Introduction

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Ursula K(roeber) Le Guin 1929–

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American science fiction and fantasy novelist, short story writer poet, and author of children's books.

Noted for its clearly delineated portraits of alien worlds, Le Guin's work reflects her interest in Taoism and an Oriental view of history. Le Guin is the recipient of several Hugo and Nebula awards and is best known for her Earthsea trilogy.

(See also CLC, Vols. 8, 13, Children's Literature Review, Vol. 3, Contemporary Authors, Vols. 21-24, rev. ed., and Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 8: Twentieth Century American Science Fiction Writers.)

Douglas Barbour

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1278

The five stories by Ursula K. Le Guin with which this essay is directly concerned—Rocannon's World (1966), Planet of Exile (1966), City of Illusions (1967), The Left Hand of Darkness (1969), and "The Word for World is Forest" (1972)—are all set in what may be called the Hainish universe, for it was the people of the planet Hain who originally "seeded" all the habitable worlds of this part of the galaxy and thus produced a humanoid universe that is single, expanding, and historically continuous, but at the same time marvelous in its variety, for each planetary environment caused specific local mutations in its humanoids as they adapted and developed. The result is a universe full of "humans" who display enough variety to provide for any number of alien encounters, and since any possible stage of civilization can be found on some particular planet, new definitions of "civilization" can be made in a narrative rather than a discursive mode….

Besides the continuous time-space history, these narratives are bound together by a consistent imagery that both extends and informs meaning. Although Le Guin has used particular images which emerge naturally from the cultural and ecological context of her imagined worlds as linking devices within each work, she has also consistently used light/dark imagery as a linking device for the whole series. Again and again, good emerges from ambiguous darkness, evil from blinding light. Thus there is a specific local imagery in each novel, and a pervasive light/dark imagery in all of them. (p. 164)

From the very beginning [of Rocannon's World] the interdependence of light and darkness are made clear. Take Kyo's explanation of the difference between his people and the Gdmiar: the Fiia chose to live only in the light, the Clayfolk chose "night and caves and swords" …, and both lost something by their choice. The image of the Fiia dance, "a play of light and dark in the glow of the fire" …, reflects a pattern which Rocannon realizes had existed between Kyo and himself. This dance of shadows and light is the proper image for their interplay in all Le Guin's work: both the light and the dark are necessary if any pattern is to emerge from chaos….

The title of the first chapter in Planet of Exile, "A Handful of Darkness," refers to Agat's dark hand against Rolery's white one. The alliance of farborns and hilfs, of black and white, is touched on throughout the novel: Agat's and Rolery's growing love is imaged in these terms….

"Imagine darkness. In the darkness that faces outward from the sun a mute spirit woke. Wholly involved in chaos, he knew no pattern." Thus begins City of Illusion , and thus begins Falk's book-long search for the correct pattern, one made up of light and darkness as all good patterns must be. Naturally enough, in a story of lie and paradox, light and dark seldom carry ordinary meanings. Falk begins and ends in darkness, yet the two darknesses are opposed: the first a mental chaos, the last an important part of the whole pattern he has sought. As the images gather, we begin to see the pattern, and the play of paradox and illusion within it....

(The entire section contains 12492 words.)

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