The Word for World Is Forest

by Ursula K. Le Guin

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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 346

The Word for World is Forest is a 1969 science fiction novella by Ursula K. Le Guin that focuses on a group of colonizers from Earth (Earth is called "Terra" in the story) who come to a planet called Athshe in search of resources. Unlike the humans, who have destroyed their own world, the Athsheans do all they can to preserve theirs. They have eradicated violence, developed the ability to dream at will, and put such emphasis on the ecology of their forest where they live that

The Athshean word for world is also the word for forest.

Within a world that strives to create balance and harmony, the Athsheans have an outlook that is vastly different from that of the humans.

"The world is always new,” said Coro Mena, “however old its roots."

In comparison, the humans (whom they call the "yumens") are a violent and animalistic race who hold such views as

The only time a man is really and entirely a man is when he's just had a woman or just killed another man.

The Athsheans ask themselves,

Do men kill men, except in madness? Does any beast kill its own kind? Only the insects. These yumens kill us as lightly as we kill snakes. The one who taught me said that they kill one another, in quarrels, and also in groups, like ants fighting.

The violence of the humans forces the Athsheans to readdress their ideology and become violent themselves.

“Sometimes a god comes," Selver said. "He brings a new way to do a thing, or a new thing to be done. A new kind of singing, or a new kind of death. He brings this across the bridge between the dream-time and the world-time. When he has done this, it is done. You cannot take things that exist in the world and try to drive them back into the dream, to hold them inside the dream with walls and pretenses. That is insanity. What is, is. There is no use pretending, now, that we do not know how to kill one another.”

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