who is a fan of (or interested in) her work. Well worth a short hour.
posted by vincebowdren at 3:58 PM on June 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

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