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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?

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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?

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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).


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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

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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...

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Critical Essays