I learned yesterday that Ursula K Le Guin passed away.
The news didn’t startle me, as I know that the legendary science fiction writer was getting on in years. 88 years old? We can only wish to live so long.
Still, knowing this does not lessen this great loss. Many far more articulate individuals have articulated their feelings on the passing of Ursula K Le Guin. Many who knew her personally. Many lifelong fans. I feel like I should share my relationship with her work in a concise in meaningful way.
In many regards, Ursula K Le Guin helped my writing.
I first learned of Ursula K Le Guin back as a middle school kid. I read in an anime magazine that Hayao Miyazaki’s son, Goro Miyazaki, was attached to an adaptation of some book called Earthsea? Great. The name sounded familiar. Perhaps I had read about it in passing online before.
When I hear about an upcoming film based on a book, I often like to read the book before seeing the film. As such, I picked up the first entry to the Earthsea series, The Wizard of Earthsea, from my local library. I would later learn that Studio Ghibli’s Tales of Earthsea was an adaptation of the third and fourth books in the series, but, in hindsight, I can’t imagine jumping into the middle of the series without the context of the earlier books.
As a young reader, I had a casual interest in fantasy. I liked Harry Potter (which Ursula K Le Guin half-joked shared much in common with her Earthsea novels), but I didn’t really realize the full scope of what fantasy as a genre could be. Not at that age. While I enjoyed Earthsea, I didn’t get it as a teen. Not enough sword fights and fighting for my young sensibilities. Stupid kid.
Only years later did I discover my second Ursula K Le Guin story: The Left Hand of Darkness. Even being a young millennial in college did not prepare me for the radical viewpoints of Le Guin, who proposed of a world, Gethem, with a vastly unique perspective on gender orientation. It, along with many other things, forced me to reevaluate the gender binary society had reinforced as logical for so many years.
I sought out more of Ursula K Le Guin’s works after that, and read the entire Earthsea saga. At that age, the thing that struck me most about Earthsea, beyond the incredible magic system and adventure, was the diverse races on display. Not elves or dwarves, but people of all sorts of color. A minor detail, yes, but I couldn’t help but realize how I as a reader would often expect characters to appear a certain way due to my own personal ethnocentrism. It forced me to reevaluate how I saw and interpreted literature.
Never before or since have I felt submerged in a world totally unlike my own. It inspired me to craft fantasy worlds where readers could lose themselves, and, upon returning home, question why certain social norms and patterns exist at all.
In many respects, I owe my liberal worldview in part to Ursula K Le Guin’s literature.
I cannot say I have read all of Ursula K Le Guin’s works. I have never read, for example, The Dispossessed, which many regard as among her finest works. I have yet to read The Lathe of Heaven, though, counter-active to my usual policy about book adaptations, I have sought out the PBS adaptation on Youtube, which I shall link below for the curious.
But for me, when I think of Ursula K Le Guin, I think of Earthsea. I think of Gethen. I think of progressive worlds where our definitions of race, nature, and gender are pushed. I think of worlds that forced me to redefine my world perspectives.
For even that alone, knowing that Ursula K Le Guin passed away makes this year feel a little darker.