Besides her Earthsea series, for which she is best known, Le Guin wrote dozens of other books that bent genre conventions. She composed poetry, wrote essay collections, and her short fiction is standard American canon today.
I first read Le Guin during my undergrad for a literary theory course. We had to analyze how Hegel’s master-slave dialectic manifests in Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas.” I couldn’t hold on to Hegel’s thoughts once I started the story. The world Le Guin creates in those three pages is staggering, enveloping, and ultimately chilling. It reads like a $10 million Twilight Zone episode, with sweeping vistas and a heartbreaking ending. So when I found out she had an entire fantasy series (Earthsea), I jumped at it.
Roke from Earthsea. | Image Via Pinterest (P. D. White)
And I don’t think there’s a fantasy writer better than Le Guin. While some writers rest on action that takes thousands of pages to unfold, Le Guin instead builds a rich interiority. A lot of the action takes place in her characters’ minds. And while some fantasy writers rely on established mythology (giants, centaurs, etc.), Le Guin bucked convention. For her, magic was not about spells or a rich bloodline. To her, magic was words. If you know the right word, you can control the thing. Earthsea is, at its heart, an ode to literature and communication. Besides that, Tehanu is one of the greatest books ever written. It’s a slow-building, feminist mother-daughter story right in the center of Ged’s hero’s journey that boils into an unforgettable, inevitable ending.
She inspired everybody from Neil Gaiman to J. K. Rowling to Michael Chabon to Patrick Rothfuss to David Mitchell. Chances are that if you’ve read a fantasy book written in the last fifty years, it owes a great debt to Le Guin.
I haven’t yet read the Hainish Cycle, but I am going to pick up Rocannon’s World as soon as I can. And I cannot wait to read Earthsea again and again. I hope you’ll give Le Guin a try, if you’re not already in love.
Feature Image Via Variety