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.)
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, there is a shift in focus away from the celebration of balance and toward the problematics of balance, a shift which brings the individual closer to the center of this world, as maker and breaker of equilibrium. From novel to novel, man's relationship to the whole, and the nature and composition of that whole, become increasingly complex. Second, to render this complexity, there are important changes in form. Le Guin's later novels are much more elaborate, more concrete, more realistic. In place of vaguely stylized "worlds," we find carefully drawn societies; instead of "heroes," multifaceted, believable characters. Le Guin rapidly abandons the classic impersonal narrator, so dear to many old pseudo-epics and space operas, and begins to experiment with point of view. First a story is told from the limited perspective of one mind, and then through two or more centers of consciousness; diaries, interpolated tales, elaborate fictions of the editor, all have their place. Simple linear storytelling gives way to flashbacks, skillful juxtapositions of narrated time. Here, on this level, we may speak of synthesis. For what is happening, and will probably continue to happen in Le Guin's fiction, is an interesting merger of genres—the literature of speculation, science fiction and fantasy, with that of personal relationships and manners, the so-called "mainstream" novel.
From the start, Le Guin's writing is a fiction of...
(The entire section contains 8473 words.)
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- Critical Essays