Winter Passages   Leave a comment

Author and activist Ursula Kroeber Le Guin, most famous for her Earthsea trilogy and for The Dispossessed and The Left Hand of Darkness, passed on Monday, aged 88.

Ursula-le-Guin

Le Guin in 2014

You can read an assortment of obituaries and tributes here: CNN | NYTimes | Oregon Live | The Washington Post.

To hear Le Guin in her own words, a keen delight for her many fans, here [Vimeo link] is the 2014 National Book Award introduction by Neil Gaiman and a 5-minute acceptance speech by Le Guin, with her wit and sharp intelligence on full display [her remarks begin around 5:27].

Among other salient points, Le Guin observes in her short speech, “I think hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies, and can even imagine some real grounds for hope”.

Le Guin’s masterwork for many will remain A Wizard of Earthsea, the book that brought us a school for wizards decades before Rowling’s Hogwarts. No, it’s not a competition, but first loves hold a special place in the heart. The first installment of the Earthsea trilogy, Wizard is 50 years old this year, appearing in 1968.

Everyone has their justifiably favorite passages; mine remains this one. The main character Ged has recovered from the stupor of severely overspending his power in an attempt to save a dying child, the son of his friend. Without the touch of his pet otak, he realizes he might never have awakened.

It was only the dumb instinctive wisdom of the beast who licks his hurt companion to comfort him, and yet in that wisdom Ged saw something akin to his own power, something that went as deep as wizardry. From that time forth he believed that the wise man is one who never sets himself apart from other living things, whether they have speech or not, and in later years he strove long to learn what can be learned, in silence, from the eyes of animals, the flight of birds, the great slow gestures of trees (A Wizard of Earthsea, 1984 Bantam Edition, pg. 82).

With a clear moral vision of profound responsibility we hold along with our power, Le Guin cuts through the lies we tell ourselves, and reminds us with her clean and powerful prose of our birthright, our duty and our promise.

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Image: Le Guin.

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