Three Hainish Novels Critical Essays

Ursula K. Le Guin


(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

All three novels, Ursula Le Guin’s first published books, reflect her interest in the politics of trust. As in The Left Hand of Darkness (1969) and The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia (1974), each hero must relate to the peoples of a planet that is for him a “planet of exile.” Mutual acceptance is made possible by each hero’s recognition of his own vulnerability. The stranded Rocannon must be aided and rescued by diverse peoples, and before he can liberate Formalhaut II, he must receive as a gift the power of telepathy from a cave people of whom the League, for all of its anthropological oversight, knows nothing. Jakob Agat must send his telepathic voice across a cultural barrier to an alien mind and join his body with Rolery’s to end his people’s sterile exile. In a typical Le Guinian paradox, it is the farborns’ newly discovered ability to take infection—and so die of wounds received in battle—that signals their adaptation to the “planet of exile” and ability to breed with its peoples. In City of Illusions, Falk is lucky enough to have his razed personality rebuilt within the humane micro-community of Parth’s forest house. He paves the way for the rebuilding of society on Earth and between worlds by uniting within himself the personalities of Ramarren and Earth-bred Falk.

Each novel reflects a tension between fighting internal and external enemies. Awareness of how the League’s “technological enhancement” of preindustrial cultures has created a cultural dislocation comes home to Rocannon in his telepathic experience of his enemies’ deaths. In Planet of Exile, the marauding Gaal effect the union of Tevarians and farborns. The real enemy is the farborns’ resistance to making a “planet of exile” home. In City of Illusions, mind razing stands for the breakdown of communication, trust, and self-knowledge that arrests human development. The Shing’s false claim that civil war, militarism, and despotism destroyed the League confronts Falk with a vision of evil in human affairs that all three novels seem to work toward. The Shing simply lie about their motives and actions. In The Left Hand of Darkness, in contrast, the barriers to trust and union are more subtly embedded in the mind and heart of the “envoy” Genly Ai.