Always Coming Home

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 453

In some ways, this book seems to represent a major departure in the fiction of Ursula K. Le Guin, whose many works of science fiction and fantasy have established her as one of the major contemporary writers in those genres. Unlike most of her earlier works, ALWAYS COMING HOME is not set on a distant planet or in an enchanted land, nor are there exotic aliens or wizards featured in her cast of characters.

Illustration of PDF document

Download Always Coming Home Study Guide

Subscribe Now

In many other ways, however, as the title suggests, ALWAYS COMING HOME circles back to develop many of the earlier threads of Le Guin’s life and art. Her father was an anthropologist, and her mother a nonfiction writer whose best-known work, ISHI, focused on the last surviving member of a California Indian tribe. In turn, Le Guin brings the methods of anthropology to bear in fully imagining the tribal cultures which might inhabit California once again in a postindustrial future.

Similarly, as in many of her earlier novels, Le Guin structures her narrative around a journey which involves her protagonist in two contrasting cultures. For the first time, however, her central figure here is a woman, Stone Telling, who is somewhat of an outsider in both cultures because of her mixed parentage. Her mother is of the Kesh--an egalitarian, agrarian, peace-loving culture which centers on celebrations of nature and a philosophy of generous giving. Her father, however, is a roving warrior from the Dayao or Condor culture--a rigidly patriarchal, militaristic culture which is destroying itself and its neighbors through its blind monotheism and greed.

There is little question as to which of these cultures Le Guin abhors and which she endorses. The Dayao are clearly a dark extrapolation from present-day American capitalism, while the Kesh exemplify the economic philosophy of “small is beautiful.” Four-fifths of the book is taken up with a detailed study of Kesh culture, including not only examples of its literature (stories, poems, and plays), but also maps, charts, and drawings to accompany a description of its every institution and artifact. A cassette tape of Kesh music and poetry is even included with the book.

For all her Utopian idealism, however, Le Guin always maintains an understated control of her narrative. As a young girl, Stone Telling is no fervent Kesh zealot: She is equally drawn to her father’s power and comes to appreciate the Kesh culture only after she is separated from it. Thus, ALWAYS COMING HOME will appeal not only to those who are compelled by its ideology and detailed creation of a Utopian culture, but also to those who enjoy a story told with beautiful understatement and an author strong enough to distance herself from her own most strongly held ideas.

The Plot

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 407

Ursula Le Guin’s narrator in Always Coming Home is Pandora, mistress of ceremonies for the unraveling of a richly complex tale spanning several centuries. Pandora in Greek mythology was the beguiling human upon whom Zeus, king of the gods, bestowed an unquenchable curiosity. Ignoring all admonitions, she opened the forbidden box she received. It contained the world’s evils, now loosed upon civilization.

Le Guin’s Pandora lives in two worlds separated by centuries. She moves facilely between them as spokesperson for a past civilization and narrator of a future one. Le Guin devotes the last 116 pages of this 525-page book to what she labels “The Back of the Book,” an extensive anthropological description of the Kesh people who, ironically, do not yet exist.

Le Guin devotes fifteen tightly packed pages to a glossary of the Kesh language, and she extensively portrays Kesh folkways and dress. Earlier, in five pages, she describes written Kesh, including its alphabet and pronunciation.

Stone Telling relates much of the Kesh story. She is the daughter of Willow (Towhee), a Kesh woman who married Terter Abhao, a Condor invader. The matrilinear, feminist, utopian Kesh society is peaceful. Its members strive consciously to live in harmony with nature rather than to control it. Condor society, on the other hand, is male-dominated and aggressive. When the Condors invade the Kesh in their native Na (Napa) Valley, the societies bewilder each other.

Condors cannot understand people who measure wealth by how much one gives away or comprehend people who eat as little animal flesh as possible and who hold forgiveness ceremonies for taking the life of any chicken, apple, or grape they might consume to sustain themselves. Conversely, the Kesh cannot understand people who can invade and subjugate their culture, which, although retaining such civilized contemporary trappings as electricity, flush toilets, power looms, and computers, eschews many modern conveniences and rejects much of what twentieth century society labels progress. Because they wish to control cultural clutter, the Kesh do not keep voluminous written records and often destroy the few they have made. The invading Condors desecrate the cherished Kesh philosophy of “live and let live.”

Stone Telling grows up on her father’s land. Eventually she escapes with her infant daughter, Quail. She makes the arduous trip home, calling herself “Woman Coming Home.” She recounts her story and, essentially, the story of the Kesh civilization, as an old woman reflecting on a curious past.

Always Coming Home

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2610

This is a book about a people who “might be going to have lived a long, long time from now.” Such a circuitous periphrasis in verb tenses begins Always Coming Home and, like that title, sounds the thematic note of the whole work: spiral, nonlinear; forward-moving but backward-leaning; beginnings and endings together; future and past at one. Chronology, history, and context have little meaning in the conventional sense to the Kesh people and culture of the book, but, paradoxically, the Kesh are firmly grounded in a sense of themselves as a culture, with myths, legends, ritual, story.

The experience of reading the book itself is also nonlinear. Readers are encouraged to sample, circle, taste, jump about; this is possible because poems, stories, kinship diagrams, and rituals are interspersed with sections of the main narrative and with meditations by the narrator, Pandora, a time traveler between our culture and that of the Kesh. Each time one returns to Stone Telling’s story from a round of drama, dance, or maps, one has moved up the spiral closer to the Kesh. Each time the “Back of the Book” is consulted, the material on games, musical instruments, costumes, or medicine presents more that is familiar and brings the reader back to the narration at a place higher up. Surprisingly, the novel comes with a cassette tape; each time its songs and poems are played, they are less strange. Thus, descriptions of the river and the valley, of scrub oak, Madrone, and golden dry grasses, of deer, rabbits, and coyote, of healing springs and volcanic mountains all situate one in the present. Yet, the presentness is both past and future, totally different from our own.

Ursula K. Le Guin has done what any good novelist does; she has created a new world for the reader to become a part of, a rich context of sight, sound, daily life, surroundings, colors. All of these are carefully described by the narrator of the main portion, Stone Telling. Le Guin, however, has interspersed this “novella” with so much more—poems, drawings, kinship diagrams, stories, maps, dances, music, recipes, clothing, alphabet, even a dictionary of the Kesh language—and so, the reader is surrounded by the Kesh culture, and his senses are taken over by the Weltanschauung of these people. It is almost as if Le Guin were controlling the reader’s vision and imagination in ways that writers have never done before.

Le Guin is always circumspect, but the Kesh are grounded in specifics. The Valley of the book is the Napa Valley; the Na River is the Napa River. It is an important wine-growing region, located just north of San Francisco Bay. The story is set far in the future, and readers are given hints of some kind of holocaust that has taken place; areas made unlivable by radioactivity, many genetic defects in humans and animals (born sevai), cities on the coast now underwater. It is likely that with the Greenhouse Effect, or a nuclear explosion, the atmosphere has heated up, melting the polar ice cap and raising the level of the oceans, thus flooding coastal cities, California’s Central Valley, and the low desert area east of the Sierra Nevada. San Francisco Bay has become huge, “the Inland Sea,” and the Coastal Range a long peninsula. These details, though, are not in the book and, in a way, are totally peripheral to the Kesh and their story.

Pandora is the alter ego of Le Guin and is the reporter of this material about the Kesh. She describes herself as an “archaeologist of the future” who works to help the reader find what is left of a society which has yet to be born. Throughout, she worries about her role as translator, and she inserts short meditations, usually symbolic. For example, near the center of the book, the scrub oak is described and dissected, becoming at once a symbol for time and the Kesh people: not able to be counted, its roots going deeper than its height, a “messy” plant not good for anything, which not many will look at or for, but essential and ubiquitous.

Kesh society has the characteristics of a feminist Utopia, and the themes of feminism, ecology, appropriate technology, and bioregionalism inform the novel. The Kesh people are matrilineal, matrilocal, nonviolent, and cooperative; their society functions without prejudicial sex roles, so that one cannot tell, from name or role or language, the sex of a particular character. Women, however, often seem to do more important work than men, and since lineage and place are reckoned through the mother, girls and women are more prominent than boys and men. Stone Telling’s father’s people, the Condor, or Dayao, are just the opposite in every way. Condors are rigidly stratified according to sex; the women are regarded as property, as “dirt people.” When the warlike Condor soldiers ride into the Na Valley, the Kesh say, “Why are these Condor people all men? Where are the Condor women? Are they ginkgos? Let them marry each other and breed whatever they like.”

The main character of the central narrative, Stone Telling, is born of a Kesh woman and a Condor man. Her sojourn into her father’s country and her horror at the sexist, violent, hierarchical, and nonnatural way of life there forms much of the conflict of the plot. Stone Telling (born North Owl, renamed Ayatyu by her father, which means well-born woman) deserts her mother’s land as an adolescent to follow her father but soon begins to long for home. Finally she escapes and, with her toddler daughter, Quail, makes the long journey back, now calling herself Woman Coming Home. As an old woman, Stone Telling recounts the whole of her life.

Kesh society is a gentle one, its people living in harmony with the land. They are not only pastoralists-agriculturalists and gatherers but also hunters (although it is mostly young boys who practice this sport). In every case of killing for use, be it butchering or picking tomatoes, a short ritual of forgiveness is spoken. The spirits of the natural world permeate the life of the Kesh, and all to them is sacred. In the Kesh language, both animals and plants are also called people, so that the language reflects the fact that humans share the particular ecosystem with the “plant and animal people.”

Although a sophisticated futuristic technology exists, including computers (called the City of Mind) that control the planet, for the most part the Kesh people have opted only for smaller, easily managed technology. They have electricity, trains (steam driven or oxen-pulled on wooden tracks), computers, power looms, pumps, flush toilets, washing machines, and weather information. They have the technology to make fine wine and to export it. The Kesh are, for the most part, concerned with other matters, and the machines are left to the Condor or the City of Mind. The Kesh are very aware that technology was the downfall of the civilization before them. In fact, most of the time the reader is not aware of the use of any contemporary technology and is brought up short with the insertion of “solar battery” or “flush toilet.”

The society is not based on profit but on giving. Someone is considered rich who gives much; someone is poor if he is miserly. This ethic defines the society, informing many stories and the language itself. People do not own the land but have its use for their families, giving any surplus to a common storehouse. A creation such as a story or a poem is not completed until it is given—recited and performed for the whole community.

Place, sense of place, and the particular virtues of fitting into the whole ecosystem of a region are extremely important to the Kesh, who as a general rule never travel beyond the thirty miles of the Valley. The Kesh know every stone, hill, and tree surrounding their towns, and their lives are informed by the cyclical seasons of planting and gathering, of moon and sun, of light and dark. Their rich spiritual life reflects the seasons in the winter solstice Sun Dance, the summer solstice Moon Dance, as well as other seasonal dances. In fact, their calendar is reckoned according to these seasons, “Two weeks before the World,” “three days after the Moon,” and so on. Such a close relationship to the specifics of place is one of the characteristics of bioregionalism, and Le Guin clearly opts for this value structure.

While not mindlessly advocating a return to primitivism (since the Kesh use technology wisely), Le Guin does suggest a radically “unprogressive” view of information, as the various archivists and computer people repeatedly tell Pandora that not all information needs to be kept, that books, too, need to be recycled, some retained, some not. The problem, she is told, lies with access and retrieval: Who has control? Why should a hierarchical system be established with an elite making the decisions? Kesh society has decided that to avoid that problem they will simply make do with less information; not everything, they believe, needs to be written down, and not everything written down needs to be saved forever.

With this richness of contextual and speculative material, it is inevitable that symbols play a large part in the work. The spiritual, ritualistic, animalistic world of the Kesh is “peopled” with all kinds of symbols, from plants and animals to weather and seasons. Since the physical world is divided into nine “houses”—five for things of the earth (including humans) and four for things of the sky (including the dead)—the numeral 9 is the sacred number, informing everything from poetic meter (poems are written in fours or fives) to the layout of Kesh towns to the number of times one says the sacred word “heya.” Closely connected is the double spiral, “two spirals centered on the same (empty) space,” the heyiya-if, which focuses on the reversal, the center, the hinge. Reversals in thinking or feeling, going forward by going backward, the use of contradictory methods of problem solving (reason and emotion)—these are the “hinge acts” that are celebrated in Kesh mythology and drama. Even the adolescent practice of sexual celibacy (called Living on the Coast) is explained as a necessary reversal, a turning toward the personhood of living mindfully after the childhood time of sexual exploration. The double spiral is used pictorially, symbolically, and in terms of content and form throughout the whole book, as the reader gradually learns through the gaps at the center of the spiral, reversing but going forward.

The last entry in the text proper (before “The Back of the Book”) is a poem addressed “From the People of the Houses of Earth in the Valley to Other People Who Were on Earth Before Them”—that is, our present civilization. The poem uses the three symbols of word, fire, and house to repeat that the Kesh of the future are a part of the present: “We are a part of youwe are your children.” “The sold woman,” “the enslaved enemy,” “When all the words were written,when everything was fuel,when houses hid the ground”—these endings are the beginnings of the Kesh society of the future.

The poem functions as the Hope of Pandora’s box. Pandora, in classical mythology, was a beautiful mortal endowed by Zeus with insatiable curiosity and told not to open the box given her, which, she soon learned, contained all the world’s evils. She looses these horrors of war, famine, pestilence, and greed, only managing to retain Hope at the bottom. Le Guin’s Pandora, too, feels responsible for the Hitlers, the atom bombs, the dead babies, but like that first Pandora, “giver of All,” Le Guin’s Pandora keeps Hope. This final poem connecting the Kesh to the present can, therefore, be viewed as Pandora’s Hope, Le Guin’s gift to a despairing world.

The book might seem to be something other than or more than a novel. Although billed as such, it, more than other Le Guin science fiction, stands somewhere between genres. It is not “philosophical fiction” or “anthropological fiction”—or rather, it is an example of both and neither. It refuses categories, embraces all, philosophizes and practices philosophy at the same time that it tells a story, makes up characters, describes a society. It is a complete ethnography; at the same time that the reader knows that the Kesh do not exist, he knows their existence more completely than any group studied in cultural anthropology. Le Guin, like other practitioners of speculative fiction or philosophy-fiction, believes in the potentiality of fiction for the discovery of cognitive and ethical truths. She uses the form and structure of her work, as well as its content, to pose problems of truth, knowledge, and value, and the form of the work itself proffers a solution.

The philosophy-fiction writer, by testing the boundaries of pure fiction, forces the reader to recognize that genre categories are not given structures of the universe but, rather, are logical structures of order imposed by humans. Le Guin does this nicely by envisioning a society in which genre boundaries are very different. With the reflexivity typical of contemporary novelists such as Thomas Pynchon, Doris Lessing, and John Barth, Le Guin has Pandora speculate on the differences between the Kesh view of fiction and that of modern society. The thinking of modern society, says Pandora, “is binary.” “Narrative is either factual (nonfiction) or nonfactual (fiction).” In the Valley, Kesh literature does not make a clear distinction between “what happened” and “like what happened”; historical accounts or romantic tales do not distinguish real or possible events in the same way that we do. Some novels are criticized by Kesh people as being “too realistic” or “without vision.” Obviously, Le Guin is taking to heart her own advice here and constructing her novel Always Coming Home in the Valley mode.

The attitude toward time evidenced by both the form and content of the novel is a related concern. Questions of chronology or history are irrelevant in the modern sense. The center of the book is a “Time and the City” section, which explains the relation of the Kesh society to the City of Mind (a purely electronic computer society which can control, but usually does not, all human and plant life) and to the City of Man (civilization, or our human history). “Civilisation as we know it,” muses Pandora, “appeared in Valley thought as a remote region, set apart from the community and continuity of human/animal/earthly existence—a sort of peninsula sticking out from the mainland, very thickly built upon, very heavily populated, very obscure, and very far away.” In fact, observes Pandora, after talking with Gather at the Computer Exchange, where she fails utterly to gain any chronology of Kesh history,it’s hopeless. He doesn’t perceive time as a direction, let alone a progress, but as a landscape in which one may go any number of directions, or nowhere. He spatialises time; it is not an arrow, nor a river, but a house, the house he lives in. One may go from room to room, and come back; to go outside, all you have to do is open the door.

Le Guin has said that she considers her book neither Utopian nor postholocaust, that to write about a postholocaust society would be “immoral.” What she does instead is to offer an alternative vision and the possibility of reaching it if we consent to change our way of thinking, reject binary oppositions, and live “on the boundaries.”

Historical Context

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 266

The Fiction of Scientific Progress

Always Coming Home allows Le Guin to question not only her craft, but contemporary notions of progress. Le Guin pits the Kesh, who do not use technology and are successful, against the Condors, who insist on using technology and ultimately fail. Le Guin maintains throughout this novel that technology without a connection to the universe is meaningless. The Condors fail to produce a massive killing machine because the technology saturated culture necessary for such a machine does not exist. The Kesh succeed because they have put technology in balance with nature, making real progress.

The Fiction of Scientific Objectivity

Le Guin's novel challenges the basic concept of scientific observation. She argues that a scientist cannot write outside of her culture and, therefore, must forget claims of objectivity. We see the Kesh and the Condors not as they are, but how Pandora sees them. This is the hypocrisy that Le Guin challenges: the late twentieth century idea that science is not influenced by human behavior.

Fantasy Literature versus "Real" Literature

Science fiction and fantasy literature, along with other genres like mystery and detective fiction, is not considered "real" literature by many scholars and critics. This particularly irritates Le Guin, who always insists that she is writing fiction. In almost every interview or essay, Le Guin makes the comment that it is her publishers and marketers who label her a science fiction/fantasy writer. Le Guin is, however, one of the few science fiction writers to have breached the walls of scholarly opinion and her work is considered the best of the genre.

Literary Style

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 830

Point of View

Since Always Coming Home does not follow a traditional novel format, the point of view shifts continually. Both Pandora and Stone Telling's parts are told in first person, but these two sections make up less than half of the novel. Le Guin uses the framework of a scientific text to explore how a culture makes meaning, both for itself and for other cultures around it. Praised by some as lyrical and inventive, Le Guin's shifting between different "artifacts" makes following a single story, such as Stone Telling's narrative, difficult and, at times, frustrating. However, the intermixture of poems, songs, short narratives, religious ceremonies, and news bulletins help make sense of what Stone Telling says and what she leaves out. The nonfiction aspects of this novel also help make it seem more plausible and real, lending a depth to otherwise shallow characters.

Names as Metaphor

The names in Le Guin's novel are descriptive because they not only name the characters, but they also describe the characters' personalities or circumstances in life. Pandora, for example, is the scientist who puts the entire collection of artifacts from the Kesh society together. However, Pandora was also the name of the first woman, according to Greek legend, who released all the evil in the world. The name, Pandora, also means "gift." Pandora, the editor in Always Coming Home, is keenly aware of the historical significance of her name. The names of both the Kesh and Condor characters are metaphoric as well. Pandora admits near the end of the novel that she has been using the English "meanings" of the Keshian and Condorian names rather than their real spellings Le Guin does this for two reasons: one, she wants her readers to connect with her characters; and two, she wants her characters' names to reflect what her characters do.

If Pandora had used the Keshian and Condorian spellings for the names of the characters in this novel, the reader's level of identification would have been quite low, as would their attachment to the characters. Thus, Stone Telling is known as North Owl as a child or Woman Coming Home when she returns to the Valley. Willow becomes Ashes after her breakdown, and Stone Telling's warrior father is Kills. Readers can identify and pronounce these names, which lends to the credibility of these people. They do not have popular names, but they are recognizable and do reflect the characters' functions in the novel. For example, Abhao is called Kills because he is a warrior. Stone Telling becomes Woman Coming Home when she returns to the Kesh society, and Willow takes the name Ashes because she has become a burned-out remnant of who she used to be. Likewise, Stone Telling's friend becomes Shadow because she lives as if she were Stone Telling's shadow.


Symbolism plays a large part in Always Coming Home. Everything in the daily life of the Kesh is symbolic of the way they react toward their surroundings. From the way they build their homes to the way they farm, learn trades, and handle commerce reflects their belief in the interconnection of all living things. This allows Le Guin to express her ideas about progress, the future, and contemporary culture's fascination with technology and science. The Kesh have no leaders, no history that makes sense to Pandora, and no innovation. These qualities are not what science fiction usually attributes to an advanced culture. Le Guin makes very clear in her treatment of the Kesh and the technology-crazed Condors that this clash of progress with technology is the most serious problem facing human development and growth. By using every standard by which progress is measured in contemporary society as a symbol of decline, decay, and death, Le Guin attacks contemporary American culture on both practical and spiritual grounds.

Narrative Structure

The narrative structure of Always Coming Home is considered both interesting and difficult. The novel begins with two notes from the editor explaining that this work is different from anything else. She defines future archaeology and suggests that there is more than one way to read this, or any, novel. Often compared to J. R. R. Tolkien's Silmarillion, C. S. Lewis's Lion of Judeah in Never Never Land, and Gene Rodenberry's Starfleet Academy, Le Guin's novel uses a narrative structure that questions both her craft as a fiction writer and the craft of nonfiction writing. Stone Telling's coming-of-age narrative is broken into three sections, separated by collections of poems, shorter narratives, religious ceremonies, and news bulletins from the Exchange. All of these artifacts contribute to the fiction of "nonfiction" for the novel, but it makes for difficult reading and a sense of discontinuity. The second part of the novel, called "The Back of the Book," contains all the explanatory text necessary to thoroughly understand the first section Le Guin is again playing with methods of reading because readers should read "The Back of the Book" (as she subtly suggests) before reading the front.

Literary Techniques

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 411

Always Coming Home is a highly experimental novel. Le Guin's guiding intention was to invite collaboration between the writer and the reader, so that reading would not be a merely passive exercise. Here the reader must in effect create the novel through the materials the author has provided. Le Guin's techniques are boldly unconventional, and the responsive reader can collaborate in a rich creative experience. One can begin reading Always Coming Home at any point, not just at the beginning, since the reading experience is not one of following a suspenseful plot to a climactic resolution but rather of moving in a multiplicity of directions around a visionary center.

The book is constructed of a variety of materials. About one-fifth is the autobiographical account of Stone Telling, spaced out in three separate sections. There are also poems, plays, short stories, information, commentary, and music. Of the various literary forms, poetry is predominant, with over seventy pages of poems, many ceremonial or improvisational. Some are children's songs. The highlight of the dramatic works is the play called "Chandi," a Kesh version of the Job legend, which employs pantomime, costume, and gesture as well as language to communicate its meaning. In addition to the plays and poems, the book contains short stories, prose essays, and a chapter of a novel in progress.

Along with these interpolated literary items, the novel also contains a long section called "The Back of the Book," which contains a variety of informational items about the Kesh culture. There are short articles about food, clothing, music, medicine, games, animals, even recipes. Also included are theoretical essays about language, literature, and narrative mode. All of these informational items are presented in the first person by the "archeologist of the future," the one who has supposedly discovered the evidence of the Kesh people who "might be going to have lived a long, long time ago."

Finally, the author has also provided audio and visual evidence of the Kesh. The novel is illustrated by Margaret Chodos, whose many line drawings represent flora and fauna, animals and artifacts, buildings and scenes. Furthermore, the novel is packaged with a cassette of Kesh music, by composer Todd Barton, including a variety of love songs and other lyrics. When one reads the poem about the dance of the heron, one can also see the line drawing and listen to the actual music of the dance. The novel concludes with a fourteen page glossary of Kesh words.

Literary Precedents

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 143

Le Guin's presentation of a total culture inevitably invites comparison with what J. R. R. Tolkien called his "secondary world" of Middle Earth. Whereas the Kesh will have lived far in the future, Middle Earth existed in the distant past. The prelapsarian innocence of the hobbits contrasts with the post catastrophic isolation of the Kesh. In terms of narrative, the essential difference between the two is that Tolkien's miscellaneous information about the customs and history of Middle Earth exists largely outside of his novels whereas Le Guin's is included as an integral part of the novel. Tolkien added appendices and gathered background materials in other fictional collections, for it was not his purpose to seek creative collaboration with the reader. Their similarity is in the scope of the complete worlds they created, but not in the narrative form in which they are presented.

Media Adaptations

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 72

The first edition of Always Coming Home was accompanied by an audio cassette entitled Music and Poetry of the Kesh. The music was composed by Todd Barton and set in a tone reminiscent of Native American songs and dances. Barton takes Le Guin's words and brings the Kesh to life. The cassette helps flesh out Pandora's textbook and makes the Kesh seem more real. It is an interesting departure for fantasy literature.

Bibliography and Further Reading

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1141


Dick Allen, "Fire Burning in the Rain," The Hudson Review, Spring, 1986, pp. 135-40.

Samuel Delany, review in The New York Times Book Review, September, 1985, p. 31.

Peter Fitting, "The Turn from Utopia in Recent Feminist Fiction," in Feminism, Utopia, and Narrative, edited by Libby Falk Jones and Sarah Webster Goodwin, The University of Tennessee Press, 1990, pp. 141-58.

Carol Franko, "Self-Conscious Narration as the Complex Representation of Hope in Le Guin's Always Coming Home," Mythlore, Spring, 1989, pp. 57-60.

Lillian M. Heldreth, "To Defend or to Correct Patterns of Culture in Always Coming Home," Mythlore, Autumn, 1989, pp. 58-63, 66.

Lee Cullen Khanna, "Women's Utopias: New Worlds, New Texts," in Feminism, Utopia, and Narrative, edited by Libby Falk Jones and Sarah Webster Goodwin, The University of Tennessee Press, 1990, pp. 130-40.

Ursula K Le Guin, "The Language of the Night." Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction, edited by Susan Wood, G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1979, 239 pps.

Peter Prescott, review in Newsweek, November, 1985, p. 101.

Bernard Selinger, "Always Coming Home: The Art of Living," in his Le Guin and Identity in Contemporary Fiction, University of Michigan Press, 1988, pp. 127-47.

J. R. Wytenbroek, "Always Coming Home: Pacifism and Anarchy in Le Guin's Latest Utopia," Extrapolation, Vol. 28, No. 4, Winter, 1987, pp 330-39.

Further Reading

James Bittner, Approaches to the Fiction of Ursula K Le Guin, University of Michigan Research Press, 1984, 149 pps.
A holistic approach to the fiction of Le Guin that does not separate her science fiction from her fantasy. Explores all of her major fiction to date in broad terms of visions, praise, myth, and magic.

Robert Crossley, "Pure and Applied Fantasy, or From Faerie to Utopia," in The Aesthetics of Fantasy Literature and Art, edited by Roger Schlobin, University of Notre Dame Press, 1982, pp. 176-91.
Compares how fantasy has changed from absolute imagination like "Aladdin's Magic Lamp" to more reality based Utopias in the fiction of William Morris, Frank Balm, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and Ursula Le Guin. Crossley suggests this is a development that shows a maturity in American literature.

Charles Crow, "Homecoming in the California Visionary Romance," Western American Literature, May, 1989, pp. 1-19.
Crow explores how descriptions of California differ in the works of John Griffith London, William Callenbach, and Ursula Le Guin. Suggests that in the different Utopias all see California as the ideal location.

Patricia Dooley, review in Library Journal, September, 1985, p. 93.
Unfavorable review of Always Coming Home. Says the novel is typical of Le Guin's style and manner, but too long and boring for most readers.

M. J. Hardman, "Linguistics and Science Fiction: A Language and Gender Short Bibliography," Women and Language, Spring, 1999, pp. 47-8.
A discussion of a selection of the novels used as texts in a course on language and science fiction taught by Hardman at the University of Florida. Novels included works by Nalo Hopkinson, Ursula Le Guin, and Elizabeth Moon. The relevance of each novel to the subject matter is included with its bibliographical citation.

Mary Catherine Harper, "Spiraling Around the Hinge-Working Solutions in Always Coming Home" in Old West-New West: Centennial Essays, edited by Barbara Howard Meldrum, University of Idaho Press, 1993, pp. 241-57.
Discusses and explores Le Guin's ideas of dualism in terms of time, space, and characterization.

W. R. Irwin, "From Fancy to Fantasy: Coleridge and Beyond," in The Aesthetics of Fantasy Literature and Art, edited by Roger Schlobin, University of Notre Dame Press, 1982, pp. 36-55.
Discusses the change in imaginary writing from Coleridge to modern writers. Suggests that Coleridge changed the meaning of "imagination" and so opened the doors to fantasy literature.

Naomi Jacobs, "Beyond Stasis and Symmetry: Lessing, Le Guin, and the Remodeling of Utopia," Extrapolation, Spring, 1988, pp 34-45.
Compares the narrative techniques and Utopian ideologies in novels by Doris Lessing and Ursula Le Guin.

Patricia Linton, "The 'Person' in Postmodern Fiction: Gibson, Le Guin, and Vizenor," Studies in American Indian Literatures, Fall, 1993, pp. 3-11.
Explores how postmodern authors deal with issues of individuality, self-representation, and relationships with machinery and technology. Linton sees humanity losing a war against technology.

Richard Mathews, "Completing the Circle Language, Power, and Vision," in Fantasy: The Liberation of Imagination, Simon & Schuster, 1997, pp. 135-151.
Examines Le Guin's trilogy (now four novels) The Earthsea Series in terms of language and power. Suggests that Le Guin sees the journey of the mind as important as the physical journey of reaching physical maturity.

Francis Molson, "Ethical Fantasy for Children," in The Aesthetics of Fantasy Literature and Art, edited by Roger Schlobin, University of Notre Dame Press, 1982, pp .82-104.
Discusses the types of fantasy that contemporary culture finds acceptable for children. Suggests that children's fantasy literature must have clearly defined good and bad characters and situations, that good must win, and that children must respect cultural limits put on them.

John Moore, "An Archaeology of the Future: Ursula Le Guin and Anarcho-Primitivism," Foundation, Spring, 1995, pp. 32-9.
Assesses Le Guin's theories of anarchy and Utopia. Shows how her ideas compare to the theories of primitivism.

Patrick Murphy, "Voicing Another Nature," in A Dialogue of Voices- Feminist Literary Theory and Bakhtin, edited by Karen Hohne, University of Minnesota Press, 1994, pp. 59-82.
Explores how various twentieth-century women writers have used nature as a literary device. Murphy then compares these ideas to the literary theories of Mikhail M. Bakhtin.

Joseph Olander and Martin Greenberg, eds. , Ursula K. Le Guin, Taplinger Publishing, 1979, 239 pps.
A collection of essays on Le Guin's early fiction. Various methodologies, literary theories, and critical approaches are used.

Richard Patteson, "Le Guin's Earthsea Trilogy: The Psychology of Fantasy," in The Scope of the Fantastic—Culture Biography Themes, Children's Literature, edited by Robert Collins and Howard Pearce, Greenwood Press, 1985, pp. 239-48.
Explores the psychological aspects of Le Guin's Earthsea Trilogy. Suggests that describing the interior working of the mind is Le Guin's strongest gift as a writer.

Oliver Scheiding, "An Archeology of the Future Postmodern Strategies of Boundary Transitions in Ursula K. Le Guin's Always Coming Home," American Studies, Vol. 41, No. 4, 1996, pp. 637-56.
Discusses Always Coming Home as a postmodern text and examines how Le Guin uses aspects of feminism, environmentalism, and technological progress to her own ends.

Jane Slaughter, "Ursula K Le Guin," The Progressive, March, 1998, pp. 36-9.
Print publication of Slaughter's interview with Le Guin. Discusses her use of feminism, nature, and Utopias in her work and where she plans to go in her future fiction.

Raymond Thompson, "Modern Fantasy and Medieval Romance: A Comparative Study," in The Aesthetics of Fantasy Literature and Art, edited by Roger Schlobin, University of Notre Dame Press, 1982, pp. 211-25.
Explores the relationship between romantic fiction of the Middle Ages to modern fantasy literature.

Sarah Jo Webb, "Culture as Spiritual Metaphor in Le Guin's Always Coming Home," in Functions of the Fantastic: Selected Essays from the Thirteenth International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts, edited by Joe Sanders, Greenwood, 1995, pp. 155-60.
Analyzes how Le Guin uses elements of the fantastic as metaphor.


Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 56

Sources for Further Study

Booklist. LXXXI, August, 1985, p. 1597.

Christian Century. CII, November 20, 1985, p. 1070.

Kirkus Reviews. LIII, August 1, 1985, p. 736.

Library Journal. CX, September 15, 1985, p. 93.

Macleans. XCVIII, November 4, 1985, p. 72.

The New York Times Book Review. XC, September 29, 1985, p. 31.

Newsweek. CVI, November 18, 1985, p. 101.

Publishers Weekly. CCXXVIII, August 23, 1985, p. 69.

Time. CXXVI, October 14, 1985, p. 98.

Washington Post Book World. XV, October 6, 1985, p. 11.

Unlock This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-hour free trial

Critical Essays


Teaching Guide