in memory of ursula k. le guin

By Adam Cummins

Ursula Le Guin was an author who wrote novels and poetry. Most would call her a science fiction and a fantasy author. She was born in 1929 in California, where she was raised in a house with three brothers. She submitted her first story to a magazine when she was just eleven years old: it was rejected. This did not deter her.

Le Guin kept writing, pursuing a career in the literary arts, and in 1959 her first novel was published. Rocannon’s world was the first novel in what was to become the Hainish Cycle, a sprawling, multifaceted exploration of anthropology within science fiction. She hails from the new wave science fiction era, an era which grounds itself in mystery and the inner fantastic. She was taught in the same high school class as Philip K. Dick. But rather than aiming to confuse the reader, like her contemporaries Dick and Ellison, Le Guin creates worlds with touching characters and intimate relationships, both romantic and Platonic. Her worlds are magnificently accessible. They satisfy a hunger for sentiment as well as offering the tribulations we expect from science fiction. Her books are methodically deep, meticulously crafted from layer upon layer of religious themes and complex concepts.

You needn’t head toward space to enjoy yourself with Le Guin. Instead, look into the realms of fantasy. Earthsea is a series of books exploring a vast archipelago world. Ged, a stoic wizard, one of the finest protagonists in fantasy history, has his tales and misdeeds recounted, including battles with dragons and a battle against his shadow self. He becomes a major influence on the world, a vital organ in its history. It’s impossible not to feel the vitality of the world Le Guin creates in Earthsea. It’s a truly sublime series of novels.

Le Guin’s dedication to literature was paramount; she was a river from which fantastic writing flowed. Her long and illustrious career is one that spans more than half a century of science fiction. As Literature students, we can look to Le Guin not only as somebody to admire but something to aspire to. We want to write, and she wrote to a fantastic standard whenever she wrote. She expressed herself through both prose and poetry, essay and fiction, conceptual and intellectual. For students, Le Guin represents more than a dedicated author (although there’s no denying that she was). She represents a crossing of the generations, a bridge between contemporary genre fiction, golden age pulp and new wave.  It would be nigh on impossible to find people who dislike Le Guin for the right reasons. She’s accessible but her work possesses complexity for those who seek it. She’s welcoming to those with a sentimental streak. But there’s also danger for the thrill seekers. Ursula Le Guin was, undoubtedly, a writer of the people.

On the 22nd of January, Ursula Le Guin passed away in her home. Right up until this point she remained a vocal member of the writing community, and it’s a certainty that the words she spoke and wrote will still be read years from now. Ursula Le Guin deserves to be placed amongst the highest rank of authors and undoubtedly deserves to be remembered as what she was: a writer of many times.

A man would know the end he goes to, but he cannot know it if he does not turn, and return to his beginning, and hold that beginning in his being. If he would not be a stick whirled and whelmed in the stream, he must be the stream itself, all of it, from its spring to its sinking in the sea.

Ursula K. Le Guin, A Wizard of Earthsea