Ursula K. Le Guin: In Memoriam

I was saddened this morning to hear about the death of Ursula K. Le Guin, one of the giants of fantasy literature, and an author I have written about and taught for many years. I was asked to write a brief article about her for The Conversation, which is available to read here: https://theconversation.com/ursula-k-le-guins-strong-female-voice-challenged-the-norms-of-a-male-dominated-genre-90636

Here are also some of my favourite quotations from Le Guin’s Earthsea books and her essays about fantasy literature in The Language of the Night:

On the conception of The Wizard of Earthsea:

‘Serious consideration of magic, and of writing for kids, combined to make me wonder about wizards. Wizards are usually elderly or ageless Gandalfs, quite rightly and archetypically. But what were they before they had white beards? How did they learn what is obviously an erudite and dangerous art? Are there colleges for young wizards? And so on.’ (The Language of the Night, p. 51)

On challenging assumptions about race in her fantasy writing:

My color scheme was conscious and deliberate from the start… I didn’t see why everybody in heroic fantasy had to be white (and why all the leading women had “violet eyes”). It didn’t even make sense. Whites are a minority on Earth now – why wouldn’t they still be either a minority, or just swallowed up in the larger colored gene pool, in the future? The fantasy tradition I was writing in came from Northern Europe, which is why it was about white people. I’m white, but not European. My people could be any color I liked, and I like red and brown and black. I was a little wily about my color scheme. I figured some white kids (the books were published for “young adults”) might not identify straight off with a brown kid, so I kind of eased the information about skin color in by degrees – hoping that the reader would get “into Ged’s skin” and only then discover it wasn’t a white one. (A Whitewashed Earthsea)

On fantasy, dreaming, and the inner journey:

The great fantasies, myths and tales are indeed like dreams: they speak from the unconscious to the unconscious, in the language of the unconscious – symbol and archetype. Though they use words, they work the way music does: they short-circuit verbal reasoning, and go straight to the thoughts that lie too deep to utter. They cannot be translated fully into the language of reason, but only a Logical Positivist, who also finds Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony meaningless, would claim that they are therefore meaningless. They are profoundly meaningful, and usable – practical – in terms of ethics; of insight; of growth… It also seems to me that most of the great works of fantasy are about that journey [to self-knowledge]; and that fantasy is the medium best suited to a description of that journey, its perils and rewards. The events of a voyage into the unconscious are not describable in the language of rational daily life: only the symbolic language of the deeper psyche will fit them without trivializing them. (The Language of the Night, pp. 62, 65)

On magic and “true names” in Earthsea:

To change this rock into a jewel, you must change its true name. And to do that, my son, even to so small a scrap of the world, is to change the world. It can be done… But you must not change one thing, one pebble, one grain of sand, until you know what good and evil will follow on that act. The world is in balance, in Equilibrium. A wizard’s power of Changing and of Summoning can shake the balance of the world. It is dangerous, that power. It is most perilous. It must follow knowledge, and serve need. To light a candle is to cast a shadow… (A Wizard of Earthsea, chapter 3)

On action and self-knowledge:

“When I was young, I had to choose between the life of being and the life of doing. And I leapt at the latter like a trout to a fly. But each deed you do, each act, binds you to itself and to its consequences, and makes you act again and yet again. Then very seldom do you come upon a space, a time like this, between act and act, when you may stop and simply be, or wonder who, after all, you are.” (The Farthest Shore, chapter 3)

On life and death:

“Death and life are the same thing—like the two sides of my hand, the palm and the back. And still the palm and the back are not the same…They can be neither separated, nor mixed.” (The Farhest Shore, chapter 5)

Ursula K. Le Guin, 1929-2018. R.I.P.

 

References:

Le Guin, U.K. (1992) The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction. New York: HarperCollins.

Le Guin, U.K. (1993) The Earthsea Quartet. London: Penguin.

Le Guin, U.K. (2004) A Whitewashed Earthsea: How the Sci Fi Channel wrecked my books. Available at: http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/2004/12/a_whitewashed_earthsea.html

 

New article on J.R.R. Tolkien’s Father Christmas Letters in The Conversation

I had a new (festive) article published yesterday on the The Conversation, titled: “J.R.R. Tolkien’s Christmas letters to his children bring echoes of Middle-earth to the North Pole”. In this article I discuss the letters from Father Christmas Tolkien sent to his children, and the creation of an entire parallel Christmas mythology (alongside his Middle-earth legendarium) which appropriated American popular culture about Santa Claus, but also added new characters, details and even invented languages and scripts! Some of the research that went into this piece is also included in my first monograph, Tolkien, Race and Cultural History (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008).

You can read the entire article here.

Tolkien Sessions at IMC Leeds, July 2018

Tolkien Sessions at IMC Leeds, July 2018

I am very pleased to announce that all six sessions on J.R.R. Tolkien I proposed for the International Medieval Congress at Leeds 2018 have been accepted! This will be the fourth consecutive year of papers on J.R.R. Tolkien at IMC Leeds, after a successful series of sessions in 20152016 and 2017. Leeds is, of course, a Tolkien-related location, and it is very fitting that his work will be once again explored in this prestigious conference. Many thanks to Professor Thomas Honegger for his help with the IMC 2018 organizing. I am looking forward to a series of brilliant sessions and papers from well-established Tolkien scholars, alongside new voices and perspectives!

 

Here are the sessions titles, abstracts, papers, speakers and times:

 

Session 127
Title: Memory in Tolkien’s Medievalism, I
Session Time: Mon. 02 July – 11.15-12.45

Sponsor: Cardiff Metropolitan University
Organiser: Dimitra Fimi, Department of Humanities, Cardiff Metropolitan University
Moderator/Chair: Brad Eden, Christopher Center for Library & Information Resources, Valparaiso University, Indiana

Memory, Lore, Knowledge in Tolkien’s Legendarium
Thomas Honegger, Institut für Anglistik, Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena

World-Building and Memory in The Name-List to the ‘Fall of Gondolin’
Andrew Higgins, Independent Scholar, Brighton

The Smith, the Weaver and the Librarian: Sub-Creating Memory in Tolkien’s work
Gaëlle Abaléa, Centre d’Etudes Médiévales Anglaises (CEMA), Université Paris IV – Sorbonne

Tolkien’s Typological Imagination
Anna Smol, Department of English, Mount Saint Vincent University, Nova Scotia

 

Session 227
Title: Memory in Tolkien’s Medievalism, II
Session Time: Mon. 02 July – 14.15-15.45

Sponsor: Cardiff Metropolitan University
Organiser: Dimitra Fimi, Department of Humanities, Cardiff Metropolitan University
Moderator/Chair: Andrew Higgins, Independent Scholar, Brighton

Tolkien Remembering Tolkien: Textual Memory in the 1977 Silmarillion
Gergely Nagy, Independent Scholar, Budapest

Remembering and Forgetting: National Identity Construction in Tolkien’s Middle-Earth
Sara Brown, Independent Scholar, Conwy

Longing to Remember, Dying to Forget: Memory and Monstrosity
Penelope Holdaway, Department of Humanities, Cardiff Metropolitan University

‘Forgot even the stones’: Stone Monuments and Imperfect Cultural and Personal Memories in The Lord of the Rings
Kristine Larsen, Department of Geological Sciences, Central Connecticut State University

 

Session 311
Title: ‘New’ Tolkien: Expanding the Canon
Session Time: Mon. 02 July – 16.30-18.00
Sponsor: Cardiff Metropolitan University
Organiser: Dimitra Fimi, Department of Humanities, Cardiff Metropolitan University
Moderator/Chair: Dimitra Fimi

‘I will give you a name’: Sentient Objects in Tolkien’s Fiction
J. Patrick Pazdziora, College of Liberal Arts, Shantou University, China

Tolkien’s ‘The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun’ and The Lay of Leithian
Yvette Kisor, School of American & International Studies, Ramapo College of New Jersey

Invented Language and Invented Religion: Tolkien’s Innovative Symbolic Systems and New Religious Movements
Nathan Fredrickson, Department of Religious Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara

The Grammar of Historical Memory in Tolkien’s Legendarium: The Tale of Beren and Lúthien
Christian F. Hempelmann and Robin Anne Reid, Department of Literature & Languages, Texas A&M University, Commerce

 

Session 749
Title: Tolkien: Medieval Roots and Modern Branches, I
Session Time: Tue. 03 July – 14.15-15.45

Sponsor: Cardiff Metropolitan University
Organiser: Thomas Honegger, Institut für Anglistik, Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena
Moderator/Chair: Anna Smol, Department of English, Mount Saint Vincent University, Nova Scotia

Some Boethian Themes as Tools of Characterization in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings
Andrzej Wicher, Zakład Dramatu i Dawnej Literatury Angielskiej, Uniwersytet Łódzki

Eldest: Tom Bombadil and Fintan Mac Bóchra
Kris Swank, Northwest Campus Library, Pima Community College, Arizona

Under the Wings of Shadow: Mental Health and the Price of Civilization in The Lord of the Rings
Hilary Justice, Ernest Hemingway Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, Boston, Massachusetts

Hobbits: The Un-Recorded People of Middle-Earth
Aurélie Brémont, Centre d’Études Médiévales Anglaises (CEMA), Université Paris IV – Sorbonne

 

Session 849
Title: Tolkien: Medieval Roots and Modern Branches, II
Session Time: Tue. 03 July – 16.30-18.00

Sponsor: Cardiff Metropolitan University
Organiser: Thomas Honegger, Institut für Anglistik, Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena
Moderator/Chair: Thomas Honegger

Longing for Death: Tolkien and Sehnsucht
Anna Vaninskaya, School of Literatures, Languages & Cultures, University of Edinburgh

Tolkien’s Agrarianism in its Time
Joshua Richards, Faculty of English, Williams Baptist College, Arkansas

Frodo Surrealist: André Breton and J. R. R. Tolkien on Dreams
Claudio Antonio Testi, Independent Scholar, Modena

A Man of His Time?: Tolkien and the Edwardian Worldview
Brad Eden, Christopher Center for Library & Information Resources, Valparaiso University, Indiana

 

Session 949
Title: Tolkien in Context(s): A Round Table Discussion
Session Time: Tue. 03 July – 19.00-20.00

Sponsor: Cardiff Metropolitan University
Organiser: Dimitra Fimi, Department of Humanities, Cardiff Metropolitan University
Moderator/Chair: Dimitra Fimi

Participants:

Yvette Kisor, School of American & International Studies, Ramapo College of New Jersey

Kristine Larsen, Department of Geological Sciences, Central Connecticut State University

Irina Metzler, College of Arts & Humanities, Swansea University

Gergely Nagy, Independent Scholar, Budapest

Sara L. Uckelman, Institute of Medieval & Early Modern Studies, Durham University