Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Ursula Le Guin: In Memoriam

Everybody who has read Ursula Le Guin will remember the first time they chanced upon her. I was 12 or so, snug and safe in the library that looked down onto the old stone courtyard and the river Arun below. Opening The Wizard of Earthsea and being thrust wholly into that fully developed fantastical world was like entering through a portal: into somewhere that the reader wished, wholeheartedly, existed. To know the true names of things seemed a wondrous power, but one that was entirely within reach; and so I would look at stones, and trees, and beg them to reveal themselves, and long for the hawk to come down from the sky to my wrist, as it did for Ged, her mage-hero.

I have always used her when teaching creative writing: even today, re-reading the opening of the novel for perhaps the 100th time, I saw something different; that Duny, who would become Ged, or Sparrowhawk, is part of the landscape he lives in: he's described as a weed, and he roams the small island of Gont, testing its boundaries, ever alive to the notion that there might be more - a whole other world of islands, and a more dangerous and exciting world of magic. I try to keep the book alive, as fewer and fewer read it now. Its themes - of ambiguous power, of dangerous metamorphoses, of the evil that can come from one's own heart - are timeless. Here was a wizard school where things really mattered.

Encountering her as an adult, her fiction was always wise, well-wrought and thought-provoking. The twin planets in The Dispossessed, one a kind of communist world rapidly descending into totalitarianism, and the other a big mess, do more than any lecture on politics to show how different systems work. This book is one I always recommend when people say - well, what's the use of fantasy? The answer to which question is, of course, why need there be a use to anything? But the kind of people who want an answer to that question can find it in The Dispossessed.

She was an eloquent, elegant critic; a passionate defender of fiction and fantasy; a tireless worker. I never met her, but I did once dream about her, sitting in the top of her house, at her desk, working.

The world of letters gained a great deal from her contribution; and there are none to fill her place. 

No comments:

Post a Comment