In memoriam: Ursula K. Le Guin

I am still processing the loss of one of my favorite and admired authors: Ursula K. Le Guin. I have read most of her fiction, including fiction for children, some of her non-fiction and translations. It is one of my goals in life to read everything she has written — fortunately for me and the world, she was a prolific writer. Her novels, in particular A Wizard of EarthseaThe Tombs of Atuan, and The Dispossessed, have affected me deeply and helped shape how I see the world.

Last semester, I had the pleasure of teaching The Left Hand of Darkness and its related short stories in my Literature by Women course. It was the first text I chose for the course and I selected the other texts to complement it. That unit was the most interesting and enjoyable to teach and was perfect for class discussions about the role of literature, literary theory, reception of a text over time, delving into an author’s changing perceptions of her own work, and more.

Left Hand of Darkness teaching

I do not want to say that the world is less magical than it was before now that she is no longer in it, because every soul brings its own magic into the world and with new souls being born every day, the balance is maintained — an idea I know Le Guin would agree with. The magic she instilled into her works succeeds her and, thanks to the Library of America, will never be out of print. But gone is the hope of one more Hainish novel, one more story set in Earthsea, one more blog post about her cat’s antics.

Gone also is the slim hope of someday meeting her in person. I am sad that she will not see the completed 50th anniversary edition of the Earthsea saga, though I know from reading her blog that collaborating with Charles Vess was immensely satisfying for them both. I look forward to its release and of putting inside it my last signed bookplate from her, a gift I have been saving for years for precisely the occasion of a special edition of Earthsea.

June 2014

Books read in June:

  1. The Princess and the Goblin. George MacDonald.
  2. The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Neil Gaiman.
  3. The Princess and Curdie. George MacDonald.
  4. The Eye of the Heron. Ursula K. Le Guin.
  5. The Lowland. Jhumpa Lahiri.

Like last month, June has featured lots of time in airports and train stations. As ever, I overestimate how long a book will last me and find myself needing to buy a book in the airport. That is how I ended up acquiring both The Ocean at the End of the Lane and The Lowland. My supervisor gave me the gift of Orkney by Amy Sackville, which I have already started… except, I have a week here in Vienna before taking another transatlantic flight back to the U.S. I feel I ought to make use of Elena’s library and save Orkney for the flight home, though I do hate setting aside a good book, even if it will be only temporary.

The Eye of the Heron by Le Guin was a book I bought from Half Price Books thanks to a gift-card Kelly gave me for my birthday. I was surprised to find it as used-bookstores tend to only carry books by Le Guin that I already own. Naturally, I snapped it up and read it in one sitting (on a plane). If you have read and enjoyed The Dispossessed, you will find that The Eye of the Heron treats some of the same themes, and, though shorter than the other novel, in a slightly more sophisticated way. Le Guin rarely disappoints.

Keep still

Other than waking up enough for presents on Christmas Eve and dinner on Christmas Day, I’ve been sleeping since Little Christmas Eve. I have been exhausted since submitting my PhD thesis. Bone-weary. This passage from The Left Hand of Darkness resonates with me right now.

A physician came and said to me, ‘Why did you resist dothe?’

‘I was not in dothe,’ I said. ‘I was in a sonic field.’

‘Your symptoms were those of a person who has resisted the relaxation phase of dothe.’ He was a domineering physician, and made me admit at last that I might have used dothe-strength to counter the paralysis while I rowed [across the bay], not clearly knowing that I did so; then this morning, during the thangen phase when one must keep still, I had got up and walked and so nearly killed myself.

— from Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness

I used ‘dothe’ — described as ‘hysterical strength’ in the novel, or the intentional harnessing of adrenaline to push through exhaustion — to get through these last few months. But pushing through on adrenaline has its cost. Now I am in the thangen phase and I must keep still.

I’m still baffled that I more-or-less slept through Christmas and that even going up the stairs or taking a shower leaves me tired. It looks like I’ve borrowed against January’s spoons,* and I need to rest a while. I may need to rethink my plans for January. I had planned a series of posts about Christmas and Ebenezer, but I am too tired to write them. Instead, you get this post about my exhaustion and The Left Hand of Darkness.

Which, if you want to read a long, but interesting, interview with Ursula K. Le Guin that includes talking about The Left Hand of Darkness, you can read this one from The Paris Review.

And, fun fact, I have read twenty-four (24) out of thirty-four (34) of Le Guin’s fiction for adults. (She’s prolific: non-fiction, children’s fiction, poetry… I haven’t touched those yet.)

* ‘Spoons?’ You ask. I refer you to The Spoon Theory.