Ursula K. Le Guin Analysis

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

In what ways would your life change if everyone became like the Gethenians in The Left Hand of Darkness, both sexes at the same time?

In several of her novels, Ursula K. Le Guin opposes a forward-looking, ambitious, and progressive culture against a quieter, present-centered, and slow-changing culture. If this opposition appears in the story you are studying, which group or groups come closest to representing each side? What are the advantages and disadvantages offered by each side? In which would you prefer to live? Which do you think that Le Guin herself prefers?

Often in Le Guin’s works, the main characters have to change in important ways in order to solve a central problem or overcome a key obstacle. Does this happen in the text you are studying? What is the main change that the character has to make? What makes this change hard to achieve?

The first three of the Earthsea books tell stories of quests in which the protagonist seeks knowledge and power. What does the protagonist want in the story that you are studying? Explain how this quest ends.

In the later Earthsea stories, protagonists seem mainly to search for self-knowledge. What does a main character in the story that you are studying learn about himself or herself during the story? Why is this self-knowledge important to this character and to the outcome of the story?

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Ursula K. Le Guin is best known for her novels, especially the Earthsea books, which include A Wizard of Earthsea (1968), The Tombs of Atuan (1971), The Farthest Shore (1972), and Tehanu: The Last Book of Earthsea (1990). Other well-known novels include The Left Hand of Darkness (1969), The Lathe of Heaven (1971), The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia (1974), Always Coming Home (1985), and the four linked novellas Four Ways to Forgiveness (1995). She also published poetry, including Wild Angels (1975), Hard Words and Other Poems (1981), and Going Out with Peacocks and Other Poems (1994). The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction (1979) and Dancing at the Edge of the World: Thoughts on Words, Women, and Places (1988) are important collections of her critical writing. Le Guin edited The Norton Book of Science Fiction: North American Science Fiction, 1960-1990 (1993) and Steering the Craft: Exercises and Discussions on Story Writing for the Lone Navigator or the Mutinous Crew (1998) and translated Tao Te Ching: A Book About the Way and the Power of the Way (1997).


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Ursula K. Le Guin is recognized as a leading American writer of science fiction and fantasy. Her short stories, especially “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,” winner of a 1974 Hugo Award, often appear in college literature anthologies. Le Guin has received many awards and honors for her work. The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed received both the Nebula and Hugo Awards. Volumes of the Earthsea books earned awards for adolescent literature, including the Boston Globe/Horn Book Award for A Wizard of Earthsea, a Newbery Honor Book Citation for The Tombs of Atuan, and the National Book Award for Children’s Literature for The Farthest Shore. Her other awards include a Hugo for The Word for World Is Forest, a Nebula and Jupiter Award in 1975 for “The Day Before the Revolution,” and Jupiters for The Dispossessed and “The Diary of the Rose.” She was given a Gandalf Award in 1979, an American Book Award nomination and the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize for Fiction for Always Home in 1986, and Nebula Awards for Tehanu in 1991 and for Solitude in 1995.

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

In the body of work produced by Ursula K. Le Guin (leh GWIHN) are many books written for children and young adults, among them A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, and The Farthest Shore (the first three books of the Earthsea series); Very Far Away from Anywhere Else; Leese Webster; and The Beginning Place. Her other publications include novellas, such as The Word for World Is Forest (1972); several volumes of poetry, including Wild Angels (1975), Hard Words, and Other Poems (1981), In the Red Zone (1983), and Sixty Odd: New Poems (1999); and a number of volumes of short stories, including The Wind’s Twelve Quarters (1975), Orsinian Tales (1976), The Compass Rose (1982), A Fisherman of the Inland Sea (1994), Unlocking the Air, and Other Stories (1996), and The Birthday of the World, and Other Stories (2002).

Many of Le Guin’s essays on the nature and meaning of fantasy, her own creative process, science fiction, and gender politics are collected in From Elfland to Poughkeepsie (1973), The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction (1979; edited by Susan Wood), Dancing at the Edge of the World: Thoughts on Words, Women, and Places (1988), and Napa: The Roots and Springs of the Valley (1989). Her numerous book reviews have appeared in The New York Times Book Review, The Washington Post Book World, The New Republic, and other respected publications. Her collaboration with the photographer Roger Dorband, Blue Moon over Thurman Street (1993), documents in words and pictures the human ecology of the city street on which she lived for more than a quarter of a century.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

The high quality of Ursula K. Le Guin’s work was apparent from the beginning of her writing career. Brian Attebery, a fellow writer, has stated that even her first published novels are superior to most works of science fiction written at that time. Public recognition of Le Guin’s work began with the Boston Globe Horn Book Award for A Wizard of Earthsea in 1969. Le Guin soon amassed numerous prestigious awards, including the Nebula Award and the Hugo Award for The Left Hand of Darkness (1969, 1970); the Newbery Silver Medal Award for The Tombs of Atuan (1972); a Hugo Award for The Word for World Is Forest (1973); a National Book Award for children’s literature for The Farthest Shore (1973); a Hugo Award for “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” (1974); a Nebula Award for “The Day Before the Revolution” (1974); Nebula, Jupiter, and Hugo awards for The Dispossessed (1974, 1975); a Jupiter Award for “The Diary of the Rose” (1976); and a Gandalf Award for achievement in fantasy (1979). Additional honors include the Kafka Award in 1986; a Hugo Award for “Buffalo Gals, Won’t You Come Out Tonight?” (1988); a Pilgrim Award for body of work, awarded by the Science Fiction Research Association (1989); a Pushcart Prize for “Bill Weisler” (1991-1992); a Nebula Award for Tehanu (1990); a Nebula Award for “Solitude” (1995); the Tiptree Award for “Mountain Ways” (1996); the Endeavor Award for both The Telling (2000) and Tales from Earthsea (2001); and the World Fantasy Award for The Other Wind (2001).

In 2001, Le Guin was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame, and in 2003 she was named Grand Master by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. In addition to receiving these honors, Le Guin has been a writer-in-residence at the Clarion West workshop at the University of Washington and a teaching participant in a science-fiction workshop at Portland State University. A number of science-fictionconventions, literary conferences, and universities have recognized her literary stature by inviting her to teach and speak.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Bittner, James W. Approaches to the Fiction of Ursula K. Le Guin. Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1984. This author discusses both Le Guin’s short stories and novels, making connections among her works to show how certain themes are apparent in all of them.

Bucknall, Barbara J. Ursula K. Le Guin. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1981. The main emphasis in this book is a discussion of Le Guin’s novels, mainly in chronological order. It does include one chapter devoted to her short fiction.

Collins, Jerre. “Leaving Omelas: Questions of Faith and Understanding.” Studies in Short Fiction 27 (Fall, 1990): 525-535. Argues that “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” can be read either as a religious allegory of the “suffering servant” or as an allegory of Western capitalism; however, rejection of the capitalist exploitation story undermines the redemption story. Thus, Le Guin indirectly supports the scapegoat theodicy she tries to undermine.

Cummins, Elizabeth. Understanding Ursula K. Le Guin. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1990. An analysis of Le Guin’s work emphasizing the different worlds she has created (Earthsea, the Hannish World, Orsinia, and the West Coast) and how they provide the structure for all of her fiction.

De Bolt, Joe, ed. Ursula K. Le Guin: Voyager to Inner Lands and to Outer Space. Port...

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