Le Guin, Ursula K(roeber) (Vol. 13)
Le Guin, Ursula K(roeber) 1929–
Le Guin is an award-winning American writer of science fiction and fantasy whose primary genre is the novel. She has also published a compilation of short stories, The Wind's Twelve Quarters, and a volume of poetry, Wild Angels. Le Guin has likewise extended her creations of fantasy to the world of children's literature. The Earthsea trilogy is her most noted contribution in this field, and for the last volume of this set Le Guin won the National Book Award. Her work is noted for its clearly delineated portraits of alien worlds, often reflecting the author's own explorations into the philosophy of Taoism and the oriental view of history. Among her creations are the Hainish, an ancient people who claim to be the original human race and to have originally colonized Earth. The Hainish are central to five of Le Guin's novels. (See also CLC, Vol. 8, Children's Literature Review, Vol. 3, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 21-24, rev. ed.)
George Edgar Slusser
In terms of quality alone, it is difficult to speak of development in the fiction of Ursula K. Le Guin. Her writing has been good from the start. She has published short stories of high quality, selectively, over a period of thirteen years. Since 1966, she has written nine novels. Even the worst of these, The Lathe of Heaven is imaginative and ambitious, far superior to most SF being produced today. There is little doubt that Le Guin is one of the best writers currently working in the science fiction and fantasy genres. Apparently at the height of her powers, she promises much.
Nor has her world view changed or altered significantly since the beginning…. [Her best fiction] examines the possibility of balance between the individual and his world. Le Guin has always believed strongly in such balance, in the dynamics of polarity. Taoism is not an interlude; it is and has always been the strongest single force behind her work, the mold that shapes novel after novel, and binds them one to another in a coherent pattern of human history. Her use of oriental wisdom is highly personal, the creative adaptation of a philosophical system to a literary genre long dominated by a harshly western vision of evolution and technological progress. (p. 3)
To study Le Guin's novels is to study a complex organism that is growing and expanding harmoniously according to a central law of balance. This growth takes two forms. First,...
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Elizabeth Cummins Cogell
Le Guin's books are characterized by a significant use of setting…. [Five of her Hainish stories, Rocannon's World, Planet of Exile, City of Illusion, The Left Hand of Darkness, and "The Word for World is Forest," demonstrate a] significant use to characterize native species on other worlds—a use which has become more complex in successive stories. It goes beyond the more obvious uses of setting to create atmosphere or to draw the reader into an alien environment and thus into the plot. The Hainish stories form a unit in which the theme and plot are dependent on the League or Ekumen contact with species which are native to—or at least have for a long time inhabited—that planet. Furthermore, these native species are shown in terms of the effect of environment on their lives, from straightforward geographical influence to influence on myth, ritual, and ways of perceiving the world. (p. 131)
Given [an] examination of Le Guin's use of setting, one initially concludes that it reveals her developing ability as a writer, ranging from her use of setting as a topographical and physiological influence to its mythological and psychological influence. Secondly, her total integration of setting and racial characterization leads to a re-examination of the concept of setting. Le Guin is not merely using it as a back-drop or atmosphere in the Hainish stories; she has intertwined it with the psychological nature of the Athsheans and with...
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Barbara J. Bucknall
Le Guin insists that androgyny is not the main theme of [The Left Hand of Darkness], the main theme being rather that of fidelity and betrayal. But, quite apart from the instantaneous response that the idea of the androgyne evokes in the reader's imagination, there has to be a reason, and a reason that makes good sense in creative terms, for using the androgyne as a term of reference for the discussion of fidelity and betrayal. The androgyne, simply by being presented as existing, looks to the trusting and warm-hearted reader like the answer to a question, and that answer looms so large that the theme of fidelity and betrayal tends to get pushed a little to one side. If one thinks about the androgyne for a long time and investigates the full implications of The Left Hand of Darkness, the theme of fidelity and betrayal does, in fact, have importance….
The androgyne looks to a lot of us like an answer. But, as the saying goes, "What is the question?" This whole issue of questions and answers is so important to Ursula Le Guin that she makes it a central feature of the Handdara, a mystical cult she has invented so that her androgynes can have a religion…. (p. 57)
By sending a conventional young man from Earth into a culture where there was no sexual differentiation, [as Le Guin did in Left Hand of Darkness] she made it possible for herself to imagine an area of humanity that would be shared by...
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Barry N. Malzberg
[Le Guin is] perhaps the most successful and critically admired writer ever to produce a substantial body of work within the genre limits of science fiction. In terms of critical recognition, only Vonnegut and Bradbury come close, but Vonnegut's novels were published as literary, not genre, works, and the short stories that made Bradbury famous in the 1940s and 1950s appeared in mass circulation magazines. And neither has won a National Book Award as did Le Guin for juvenile literature…. (p. 5)
Le Guin's focus, from the outset, has been detailed and anthropological…. [The Left Hand of Darkness] in its careful documentation of a society whose mores superseded the individual choice of its members, was perhaps the most distinguished example since Hal Clement's A Mission of Gravity, in which the background became the main character of a science fiction novel. In … Lathe of Heaven Le Guin backed off momentarily from these concerns into a kind of psychological, solipsistic subtext …, but in 1974 The Dispossessed, considered a work even more successful than LHD, shifted into a novelistic modus operandi where not only was cultural background novel-foreground, but the nominal protagonist was merely a vessel through which the real conflict of the novel, that between cultures, could be enacted. It may be argued that DIS [The Dispossessed] is a metaphor; a kind of climactic East/West novel of the...
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Repeatedly in [Le Guin's] fiction we confront individuals who are of society and yet not quite a part of it. The outsider, the alien, the marginal man, adopts a vantage point with rather serious existential and philosophical implications. For Le Guin this marginality becomes a metaphor whose potency is fulfilled in a critical assessment of society. (p. 50)
The "chronic uprootedness," the disconnectedness, endows the protagonists with a vision that transcends that of the others around them, who see the world through culture-bound categories and characterizations. Yet theirs is not a happy plight. Their vision isolates them, while their attempts to promote understanding seem only to remove them further from their compatriots. Ultimately, despite her concern with utopias, Le Guin's view is not optimistic. It can be argued that her heroes' lack of success is due in fact to the failures of society—a failure to examine, to reappraise, and to change.
Le Guin squarely confronts the isolation and loneliness of her protagonists. Themes such as xenophobia, a suspicion and mistrust of all that is different, are developed in all her work, but reach a clear culmination in 1972 in ["The Word for World is Forest."] Here there is an explicit presentation of the heroes (Lyubov and Selver) as anthropologists in their roles as outsiders and translators. Consistently her portrayal is pessimistic. Such individuals suffer heartily....
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