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Creating Worlds of Possibility

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  • Dan Clore
    News & Views for Anarchists & Activists: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/smygo Tacoma, WA Friday, November 5, 2004 Creating worlds of possibility LISA KREMER;
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 5, 2004
      News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:

      Tacoma, WA
      Friday, November 5, 2004
      Creating worlds of possibility
      LISA KREMER; The News Tribune

      Ursula K. Le Guin, the award-winning author of fantasy,
      science fiction and poetry, has promised the producers of a
      new miniseries based on her works, "Earthsea," that she
      won't talk about the project publicly.

      But it's possible to guess her opinions on casting -- a
      subject that has die-hard fans atwitter.

      Ged, the main character, a conflicted but powerful magician,
      will be played by Shawn Ashmore -- a fair-skinned man best
      known for playing Iceman in "X2." In Le Guin's novels, on
      which the miniseries is based, Ged has red-brown skin. In
      Earthsea, most white people are villains.

      "That was a completely deliberate political act," Le Guin
      said recently of her racial choices in "A Wizard of
      Earthsea," first published in 1968.

      "Fantasy has been pretty much a white game," she said. "I
      was sick of that already in 1968. I thought, this is silly,
      this is stupid."

      So she wrote a three-volume fantasy epic -- which has won
      many awards and been compared to "The Lord of the Rings" and
      C.S. Lewis' "Narnia" series -- in which the main characters
      are red-brown and black.

      Most of Le Guin's heroes, in fact, are what people in the
      United States today would call minorities. In Le Guin's
      science-fiction worlds, delegates from Earth to other
      planets often are black or Indian (from India); back on
      Earth, white people make a hash of the planet, destroying
      natural resources and each other in the name of greed or

      Le Guin has steadily published science-fiction and fantasy
      novels since 1966. She's experiencing a resurgence of
      popularity with the coming airing of "Earthsea" on the Sci
      Fi Channel; a new young-adult fantasy, "Gifts"; and the
      reissue of one of her most popular young-adult novels, "Very
      Far Away from Anywhere Else."

      A Portland resident, Le Guin has become one of the most
      respected names in science fiction and fantasy. Her
      complicated characters and philosophically constructed
      universes defy the stereotype for speculative fiction,
      usually considered a great landscape for alien monsters,
      preposterous wars or endearing talking dragons.

      Le Guin uses her fiction to delve not only into racial
      issues, but gender stereotypes, sexual-orientation
      expectations and governing philosophies.

      She's one of science fiction and fantasy's most political
      authors, sometimes called an anarchist because of her
      detailed description of a successful anarchic society in one
      of her earliest books, "The Dispossessed."

      But in many of her books, Le Guin's political and
      philosophical explorations take second place to her
      characters. She's a master at describing complicated
      emotions and relationships in clear, direct writing.

      "Gifts," for example, is a young-adult novel of a boy
      learning to handle his unwanted, terrible magical abilities.
      It's a coming-of-age novel, set in a fictitious land where
      magic is more of a curse than a blessing.

      "Learning how to live in the world is what that's all
      about," she said. "This is not an easy world. Somewhere
      between 12 and 18 is where you feel that most intensely."

      Le Guin is 75, a long way from those painful teen years.
      When her agent suggested she write a young-adult novel to
      take part in the fantasy craze inspired by Harry Potter, Le
      Guin at first was hesitant.

      "I said, 'Oh, I'm too old,'" she said. "And she said, 'But
      you remember.' And I said, 'Yes, I do.'"

      Le Guin often tries to make her messages subtle.

      In "A Wizard of Earthsea," readers don't learn Ged is
      red-brown until several chapters in, after he's already
      vanquished barbarian invaders to his village, studied with a
      local magician, and rebelliously decided to leave his home
      for greater learning at a magician's college.

      "You can flip a kid into somebody else's skin, and then you
      tell them what color they are after several chapters," Le
      Guin said. "It's a sneaky trick, but it's a fair trick."

      Sneaky or not, her nonwhite readers have noticed.

      "I've had really, really touching letters, both from England
      and from America, who've said, 'Earthsea is the only fantasy
      book I can read, because it's the only book I'm in. I don't
      see myself in fantasy.'"

      Le Guin was born in Berkeley, Calif., the daughter of Alfred
      L. Kroeber, considered one of the founders of American
      anthropology. Her mother, Theodora Kroeber, was a writer
      whose book "Ishi" was a cultural study of an American Indian
      the Kroebers worked with in the mid-1910s.

      She graduated from Radcliffe College in 1951, got a master's
      degree from Columbia in 1952 and married historian Charles
      Le Guin in 1953. They discovered Portland in 1958. The
      rebellious city fits her well and is a wonderful place to
      raise children, she said. The Le Guins have three children
      and three grandchildren.

      She has mixed feelings about Harry Potter. Anything that
      gets children to read is great, she said. But reviewers have
      compared author J.K. Rowling's school for wizards to
      Earthsea's wizards' school, and Le Guin thinks that
      misrepresents her writing.

      "Her wizards . . . use their wizardry just against each
      other. It’s a competitive sport," she said, "whereas my
      Earthsea books are really kind of a study of power. What's
      good about having unlimited power, what's bad about it,
      what's the responsibility, what does it do to you as a
      person to have power.

      "I think in my Earthsea books, the wizards are testing
      themselves in a kind of real world, where it's not full of
      Muggles, it's full of real people with problems. That's a
      big difference. It's partly the difference between a child’s
      book and a young adult book."

      Le Guin's best-known books are based in Earthsea, a complex
      fantasy world, and in an extensive futuristic
      science-fiction universe, referred to as the Ekumen. But
      she's also written a series of children's books called
      "Catwings," essays on writing, several books of poetry and a
      translation of Lao Tzu's "Tao Te Ching."

      "She knows that the world can be funny as well as sad,
      pedestrian as well as magical, and that we're connected to
      the humor and the magic as well as to the sadness and the
      pain," author Vonda McIntyre said when Le Guin was named a
      "Grand Master" in 2003 by the Science Fiction Writers of

      Author Susanna Clarke, whose recent book "Jonathan Strange &
      Mr. Norrell" is being heralded as the latest great fantasy
      novel, said she was inspired by Le Guin's work in the
      Earthsea series.

      "She made magic real . . . part of the world. You felt as if
      magic must be like this," Clarke said. She said she tried to
      make the magic in "Strange" have the same feeling: "Like it
      was almost ordinary and mundane, and it produces all sorts
      of ordinary problems."

      Le Guin said she tries to use her artificial worlds to open
      new possibilities to her readers.

      She's tired of people who say, "Oh, you write science
      fiction? I don't read that kind of thing," "I feel like
      saying, 'What do you do, watch Fox News?'"

      Science fiction and fantasy offer opportunities to broaden
      thought, she said.

      "That's what's so great about science fiction and fantasy,
      is that you can put your readers into a world that's really
      different, maybe in a worse way or in a better way, but you
      can show people that there are more possibilities than we
      usually think of.

      "Like in (her 1969 book) 'The Left Hand of Darkness,' having
      people that are both genders. If people can identify with
      that, they can open doors in their mind, rather than
      thinking, I'm just a woman, I identify myself as a woman."

      In science fiction and fantasy, she said, "a lot of doors
      are open that we often think are shut. Mental doors, doors
      of possibility."

      SPEAKING TONIGHT: Ursula K. Le Guin will speak at 6 tonight
      at The Elliott Bay Book Co., 101 S. Main St., Seattle. For
      information, call the bookstore at 206-624-6600.

      MINISERIES: "Earthsea," a four-hour miniseries based on the
      first two books of Le Guin’s Earthsea books, is scheduled to
      premiere on the Sci Fi Channel at 9 p.m. Dec. 13. The series
      will star Shawn Ashmore, Kristin Kreuk, Danny Glover and
      Isabella Rosellini. For information, check
      http://www.scifi.com .

      GO ONLINE: Le Guin’s Web site:

      Dan Clore

      Now available: _The Unspeakable and Others_
      Lord Weÿrdgliffe & Necronomicon Page:
      News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:

      "It's a political statement -- or, rather, an
      *anti*-political statement. The symbol for *anarchy*!"
      -- Batman, explaining the circle-A graffiti, in
      _Detective Comics_ #608
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