[Ursula K. Le Guin photo by Jack Liu.]
It is with a heavy heart and a saddened soul that I write this tonight. Ursula K. Le Guin, renowned author of The Earthsea Cycle series and literally scores of other works like The Left Hand Of Darkness, has shuffled off this mortal coil. She died on Monday at her home in Portland, OR, according to the New York Times. She was 88.
While no cause of death was given, her recent failing health was no secret, though this news still comes as a shock to the literary world. She wrote often about magic, balance, and always layered in a sense of compassion to her works.
Born Ursula Kroeber in Berkeley, CA, she began writing as a pre-teen, starting first with short stories and moving on to larger works thereafter. Pursuing writing as a career seems to have always been her destiny; she was certainly exceptional at it. She graduated from Radcliffe College in 1951 and went on to Columbia University to attain a Master’s degree in Romance Literature the following year. She won a Fulbright fellowship to study abroad in Paris where she met her future husband, Charles Le Guin, also a Fulbright recipient. They later moved to Portland, OR, where they remained to raise a family.
It was shortly after this that she began composing novels and short stories in earnest, accumulating a collection of unpublished works that also helped her refine what she would later be best known for, fantasy fiction. But her writing was far different from most that saw print in those days and even in modern times. Her stories contained the normal fantasy staples of magic, dragons, and the like, but it was the way that characters interacted and successfully navigated their adventures that set her apart. Unlike the hack and slash storylines, her books offered more peaceful resolutions or compromises. Dialogue and interpersonal relations were more important points than waging war or seeking vengeance. Not to say that some this was not present, just that it was not the primary plot piece. The tales were character driven, speaking to relationships as the foundation for all things.
Personally, it was eye-opening for me at a young age to see this difference, though I may not have truly understood it when first reading the Earthsea novels. Long before I could define feminism, her writing explained it. Perhaps this was one of the reasons why I have always felt that the disparaging gap in the perception between the sexes was ridiculous. I will not claim to have read everything Le Guin composed, but I can attest that everything that I read of hers was amazing. I hope she understood that the five-plus decades of material that she gifted to the world was the true magic we all needed. What she wrote influenced people, changed lives, improved the world.
You might think it strange that I would use these terms to describe an author and her books, but truth be told, it is well deserved. Few people can impact others with the written word as she did. Her tales have been adapted into many forms ranging from feature films to television and radio programs, some live action and others animated. She received a number of awards over the years, including several Nebulas, Hugos, and more Locus awards than any other author ever. She was even given the title of Living Legend from the Library of Congress at the turn of the century. There are dozens more awards that she earned, but suffice to say that she was beloved and respected by her peers and fans.
She is survived by her husband Charles Le Guin and their children, a son and two daughters, as well as her four grandchildren and two brothers.
Le Guin was a self-proclaimed Taoist who sought balance and harmony in all things. It is my sincerest wish that she found that peace that she so often expressed in her work. Rest in peace, mighty scribe, you are both mourned and missed.
Goodbye and goodnight, Ursula K. Le Guin.
RIP Ursula K. Le Guin
October 21, 1929 – January 22, 2018
Neil Gaiman presents lifetime achievement award to Ursula K. Le Guin at 2014 National Book Awards