The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction by Ursula K. Le Guin
Harper Collins, New York, 1992
Before the days of “Harry Potter” and Peter Jackson’s wonderful “Lord of the Rings”, fantasy for children and adults was a struggling genre. Now it can be a marketing phenomenon. One of the people who made success possible for J.K. Rowling and Stephenie Myers is author and critic Ursula K. Le Guin. She made it possible by being a brilliant writer and a fierce supporter of both fantasy and science fiction.
Le Guin’s Wizard of Earthsea was my first introduction to “modern” fantasy. I had tried reading Tolkien in seventh grade but the style was just too dense. I had read Lewis, Kipling, White, Carroll and all the fairy tales and ghost stories I could get my hands on. My small town library had the classics and very little else. I was at a loss. Then, around the same time, I discovered The Earthsea Trilogy and The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle, and my life changed forever.
Le Guin’s book of essays is a treasure, and, I think, a must read for readers and writers of fantasy. The essays, written in the early 1970’s, are arguments for the critical acceptence of fantasy and science fiction. They demand that both forms qualify as “literature”. They are well structured and layered with the history of myths, legends and fairy tales. She supports her position with Jungarian psychology and makes references to unusual works of fantasy, including Islandia by Austin Tappan Wright. Some of these essays may seem a bit dated but they all contain wonderful insight and Le Guin’s biting sense of humor.
The book also includes introductions to several early novels, essays about the craft of writing and talks given at award ceremonies and writers conference .
I greatly appreciate Le Guin’s thoughts about children and her understanding of their needs, abilities and intellect.
The young creature does need protection and shelter. But it also needs the truth. It seems to me that the way you can talk absolutely honestly and factually to children about good and evil is to talk to the self – the inner, deepest self. That is something children can and do cope with; indeed, our job in growing up is to become ourselves…What we need to grow up is reality, the wholeness which exceeds human virture and vice. We need knowledge, we need self-knowledge. We need to see our selves and the shadows we cast. The Child and the Shadow, 1974
And her love of the imagination.
...I believe that maturity is not an outgrowing, but a growing up: that an adult is not a dead child but a child who survived. I believe that all the best facilities of a mature human being exist in the child, and that if these facilities are encouraged in youth they will act well and wisely in the adult, but if they are repressed and denied in the child they will stunt and cripple the adult personality. And finally, I believe that one of the most deeply human, and humane, of these facilities is the power of the imagination.. Why Americans are Afraid of Dragons, 1974
Ursula K Le Guin continues to write for adults, young adults and children. Her novel, Powers , was recently won the Nebula Award for Best Novel of 2008.