On January 22, 2018, the world lost one of the greatest voices in science fiction/fantasy. Ursula Le Guin (née Kroeber) was born in 1929, in Berkley, California. She was a daughter of anthropologist Alfred Louis Krober and writer Theodora Kracaw, and had three older brothers. She spent parts of her childhood in Napa Valley, where she was exposed to different cultures and ideas.[i] She studied French and Italian literature in Radcliffe College (B.A.), Columbia University (M.A.), and later went on to study in France. In 1953, she married historian Charles Le Guin. Together, they had three children.[ii]
Ursula wrote her first story at age nine and began writing regularly during her twenties. Not unlike many authors, she went through a lengthy period of literary rejections. In 1960s, she began publishing short stories in various literary journals.[iii] In 1968, she published A Wizard of Earthsea, the first book in The Earthsea Cycle Series, which had won the hearts of adults and adolescents alike. Among her countless other books were The Left Hand of Darkness (1969) and The Dispossessed (1974), both of which had won both Hugo and Nebula Awards.[iv]
I first came into contact with her books during my early teens. The moment I began reading A Wizard of Earthsea, I became captivated by the story of a village boy who grew to become a wizard. Up to this day, I wonder if this story had influenced Harry Potter, at least to some extent. Unfortunately, I moved on to other interests, and it was until very recently that I began to rediscover her books. At first, I felt a bit iffy about picking a fantasy/science fiction title, as I prefer the story to have contemporary setting. Yet I found myself enjoying her literary style—clear, concise, and yet descriptive.
Despite being set in alternate worlds, Ursula’s stories are based on real issues and concerns. Some of the recurring themes are rooted on sociology, anthropology, environmentalism, and religion.[v] As Margaret Atwood noted in her article, “Le Guin was always asking the same urgent question: what sort of world do you want to live in?”[vi] Throughout her lifetime, she was constantly concerned with the inequalities and injustices of the modern world.
Le Guin had undoubtedly contributed to the world of science fiction/fantasy and, broadly speaking, to the world literature. Her timeless tales about coming of age, overcoming inner struggles, and finding place in a complex world will forever remain in the readers’ memory.