Wednesday, 24 January 2018


Ursula K. Le Guin is dead. Eighty-eight years old. We won't see another one like her.

That horrible convent school I went to in Warrnambool that you saw the photographs of, well, there were a few good things that happened in it, and the best was Year 8 English when Mrs Adams read us "A Wizard of Earthsea". Did you ever have a teacher who read entire novels to the class over several weeks? Did you sit in your row, resting your head on your folded arms on the desk, with your eyes closed, and listen and feel the story unfolding in your mind? Mrs Adams was also the school singing teacher and she had a beautiful quiet resonant voice and this wasn't the only book she read us but I can hear her now, saying Ged.

The first of UKLG's books I encountered on my own has remained a talisman. I was still at St Ann's so I can't have been more than fifteen. I probably bought it at the weekend junk market at the cattleyards.

"The Lathe of Heaven" isn't a critical favourite, and whenever I have read "The Left Hand of Darkness" or "The Dispossessed" I know these are books on a Shakespearean plane, they take concepts of personhood and expand them in convulsive explosive moments of cosmic beauty and grace, which is not quite true of "The Lathe of Heaven"- but this is a book I love with all my heart. It's part of me, in the most private and personal way. There are elements to it that go part of the way to explaining why. It's good SF, and also a sophisticated and affectionate pisstake of SF. It's extremely interesting on how the mind in need generates fantasies, sometimes terrifying and sometimes ridiculous, which through use become for all intents and purposes real, part of the landscape, and take on lives of their own. It's scary, funny, corny and sweet. But for me it's also one of those books that just takes root in the imagination. I can see scenes from it as vividly - and as incommunicably - as from my own dreams. And the universality, the collectivity of that experience of dreams, fantasies, the intensity of the mysterious inner life, and its urgent, incommunicable privacy, that is what the novel is about. That, and love.

When I heard of Le Guin's death today I thought of this passage which I am not going to parse for you but I hope you might enjoy letting your mind drift across the scene evoked.

I'm very sad this evening, only partly because of this news. A lot of things are lost and breaking for me at the moment and I don't know how to hold it together. Goodnight.


JahTeh said...

Sometimes there is not a thing,nothing that will hold a breaking together. What you don't need is a sister like mine who's answer to everything is "Fuck, let it go and move on". I was watching a dvd of my granddaughter with her step-father ready to leave for her wedding.
My heart shattered, it should have been her real father, but after watching it 3 or 4 times I could feel it come together. This was the only father she knew, he cried when he walked into the room, she cried when she hugged him and I put away the dream I wished, the dream she'd never know.
25 years of breaking and putting back together and yet it still falls to pieces with one look.

jc said...

Dear Lucy Tartan,

I am also mourning her. I really loved the Tombs of Atuan. I have given away many copies of her books--- mostly the Dispossessed to Serious Political friends, but also the Earthsea ones to the kids that I know.

I read to my daughter, but now mostly under sufferance--- she would rather read herself. We are slogging through the eternal committee meetings of the Lord of the Rings. But A Wizard of Earthsea was great--- we read it on holiday, with a bunch of other kids listening in.

I'm sorry to hear that you're going through tough times. Hope that something good comes out from it with you.

(Also thanks JT for the story.)