Ursula le Guin: 21st October, 1929 – 22nd January, 2018

24th January, 2018

Dear Ursula

I've been meaning to write this letter to you for a long time -- years, in fact. This morning, I found out that I am too late: you are dead. 

It's not a surprise; you were eighty-eight years old, and you had been experiencing poor health for some time. Yet still the news of your death is a shock to my system. You are... were one of those intellectual, creative, and ethical giants whose existence has stood as a reassuring fact throughout my life. (And now you are gone, just when we need you most.)

From Earthsea to Gethen to Omelas, from a journey in a wooden boat on stormy waters, to wanderings between distant stars, you have taken me on many journeys: journeys of the imagination, yes, but also of the heart, and the intellect, and of deep ethical and moral formation. The beautiful distillations of human and more-than-human truth in your writings are far too numerous to quote back to you here, but I do want to reflect on what it is I have learned from you over the years, from just the small selection of your lifetime's work that I have read.

The first book of yours that I read, like so many of my friends, was A Wizard of Earthsea. I learned two vital lessons from this book that I have rarely found elsewhere, and certainly not so beautifully, clearly and poetically transmitted.

Firstly, to do only what is mine to do. Ogion, Ged's master, sums this up: "...the truth is that as a man's real power grows and his knowledge widens, ever the way he can follow grows narrower: until at last he chooses nothing, but does only and wholly what he must do..."

The second thing that I learned from this book, and more deeply that from any other external source, was the vital task and power of bringing our shadows home: of owning all parts of ourself, of naming and welcoming them as us.

From so many of your books, I absorbed the importance of compassion; not syrupy sympathy, nor a forgiving others of their responsibility for their actions, but a depth of being, of attention, and a reaching out in connection, heart to heart, with another being. It is, in many ways, the golden thread that for me runs through all of your work. I found it in The Left Hand of Darkness, in The Dispossessed, in Tehanu, in Changing Planes: an aching resonance with the life that you and I and all beings share.

I did not always find myself in agreement with your premise or your conclusions; one place I found myself at variance with you was in The Telling. It is a beautiful tale, and the idea that stories must be told, that they must not be lost, is one with which I wholeheartedly agree. But not all stories are to be found in books, and stories beyond books and written words have a life of their own, breathing and moving and subtly changing with every telling. That your focus in The Telling was only on stories that are fixed (trapped) in books saddened me.

But that is a minor niggle to place against the storehouse of beauty and passion and wisdom you shared with us, your readers, over the course of your life. I am glad that there are still so many of your works that I have yet to read for the first time, as well as those I have already read and can return to with ever new eyes, mind and experience.

Thank you, from the depths of me. I shall miss your presence in the world. Long may your name be remembered, and your legacy bear fruit.

Yours sincerely

Elinor xx


Image credit: photograph by The Nerd Patrol, used under license CC BY 2.0 

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