A farewell to Ursula K Le Guin 1929-2018

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I woke this morning to sad news: Ursula K Le Guin has died. She was 88 says The Guardian.


The first of her books I read was A Wizard of Earthsea. I was perhaps 12 or 13 when I heard someone read it aloud on BBC’s Jackanory. Wow! I bought it for pocket money in the Puffin edition sometime in the early 70s. I went on to read The Tombs of Atuan and The Farthest Shore, the two other titles in the original Earthsea trilogy that were also available from Puffin.

It wasn’t till I got to university in 1977, though, that I discovered she wrote SF as well as fantasy. Then I read The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed and after them everything else of hers I could find (including her poetry and essays). The Dispossessed was one of the books I chose to write about in my Bachelor essay. Something like: 100 years of Utopia and Dystopia. There was a longish period in my 20s and 30s when I re-read The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed on a more or less annual basis. I seemed to find something new to think about every time.

(She also wrote historical fiction – see my review of Orsinian Tales.)

The fan impulse

I never wrote to Ursula K Le Guin. I don’t write fan letters, though I came as close as I ever have a few years ago when a few ideas finally meshed in my slow brain and I realised how close in age she was to my mother. Ursula Kroeber was born in 1929, mum in 1922. I don’t understand the fan impulse – it often seems to be about “me-me-me-hey-person-I-admire-acknowledge-me”. But at the end of The Guardian obit they quote her saying of awards that they “are welcome and useful to me because they shore up my self-esteem, which wobbles as you get old…” So perhaps a fan letter would have helped in the same way.

Well, I didn’t do it and now it’s too late, but I might think about it in respect of other writers I admire.

For me Ursula K Le Guin was also an international bridge-builder. A love of Earthsea turned out to be one of the things Mrs SC and I had in common. And in Sundsvall, when I lived there, I discovered I was friends and neighbours with one of her Swedish translators. (Waves commiserations to Lena Jonsson who did correspond with Le Guin and will be considerably more affected by her death than I am.)

Death, as Ursula K Le Guin well knew, is the price we pay for living.

The Creation of Éa

Only in silence the word,
Only in dark the light,
Only in dying life:
Bright the hawk’s flight
On the empty sky.

Ursula K Le Guin: The two Ursulas
Ursula K Le Guin as a young and as an old woman. Behind them is the map of Earthsea (copyright U K LeGuin)

Ursula K Le Guin’s website: http://ursulakleguin.com/

I originally wrote this for my Facebook page. Transferred here (after I finally worked out how to make Photoshop create passable digital imitations of pencil drawings) on 24th May 2018.

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