Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Ursula K. LeGuin's birthday

I learned online today that it is the birthday of Ursula K. LeGuin - and I feel that this isn't something that should pass without comment, at least by me. I don't remember quite which day it was, or precisely how old I was, but I remember reading LeGuin and being terribly impressed with how real everything felt in it. When I mentioned this to my mother, she told me it could have something to do with the fact that Ursula K. LeGuin was the daughter of an anthropologist, Alfred L. Kroeber (her mother was a writer).

When I think about this now I wonder if it wasn't a moment that planted a seed in my head. Not that I detected it at the time.

I heartily recommend LeGuin's work to everyone, from her Earthsea books to The Left Hand of Darkness, The Telling, and Changing Planes... The list goes on and on. Her style is generally straightforward rather than florid, but the way she puts things will make you think. I did an analysis of her writing (a Ridiculously Close Look) earlier in this blog, which you can check out if you're interested, here.

In The Left Hand of Darkness she takes on the question of gender. This is central to our way of thinking, and she's put together a story that questions all of that by dealing with a people who have no gender - or who have both, depending on how you view it. One of the things I like about the story is that she uses multiple different means to convey her extensive thoughts on the subject of the people of Winter and their gender. She shows a human man's viewpoint on these people, and how he struggles with things like pronouns etc. But she doesn't stop there. She also takes us into the native perspective, allowing us to forget about the difficulty of pronouns and consider another view of human behavior. And she tells myths of these people, which speak volumes to a reader about what kinds of things are considered basic traits of human behavior in a vastly different model. There's too much richness here to consider it merely a feminist piece. If you never read it, you'll really be missing out.

When I first started writing, I thought to myself that I wanted to write like Ursula K. LeGuin. I discovered thereafter that my natural style wasn't much like hers - so I'm a bit more realistic about that at this point - but the fact remains that she was my first inspiration. The world is a richer place for her being in it.

Happy birthday, Ms. LeGuin, and thank you.