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Ursula K. Le Guin – In Memoriam

The Dispossessed (cover)I feel I owe you, my readers, something this evening. Why am I so utterly devastated? Why am I going to sleep with a first edition of The Dispossessed under my pillow? Ursula K. Le Guin has died, and nothing is normal. Let me explain.

As a small child, between the ages of 5 and 10, I’d already been exposed to fantasy by my parents. Despite how much my mother will always disapprove, James and the Giant Peach, the Narnia books, and others have set the scene.

So I go to primary school. Born premature, blessed with zero coordination, school will always be a challenge for me as larger children take their physical dues. However during English class, my teacher reads me The Tombs of Atuan. Let me tell you, the second of Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea books works fine without the context. I am smitten. I still write stories today about characters in underground labyrinths.

I go to the library and, for the first time in my life, see a glorious wall of science fiction and fantasy books in front of me. I need to know what happens. I check out A Wizard of Earthsea.

A Wizard of Earthsea (cover)My god, I get nightmares for months! I was terrified of the shadow monster. To the extent I couldn’t sleep. When I finally read the section where Ged faces the shadow monster and it runs from him, I can sleep again. I have undergone a profound transformation.

Cut to the future. Many years. Now instead of a child, I am a young man resitting his first year of university, who probably should have been diagnosed with depression. After and incredibly grim period of my life, my brother passes me his copy of The Dispossessed. I am wakened. Both in terms of political awareness and my forgotten love of science fiction. I am awake again, I have a purpose.

Fast forward another however many years. I’ve graduated from my Masters, and while I apply for jobs I’m working in a call centre. As a reward for the gruelling 24 hour shifts, I allow myself to visit Blackwells and to purchase a spanking new copy of The Lathe of Heaven, which has just been made part of the SF Masterworks series.

Two years later. As I face depression and institutional bullying in my day job again, the thing that keeps me going is the ratty copy of Always Coming Home that is wrecking the pockets of my jacket I wear into work.

So here I am. Ursula K. Le Guin’s incredible writing has shaped both my artistic and political thinking for my entire life. Which is why on hearing of her death I ordered another pint at the bar and am about to go to sleep with the first edition of The Dispossessed under my pillow. Ursula K. Le Guin, I can never thank you enough for how your writing has shaped my life. Though I never met you, I will miss you. All the best.

Ursula K. Le Guin (detail)

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3 Comments

  1. AM Justice says:

    Thank you for this beautifully written memorial. It perfectly expresses my own thoughts about this great author and the impact of her work on my life. I will miss her more than I miss family members who have passed. She is the mother, mentor, and role model I never met, and her worldview and writing shaped mine in profound ways.

  2. Beatrycze says:

    I started reading her books when I was at primary school, together with novels of Lewis and Tolkien. But she was closer to me, I can say.

    I was totally amazed by the ending of Wizard of Earthsea. I wrote down the verses about light being the left hand of darkness and learnt it by hart. together with a bunch of other quotes. I enjoyed reading about Rocannon’s journey and the planet of exile. As I became older I saw more and more nuances of course. Some of her books helped me to survive some difficult moments in my life. Reading them again was like coming home.

    Today I cannot say if I had similar sensitivity as her or I owe my way of looking at world at least partly from her. I think that her view and opinions shaped my mind, somehow part of her became the part of me. And that this part is important as it was shaped while I was very young.

    So I owe her much and I will remember.

    I think that is a measure of the greatness of an artist – to change lives and minds of other people.

  3. Thank you for such a heartfelt goodbye. I have not read many of her stories, yet, but I know I will love them all. People with her gift are so special to our ordinary lives and to be grateful is to show them the ultimate respect. As a writer I can only hope that even one person could be touched by something I wrote, and Ursula touched millions. My personal wake-up author was Ray Bradbury so when he died I felt as you do, so sad, as if the world lost a very bright light. We honour these people forever by striving to understand their gifts and by sharing them with other. I am now more motivated to read Ursula’s books because of your post. Namaste KQ

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