Ursula K. Le Guin: ‘Source to nourish the uncolonised mind’

Ursula K. Le Guin: 21 October 1929 – 22 January 2018

by Scott Macdonald • I generally do not weep when my heroes die. I do for Ursula K. Le Guin, speculative fiction writer, poet, scholar and genius, gone at the age of 88. Tears of joy that her writing and wisdom was shared to me, and sorrow that it has been silenced.

Her readers know what has happened, what the world has lost and it wounds us. Like her fictional world of Earthsea in The Farthest Shore—the world has ruptured; colour, knowledge, and magic seeps away.

Le Guin leaves a vast body of work; volumes of simply-hewn poetry, short stories brimming with ideas, politically charged cycles of fantasy and life-examining essays.

Celebrated in specialist literature; winning lifetime-achievement awards, including a Grand Master from the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America.

Her fans kept her in their hearts as a counsellor and exacting comrade—the best teacher they never had. None exemplified that participatory bond between reader and skilled storyteller more for me.

Her books are sources to nourish the uncolonised mind. Worlds come fully-formed, sketched with an anthropologist’s eye.

Her stories are simpler but their telling challenges readers. Characters take root, burrowing in space where they live, breathe and struggle.

Many such struggles remain to this day: oppression, power, domination, and corrupt ideology.

They fight through crises of conscience, motivation and failure. Adult life has its wonder, splendour, joy and richness, but it never stops being hard, and we are bound to endure, struggle, share and educate.

She would combine her great literary artistry to complex subjects in short, evocative and playful essays—written for and to be read as pleasure.

On finding out that an acquaintance reads Le Guin, it acts as a shibboleth. Sharing her work says “this person can be trusted” with human justice, imagination and what really, really good stories, invention and the right words delivered in the right way can mean.

Fiercely political, Le Guin never shied from challenge. Her National Book Awards speech throws down further challenges:

“Books aren’t just commodities; the profit motive is often in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable—but then, so did the divine right of kings.

“Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art. Very often in our art, the art of words.”

Grab a book, find a comfortable chair and godspeed.

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