Ursula Le Guin

Ursula Le Guin portrait image to appear alongside the Ursula Le Guin biography.

Ursula Kroeber Le Guin was born on the 21st October 1929 in California and is an American author of novels, poetry and short stories. She has won numerous awards during her distinguished career, notably the Fantasy Writers of America Grand Master award in 2003.

It is with Le Guin's fantasy series Earthsea that we will concentrate. In 1968, A Wizard of Earthsea was published and this was followed by The Tombs of Atuan in 1971, and The Farthest Shore in 1972. In 1990, Ursula Le Guin came back to the series with Tehanu. These four books now make up a new publication entitled The Earthsea Quartet. The Other Wind, published in 2001 completes the novels of Earthsea. A number of short stories also bridge gaps between the main novels. The Word of Unbinding and The Rule of Names (1975), plus Dragonfly and The Tales of Earthsea (2001) are all vital reading for all Earthsea fans.

There are strong themes of sociology and anthropology running through Ursula Le Guin's work and her attention to detail has been a factor in the worldwide popularity of her work.

Ursula Le Guin describes her working day as not thrilling in anyone else's eyes but one full of passion, excitement, anxiety, joy and grief to her.

The dark, dry, changeless world after death of Earthsea comes (in so far as I am conscious of its sources) from the Greco-Roman idea of Hades' realm, from certain images in Dante, and from one of Rilke's Elegies. A realm of shadow, dust, where nothing changes and "lovers pass each other in silence" - it seems a fairly common way of thinking about what personal existence after death would be, not a specifically modern one?

From: Ursula Le Guin being interviewed by The Guardian

The word feminist has often been thrown at Ursula Le Guin and at her books but in reality this very far from the truth. She simply makes the female characters in her books as important as the male's and ensures that they are characters and not stereotypes.

Ursula Le Guin has three children and four grandchildren and has lived in Portland since 1958. She wrote her first story at the age of eleven before earning a Bachelor of Arts from Radcliffe College and a Master of Arts from Columbia University. Later, studying in France she met her future husband Charles Le Guin.

When asked for her opinion on the Harry Potter novel, she said that she found the first Harry Potter book to be a "lively kid's fantasy crossed with a 'school novel'" but also found it "stylistically ordinary, imaginatively derivative, and ethically rather mean-spirited." It has been said that "Rowling can type, but Le Guin can write."

Within my field of work—imaginative fiction—I think I have had an appreciable effect on the representation of gender and of "race," specifically skin color. When I came into the field, the POV was totally male-centric and everybody was white. At first I wrote that way too. In science fiction, I joined the feminist movement when it reawoke in the late Sixties, early Seventies, and we did away with the squeaking Barbies and began to write actual women characters. In fantasy, my heroes were colored people when, as far as I know, nobody else's were. (And yet I still fight, every single fantasy jacket-cover, to get them represented as nonwhite).

From: Ursula Le Guin on Anarchism, Writing

Ursula Le Guin awards

  • National Book Award for The Farthest Shore
  • Nebula Award for Tehanu
  • Endeavour Award for The Tales from Earthsea

Ursula Le Guin books reviewed

Bibliography

The Earthsea Cycle

  • A Wizard of Earthsea (1968)
    The island of Gont is a land famous for wizards. Of these, some say the greatest - and surely the greatest voyager - is the man called Sparrowhawk. As a reckless, awkward boy, he discovered the great power that was in him - with terrifying consequences. Tempted by pride to try spells beyond his means, Sparrowhawk lets loose an evil shadow-beast in his land. Only he can destroy it, and the quest leads him to the farthest corner of Earthsea.
  • The Tombs of Atuan (1971)
    When young Tenar is chosen as high priestess to the ancient and nameless Powers of the Earth, everything is taken away - home, family, possessions, even her name. For she is now Arha, the Eaten One, guardian of the ominous Tombs of Atuan. While she is learning her way through the dark labyrinth, a young wizard, Ged, comes to steal the Tombs' greatest hidden treasure, the Ring of Erreth-Akbe. But Ged also brings with him the light of magic, and together, he and Tenar escape from the darkness that has become her domain.
  • The Farthest Shore (1972)
    Darkness threatens to overtake Earthsea: the world and its wizards are losing their magic. Despite being wearied with age, Ged Sparrowhawk -- Archmage, wizard, and dragonlord - embarks on a daring, treacherous journey, accompanied by Enlad's young Prince Arren, to discover the reasons behind this devastating pattern of loss. Together they will sail to the farthest reaches of their world - even beyond the realm of death - as they seek to restore magic to a land desperately thirsty for it.
  • Tehanu (1990)
    Years ago, they had escaped together from the sinister Tombs of Atuan - she, an isolated young priestess; he, a powerful wizard. Now she is a farmer's widow, having chosen for herself the simple pleasures of an ordinary life. And he is a broken old man, mourning the powers lost to him through no choice of his own.Once, when they were young, they helped each other at a time of darkness and danger and shared an adventure like no other. Now they must join forces again, to help another in need - the physically and emotionally scarred child whose own destiny has yet to be revealed.
  • The Other Wind (2001)
    The sorcerer Alder has the power of mending, but it may have become the power of destruction: every night he dreams of the wall between the land of the living and the land of the dead, and the wall is being dismantled. If the wall is breached, the dead will invade Earthsea. Ged, once Archmage of Earthsea, sends Alder to King Lebannen. Now Alder and the king must join with a burned woman, a wizard of forbidden lore, and a being who is woman and dragon both, in an impossible quest to save Earthsea.
  • Tales from Earthsea (2001)
    These five superlative, evocative and enchanting stories range from a few hundred years before A Wizard of Earthsea to just before The Other Wind, and feature some of Le Guin's most popular characters, including the Wizard Ged himself. The stories are rounded off with an essay about Earthsea's history and people. No Earthsea fan will want to be without this magical collection.

Novels

  • The Lathe of Heaven (1971)
    George Orr is a mild and unremarkable man who finds the world a less than pleasant place to live: seven billion people jostle for living space and food. But George dreams dreams which do in fact change reality - and he has no means of controlling this extraordinary power. Psychiatrist Dr William Haber offers to help. At first sceptical of George's powers, he comes to astonished belief. When he allows ambition to get the better of ethics, George finds himself caught up in a situation of alarming peril.The Word of Unbinding (1975)
  • The Rule of Names (1975)
  • Gifts (2004)
  • Voices (2006)
  • Powers (2007)

Critical acclaim

"Earthsea ... has made her name spell enchantment, gentle terror and pleasure to children and adults alike." Independent on Sunday

"We are ready for new parables, and here they are; we are in need of great adventures to lift us out of self and here, in these breath-taking fantasies, we find them." The Times Educational Supplement