back to article RIP Ursula K Le Guin: The wizard of Earthsea

Beloved dragon-tale spinning author Ursula K Le Guin has died. The novelist, probably best known for the thoughtful 1974 "anarcho-utopian" tale The Dispossessed, spent a lifetime exploring themes around revolutionary societies, individualism, anarchism and, of course, dragons. She was 88. She was a multiple Hugo award-winner …

  1. Matthew Smith

    A good read?!

    She is so much more than a good read. Kind, wise, fierce, mind-expanding. A feminist author for none-feminists even. She may have gone to the dry lands but she will not remain nameless.

    1. Jedit
      Unhappy

      Re: A good read?!

      For she goes not blindly; but surely, knowing the way.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: A good read?!

      "The Left Hand of Darkness" was required reading when I attended a Catholic seminary for one year (I briefly thought I wanted to be a priest). Amazing piece of literature, written by a true artist of the craft. But suspicious reading for a seminary (at the time) as the subject matter had homosexual overtones, as did Friday movie nights featuring "The Detective" and "The Flight of the Wild Geese".

    3. John Lilburne Silver badge

      Re: A good read?!

      Daughter of Theodora Kroeber who wrote "ISHI In Two Worlds: A Biography of the last Wild Indian in North America"

      https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0042RV8OE/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

      The Dispossessed being one of my favourite books alongside ISHI, and of course Bateson's Naven.

      1. Marshalltown

        Re: A good read?!

        She was the daughter of of Alfred Kroeber, arguably one of the most influential of American Anthropologists and certainly one of the more important early names. It was Kroeber who brought Ishi to UC Berkeley. The influence of regular exposure to anthropological and ethnographic patterns of thought is evident throughout much of Le Guin's work. When I was in college I took Anthropology classes and the various professors liked to let students know their "pedigree" as heirs to Kroeber's legacy. The nearer they were to Kroeber in terms of teacher-to-teacher lineage, the more they let Anth students know how privileged they were to have them as professors. It was rather comical one-ups-manship. Le Guin though, wrote fine fiction. I was particularly fond if the Earthsea novels.

    4. Nick Kew Silver badge

      Re: A good read?!

      Never quite understood the "feminist" claims. Unlike (say) the BBC, she doesn't belittle us men, apply gross and offensive generalisations to us, treat us as the Enemy. Her actual writings? The hermaphrodite people of Winter's King: well, wouldn't that be fantastic? The female great leader (prophet?) whose ideas (like a Christ or Marx figure) were the basis for society in The Dispossessed? Surely that only becomes feminist if you start from a position of denying that there could be such a female figure? The desolation of the Shing, too alien to breed??

      Someone enlighten me?

      1. Big John Silver badge

        Re: A good read?!

        You are correct. Le Guin was no feminist. She treated men and women equally but knew just how different we are.

        Le Guin is like Pratchett, in that both are best when read aloud. Silent reading glosses over much of the artistry.

        1. steelpillow Silver badge

          Re: A good read?!

          "You are correct. Le Guin was no feminist. She treated men and women equally but knew just how different we are."

          Back in the day, that was enough to brand her a fairly radical feminist. The prevailing view was that difference = male superiority. The world still has a long way to go, but it has also come a long way - and she was a part of making that happen.

        2. EarthDog

          Re: A good read?!

          That's not feminism. See my response to Nick Kew.

      2. Mage Silver badge

        Re: A good read?!

        She was anti-discrimination and anti-bigotry, rather than "traditional" Feminist or anti-racist. A very clever thoughtful woman.

      3. Mooseman Bronze badge

        @nick kew

        "feminist" as in showing men and women as equals.

      4. Esme

        Re: A good read?!

        Feminism is not about belittling men; it is about improving the lot of humanity. That it is called feminism is because the world the movement was born into was one that was so heavily skewed against women. My grandmother was born legally a chattel of her husband, my mother never had any chance of similar pay to men, whilst I never quite reached parity with male employees for doing the same work - this in the UK. Violence against women is rife worldwide, and this needs to stop, as does harmful attitudes towards men and what their role in society 'should' be. Yes, Le Guin's writing was feminist. I do wish those who criticise feminism would take the trouble to actually find out what it is about!

        1. Big John Silver badge

          Re: A good read?!

          The current issue surrounding Feminism is not feminism per se, but rather the PC crowd's appropriation of that term. In their view, a good feminist must also be a good leftist. This has tainted a formerly useful term, causing contention which is not actually connected to the male/female debate.

        2. Voland's right hand Silver badge

          Re: A good read?!

          I do wish those who criticise feminism would take the trouble to actually find out what it is

          about!

          Yes we do. I have read Andrea Dworkin rabid rants. If she had a d*ck she would have been labeled the father of all misoginists. I categorically refuse to put Ursula Le Guin and her writing under the same common denominator.

          In any case, as far as the Dispossessed and especially Other Hand of Darkness is concerned, humanist will be a more apt description anyway.

          1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

            Re: A good read?!

            "Yes we do. I have read Andrea Dworkin"

            Andrea Dworkin doesn't get to define feminism. That's as stupid as writing "I would never vote Conservative, I've read Mein Kampf."

            There are plenty of "feminist" writers who are simply wildly exaggerating for publicity, but the same goes for men on plenty of themes. The trick is to ignore the loud and shouty and listen to the quiet and thoughtful.

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: A good read?!

          So you mean Egalitarianism then right?

          Feminism is obviously against men, just as misogyny is obviously against women

          This modern attempt to re-write feminism as equality is such a load of bull, if you mean you want things all equal for everyone regardless of sex, place of birth or social position then say Egalitarianism as that is really what you mean

      5. EarthDog

        Re: A good read?!

        Thanks for the post I get it now. The conversation on sex and gender have been poisoned by propaganda to be thought of as a bunch of shrieking man haters. I had the a friends of mine had a feminist activist, and her husband (no, neither one were gay), as friends. I had some very good conversations with her. Here is what I have gleaned

        1) Feminism is about liberation from rigid gender and sex norms that keeps people from being who they are (*including* men). What to be a stay at home dad and raise the children while the wife works? Fine it's your marriage. Want to stay home and raise the kids while the husband is the bread winner? Fine it's your marriage.

        2) It is about ending exploiting of a person's sex, sexuality, and expected roles to manipulate them into certain actions, such as marketing and political propaganda. For women the "beauty" industry is an example. For men think of beer commercials, in all the years I have drunk beer never once have bimbos in bikini come prancing out of a bottle.

        3) Women can no longer be treated as chattel.

        4) No human whether based on sex, race, age, or social class should be treated as disposable economic units.

        5) Take care of the children. Duh!

        And I forgot one other point I was going to make, I might follow up.

        While there are some who fit the mold of the the shrieking activist they are not the norm.

        In general this is threatening to many men as it destroys the world view they have been brainwashed into, religions dependent on women as breeding stock, or in the case of the exploitative 1%, threatens their social and financial control of the world.

        Hope this helps.

    5. Mage Silver badge

      Re: A good read?!

      But what ever you do, don't watch the Earthsea video miniseries. It made her VERY cross.

      1. Fazal Majid

        Re: A good read?!

        There's the Ghibli film, directed by Goro Miyazaki (Hayao Miyazaki's son), loosely based on The Furthest Shore. It is far more faithful to the original and she begrudgingly accepted it.

        1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

          Re: A good read?!

          There's the Ghibli film, directed by Goro Miyazaki

          It is rather weak. It has bits from both Farthest Shore and Tehanu. It however loses most from the power of both. The depth of Earthsea is missing.

          It is still better than most other interpretations out there, thought to be fair - as far as books go these are in the category of near impossible to make into a movie or play. I remember 20-odd years ago the Theater academy in one Eastern European country trying to do Earthsea. They got booed off stage.

  2. Chris G Silver badge

    Yet another great literist gone. She was one of the Worlds best writers who helped to change the way we think, her effect on the World went way beyond Science fantasy.

  3. steelpillow Silver badge
    Angel

    Sad loss of a great literary figure

    Ursula K. Le Guin was far more than just a successful F&SF writer, she was one of America's great literary figures. Her writings address complex, personal and at the same time universal issues of what it is to be human in a world full of superstition, mistrust and ignorance. From her feminism to her children's books to her Central European and Californian stories to, yes, her Wizard of Earthsea and her ansible F-T-L communicator, her literary powers set the standard for others to follow. And she was indeed a good read, too. She will be missed.

  4. Chazmon

    Another one of my favourite authors is no longer of this world (the way things are going it is only going to be Neil Gaiman left!) The Dispossed is consistently in my top 5 as a book which changes the way you look at the world. Left Hand of Darkness blew my mind and thanks to it short length often one of the first books I hand to a novice reader. A loss to the world.

  5. Alistair Silver badge
    Windows

    Thank you.

    Ursula was one of two authors who lead my turn into adulthood. I've not dug through all she's written, but what I have read of her work has changed the way I see the world around me. On occasion I've found that lines from her works are far too relevant to events in the real world.

  6. TRT Silver badge

    The Earthsea Trilogy...

    was a constant companion to me throughout my teenage years.

    1. Arctic fox

      Re: "The Earthsea Trilogy..was a constant companion to me throughout my teenage years."

      In my case it was my twenties. Fantastic lady and an amazing writer of profound ability. She will be missed.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "The Earthsea Trilogy..was a constant companion to me throughout my teenage years."

        teens, twenties and thirties. Will be reading my wife's 3-in-1 copy of the first three tonight as mine's fallen to pieces

  7. Dave 126 Silver badge

    I've not read all of the Hainish cycle, but those I have gave me the impression they had in part inspired Iain M Banks' Culture novels. That isn't knocking Banks in any way - like le Guin, he had his own convictions and depth of thinking.

    Iain Banks and Margaret Atwood led a tribute to le Guin on her 80th birthday on Radio 4:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00j3xd5

    Programme currently unavailable, but good chance it's online somewhere, or else may soon be repeated on Radio 4 Extra in the sad light of her passing.

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Seems it's been made available.

    2. Mage Silver badge

      Re: part inspired Iain M Banks' Culture novels

      May have, but in contrast his are self-indulgent transhumanisn fantasy and "men inventing gods" AI trope rather than Ursula's thoughtful SF & F. Yes, she wrote BOTH kinds of books and bravely didn't hide behind initials or ambiguous names as many Women writers feel they had to.

      A giant of 20th C. SF *AND* Fantasy, who did other writing to. I must read her book on writing!

  8. israel_hands

    She was simply amazing. The Word For World Is Forest is one of the best books I've ever read. Achingly beautiful and terrifically moving.

    And I loved the Earthsea books when I was approaching my teenage years. I think I may have to dig out my copy tonight and sit down to read it with my son.

    A sad loss. The field is lessened without her.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

  9. hammarbtyp Silver badge

    Facts...

    Facts aren't all that easy to come by. Honest scientists and journalists, among others, spend a lot of time trying to make sure of them. The test of a fact is that it simply is so – it has no "alternative"... In most times, most places, by most people, liars are considered contemptible

    It is so sad that we live in a world where not only is that no longer the case, but the new norm is that that serial liars get elected to the highest office in the land

  10. BebopWeBop Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    The Left Hand of Darkness, a trek across a freezing snowy wasteland with an unthinkably alien companion, is not just a good science fiction novel; it is simply good literature. It is spare, compelling and mesmerising – like a weird, wonderfully savoury, perfectly made soufflé.

    My first experience of her - at the age of 12 (I think, my children started with her 'Dragon books but did not finish there) it took a lot of reading, but well worth the effort.

  11. tim 13

    I'd only come across her as a children's writer (when I was a child) I'll have to investigate

  12. Spoobistle

    Wife's Story

    I've been trying for months to recall where I read (many years ago) the story about a werewolf written from the wolf's point of view - I never realised it was by Ursula Le Guin. A sad loss.

  13. rmason Silver badge

    GNU

    GNU Ursula.

    I'm sure STP would fully approve me mixing my fictions like this.

  14. earl grey Silver badge
    Unhappy

    RIP

    Sadly, RIP.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    probably best known for the thoughtful 1972 "anarcho-utopian" tale The Dispossessed

    I would have said A Wrinkle In Time. But then, I was already an adult when the later novels came out.

    1. Drewc Gold badge

      Re: probably best known for the thoughtful 1972 "anarcho-utopian" tale The Dispossessed

      Wrinkle in Time was by Madeleine L'Engle.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: probably best known for the thoughtful 1972 "anarcho-utopian" tale The Dispossessed

        Doh.

    2. boltar Silver badge

      Re: probably best known for the thoughtful 1972 "anarcho-utopian" tale The Dispossessed

      "I would have said A Wrinkle In Time. "

      I've not heard of either. I'd have said Earthsea was her magnum opus and is probably the only one you'll still find on sale in a bookshop (those that are left).

      1. Mark 110 Silver badge

        Re: probably best known for the thoughtful 1972 "anarcho-utopian" tale The Dispossessed

        No. I bought Left Hand of Darkness from waterstones within the last 10 years. Was reissued by Gollanz under their scifi masterworks series iirc.

        Wonderful wonderful book. Proper scifi. About society as much as science.

      2. Nick Kew Silver badge

        Re: probably best known for the thoughtful 1972 "anarcho-utopian" tale The Dispossessed

        Earthsea is IMO rather a lesser work. Decent stories, but not going to stimulate the mind like other more thought-provoking works mentioned here. I read it as inspired by the Tolkien fantasy-world, but without the depth of history and culture of middle-earth.

        The major works, headed probably by The Dispossessed, are very much worth reading (not to mention citing here on El Reg as recently as two weeks ago). But I'd like to put in a word for the Wind's Twelve Quarters, a pair of collections of (early) short stories. Her thought experiments suit the short story form very nicely, and some of them grew to become novels - like Winter's King becoming the Left Hand of Darkness. Many ideas in there seem prescient of things that have happened since.

        p.s. "Anarcho-utopian"? Yes, she explores some of what seems like her own political/societal dreams, and blows holes in them. It it's utopian, it's a utopia gone wrong, as it inevitably must when faced with human nature. But perhaps it's the word Utopia that's misused: More's original Utopia was a totalitarian society.

        1. Stevie Silver badge

          Re: probably best known for the thoughtful 1972 "anarcho-utopian" tale The Dispossessed

          When they were written the Earthsea books were regarded as what would now be called "Young Adult" books - lightweight by design, but with a solid core of "think-worthy" ideas.

          One shouldn't compare them with the other SF works LeGuin authored (when she was still doing such stuff).

          I envy anyone discovering The Left Hand of Darkness, The Lathe of Heaven, The Word for World is Forrest, or The Dispossessed for the first time. I hope their bang-for-buck in the 'teens is of the same order mine was in the 70s.

  16. Mephistro Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    The Word For World Is Forest...

    ... was the 1st SF book I read, when 6. Read it twice in a row (so I could understand the most difficult parts :-). This was the beginning of my addiction to the genre. Since then, I've read most of what she wrote, and enjoyed it to the last line.

    Thank you for that and for all your books, Ursula. STTL

  17. MJI Silver badge

    Need to read more

    Read some, very good books.

    Need to check which ones they are.

    RIP

  18. Fading Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    A few more for the Kindle

    I must admit I had not read any Ursula K Le Guin - an oversight that my Kindle will resolve on my commute home.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      an oversight that my Kindle will resolve on my commute home.

      Do it while in a Tesla on autopilot. We like those articles.

  19. Kimo

    On YouTube you can find the 1980 PBS adaptation of Lathe of Heaven. It is the only adaptation of her work that she approved of.

  20. DrD'eath

    Omelas

    I think omelas is one of the best short stories ever written. It is not subtle in its message; I read it as a callow youth and it forever changed how I look at the world. If ever a writer forced the reader to look at themself, this was it for me.

  21. bobajob12

    RIP

    Calling Le Guin a great sci-fi author is like calling Serena Williams a great female athlete. No. Serena is a fantastic athlete, period. And Le Guin was a fantastic writer. No additional qualification needed.

    1. Chris 3

      Re: RIP

      I disagree. It's calling Serena Williams a great tennis player.

  22. Bad Beaver

    RIP

    Sad news. Now where is that copy of The Left Hand of Darkness...

  23. Petrea Mitchell

    Six Earthsea books

    "The rather prematurely named Earthsea Trilogy (start with A Wizard of Earthsea – you've got another four after that)"

    Five! The Tombs of Atuan, The Farthest Shore, Tehanu, and The Other Wind. A fantastic (in more than one sense) journey watching a world evolve. She left Earthsea alone for a long time after the first trilogy, and again after Tehanu, and it's fascinating to see how her thoughts about it changed. Whichever one you missed, check it out!

    1. Petrea Mitchell

      Re: Six Earthsea books

      Muphry's Law (sic) strikes again-- that should be The Tombs of Atuan, The Farthest Shore, Tehanu, Tales from Earthsea, and The Other Wind.

    2. Fazal Majid

      Re: Six Earthsea books

      7 total. There's also Tales from Earthsea and The Daughter of Odred (although the latest is a novella).

      1. DuchessofDukeStreet

        Re: Six Earthsea books

        The first three of these are the only ones of hers that I knew of and had read, but the stories and mental pictures sprang fully formed back into my mind as soon as I heard the news of her death. It's probably two decades since I read them last but I still have them; from this article and copies I may need to acquire the rest of her writings.

        1. MacroRodent Silver badge

          Re: Six Earthsea books

          Of the later series, I found Tehanu good, but wish she had stopped there. The last one spoils the Magic by its explication of the relationship between humans, dragons and the land of the dead, and the writing is not up to her former standards.

          Despite this minor grumble, she was one of the greatest, and influenced me much. Rest in peace.

        2. Richard 26

          Re: Six Earthsea books

          I would recommend leaving a gap of twenty or so years after reading the first three Earthsea books, before reading the rest of the series. It doesn't pay to rush things.

  24. This post has been deleted by its author

  25. rickyjames

    Read Omelas Now

    Click below to read her best short story - one whose relevance grows by the day.

    The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas

    1. Clarecats

      Re: Read Omelas Now

      Thanks for the link: I read the story again.

      Still applies.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The novelist, probably best known for

    no, not for the Dispossessed.

  27. Sanguma

    minor correction

    First and foremost, RIP Little Bear. You will be sadly missed.

    Now - William Morris was a socialist of the non-Marxist variety - he is probably quite close to the syndicalist-anarchists of The Dispossessed in the socialist-anarchist spectrum. Ursula Kroeber Le Guin was an anarchist.

    I think it's quite appropriate that she is honoured by the William Morris Gallery.

  28. i1ya

    The Disposessed is one of books that changed the way I see the world

    "Crappily organised would-be anarchic utopia" - well said, but I would prefer "Crappily organized anarchic would-be utopia", because the form of anarchy as "absence of government or power of one person above the other" was quite established in the world described by the book. For me it serves as a model of open-source software movement and how the open projects are governed: no member has absolute power, and every member of the project does what he can; ideologic differences between "proprietary" and "free" worlds don't stop them from trading goods and technologies with each other. A great read that gives plenty insights.

  29. arctic_haze Silver badge

    Ursula Le Guin was an atheist, wasn't she?

    Therefore I will say the Agnostic Prayer for the dead from "Creatures of light and darkness" by Roger Zelazny:

    "Insofar as I may be heard by anything, which may or may not care what I say, I ask, if it matters, that you be forgiven for anything you may have done or failed to do which requires forgiveness. Conversely, if not forgiveness but something else may be required to insure any possible benefit for which you may be eligible after the destruction of your body, I ask that this, whatever it may be, be granted or withheld, as the case may be, in such a manner as to insure your receiving said benefit. I ask this in my capacity as your elected intermediary between yourself and that which may not be yourself, but which may have an interest in the matter of your receiving as much as it is possible for you to receive of this thing, and which may in some way be influenced by this ceremony. Amen."

    However, having said that, I still feel bereaved and sad.

    1. Muscleguy Silver badge

      Re: Ursula Le Guin was an atheist, wasn't she?

      As an atheist I invoke one of the arguments against Pascal's Wager. I doubt that if anything supernatural as so addressed exists it would be in any way impressed with that pile of quoted cavilling.

      This is what the agnostics don't seem to get. All the deities who have been claimed to exist have no truck with half arsed worshippers. They want true, genuinely expensive, devotion.

      Agnostics need to get off the fence, either side but they look ridiculous, pathetic and naive up there.

  30. Adrian 4 Silver badge

    :(

    That's all.

  31. H in The Hague Silver badge

    Thanks

    Not being into sci-fi (other than THGTTG, obviously) I wasn't aware of Le Guin - looks like an interesting author, thanks for introducing me to her work.

  32. BtB

    William Morris

    The curator was probably referring to the "News from Nowhere" which relayed a journey forward in time when a much changed London included such gems as the Houses of Parliament (then still fairly new) bring used as a place to store horse dung...

  33. Asterix the Gaul

    Never read her books or seen any of her films,however, I am happy to pay my humble male tributes to a lady,who, by reputation, was a very productive,creative & balanced member of the human race.

  34. kbutler.toledo
    Unhappy

    still hope

    georg-or will find her and restore...

  35. Clarecats

    Sourcework for Philip Pullman

    The world of the dead, beyond a wall, from A Wizard of Earthsea is clearly the sourcework for Pullman's land of the dead in Amber Spyglass.

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