Ursula K. Le Guin, American author

2001 Interview with Ursula K. Le Guin

Martin: I wanted to talk to you especially about writing Earthsea. My first question is what drew you back to that world, years after writing Tehanu, which you called at the time the “last” book of Earthsea?

Le Guin: Well, when I finished Tehanu, I really thought I’d probably come to the end of the story. And I had in many ways. I got them together and so on. But, I did leave a big unanswered question at the end of the book: who is the child Tehanu, who or what is she? The dragon [Kalessin] has called her “daughter.” What does that mean? So there were a lot of questions hanging. At the time I thought, well, that’s alright, you don’t have to answer all the questions at the end of a book.

But as time went on through the ’90s, I kept thinking about Earthsea, and I found myself going back in its history to find out some questions that puzzled me about the way things are in that place.

And I began getting answers. In other words, I began getting stories.

[Click on the photo above to read the rest of the 2001 interview with Ursula K. Le Guin.]

Hansel and Gretel, a Grimm fairy tale

Is Fantasy Subversive?

Fantasy is a way to introduce a type of creative questioning, a way to shake up, or sneak by, conventional perception. C.S. Lewis noted that “the Fairy Tale seemed the ideal Form for the stuff I had to say.” By writing fantasy stories, he suspected that he “could steal past certain inhibitions . . .”

Watership Down

Fantasy Books . . . What’s in a Label?

How useful are genre labels? Book categories? Age-range banding of books for children or adults? “Affixing ‘labels’ to writers, living or dead, is an inept procedure . . . a childish amusement of small minds.” – J.R.R. Tolkien

Mary Poppins, by P.L. Travers

Cut the Disney Sugar and Read the Mary Poppins Books

With sweets, it’s best to avoid the addictive, fat-producing, highly processed substance in your diet. The same is true for literary works. Why get sucked into the intellectual tooth-decay of adapted movies when you can read the stuff that’s really good? – the original work.

The Marvelous Land of Snergs, book cover

The Origin of The Hobbit – Holes, Snippets, and Snergs

Where did The Hobbit come from? “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” According the now well-known story: “. . . grading papers . . . he came across a page which had been left blank. . . . an inveterate doodler . . . on that blank page, Tolkien wrote the sentence, ‘In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.’” But significantly, Tolkien was also very familiar with a 1927 book titled The Marvelous Land of the Snergs, about a race of small human-like beings, “only slightly taller than the average table.”

Hobbit Haiku

Spiders fear its sting. / The elf sword is ever-sharp. / Wait, there’s more. Call now!

The Little Prince, cover

Fantasy is not Escapist Literature

A recent study on children’s reading habits noted the dominance of fantasy: “capturing 56 percent of the market share.” Other categories didn’t come close, scoring under 10% each. But what I found unfortunate (if predictable) was social-media commentary that there was a “strong correlation to children’s reading preferences for fantasy and magic . . . as a means of escape from the news headlines of today.” But there’s far more to fantasy if you look deeper. To quote Lloyd Alexander: “Fantasy is hardly an escape from reality. It is a way to understand it.”

Ringers: Lord of the Fans

Ringers: Lord of the Fans – Insight from Fans into Tolkien’s LOTR

Fantasy is like an exercise bike, said Terry Pratchett, British fantasy author, interviewed in the 2005 fan-documentary, Ringers: Lord of the Fans. It doesn’t actually take you anywhere, he said, but it develops the muscles [of belief] that will.

Like Water for Chocolate, by Laura Esquivel

Magic Realism and Fantasy Literature

Magical Realism is a form of fantasy literature that produces stories in which fantastic things happen, often unexpectedly, in the midst of realistic everyday settings and events. These marvelous occurrences may be quite mysterious and capricious. In these stories, magic is more likely to act as an independent force rather than a tool used by the story’s characters.

The Little Mermaid, by Hans Christian Andersen

Fairy-Tale Fiction in Fantasy Literature

A third ring of fantasy, distinct from the sweeping canvas of High Fantasy and the rollicking escapades of Adventure Fantasy, is the delicate canvas of the Fairy Tale. While a smaller canvas, it is no less ambitious; think of a miniature painting, which still contains an entire world within its borders. Fairy-tale fantasy serves up a cluster of psychologically rich stories. These deep tales are rife with domestic problems, dreadful challenges, and astounding transformation and redemption.

The Magicians, by Lev Grossman

The Demands of Magic in Fantasy Literature – Grossman’s The Magicians

In Lev Grossman’s delightful, if slightly disturbing, 2009 book, The Magicians, the author draws high fantasy’s sword from the stone one more time, but sharpens and hardens the edge to slice and dice a re-imagining of a fantasy world that is tougher, more mature, and more realistic than the high-school world of Harry Potter or that of Narnia’s more innocent children.

Young Advocates Propelled Some Famous Fantasy Classics to Publication

A curious coincidence? I noticed that three blockbuster works of fantasy got published, at least according to the stories told by their own publishers, when a young reader of the manuscript (or self-published book in one of the cases) happened to recommend the work to an adult parent who was influential in the literary world.

A Game of Thrones, by George R.R. Martin

George R.R. Martin and Adventure Fantasy

Similar in many respects to high fantasy, the adventure version of fantasy literature has a distinctly different core philosophy. While high fantasy tends to elevate its story to noble Crusade, the adventure fantasy embraces the notion of adventure for its own sake. The episodes in adventure fantasy are shaped mostly by the internal desires of their protagonists, rather than epic struggles between Good and Evil.

Clarion Blog – A Creativity Resource for Writers

Here’s a new & recommended blog for speculative fiction writers, the Clarion Blog, “discussing the art, craft, and business of speculative fiction.” Started this May, it offers posts…

Image from Alice in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland – Sane Child, Demented Adults

Why is Alice in Wonderland so popular? There are several good reasons. First, the main character, Alice, is an ordinary girl who falls down a rabbit hole, or passes through a mirror, into peculiar places filled with odd characters. Alice represents “Everyman” (Everykid?), the sane child amongst crazy adults. It is Alice’s ordinary nature that causes us to identify with her.

A Guide to Fantasy Literature, by Philip Martin

Fantasy Lit Book Reviewed in January Magazine

Here’s a link to a good review of A Guide to Fantasy Literature: Thoughts on Stories of Wonder and Enchantment that appeared in the online journal, January Magazine.

The Feast of Fools – On Festivity and Fantasy

In a fascinating, slim volume, The Feast of Fools: A Theological Essay on Festivity and Fantasy, Harvey Cox, a Professor of Divinity teaching at Harvard fr0m the mid-1960s…

The Nature of Magic, in Le Guin and Tolkien

The description of magic, and the underlying concept of it, is variously tackled in many a fantasy book. What does it feel like to use magic? Is it…

The Magic in Fantasy that Pervades Everything

Magic in fantasy occurs as a central nervous system of the fiction. And though is it the systematic underpinning of all that happens, it is frequently mysterious, capricious,…

Guinea Pig Zombies

Okay, maybe not the best idea I’ve had. But it combines a couple of hot movies of the year, G-Force and (coming in October) Zombieland. Anyhow (segue!) ….

Problems with Harry Potter Series (Part 1 of 2)

I have great respect for much of what J.K. Rowling has done: succeeding as a first-time published author; weaving a complex plot; selling gazillions of books; getting kids…

Twilight Doesn’t Impress All Readers

Some people think that the Twilight series isn’t great literature. (That would be an understatement.) However, I’ll just quote Mickey Spillane: “Those big-shot writers never could dig the…

“There and Back Again” – Sense of Place in Fantasy Literature

“There and Back Again” . . . In fantasy literature, the story often involves a journey from place familiar to place unknown. Leaving your small cottage, you enter…

The Harry Potter Series – Great Storytelling or Classics of Literature?

My favorite description of what makes a classic comes from magical realist Italo Calvino: “A classic is a work which has not yet finished telling its story.” My…

Malodorous Fantasy, and a Place to Learn to Write Well

Odyssey is an outstanding speculative-fiction writers workshop, a 6-week program (early June to mid-July) with pro editors: serious workshops for serious aspiring writers on their way up. Here…

Inklings and Coal Biters, Welcome!

The Inklings, of course, is the name for the now-famous group of writers and thinkers hosted by C.S. Lewis in his rooms at Magdalen College at Oxford –…

Neverlands and Our Eternal Childhoods

Neverland. It is the home of our eternal childhoods, with all those wonderful dreams and adventures. In J.M. Barrie’s play and novel, Peter Pan, it is plural. There…

Harry Potter, Magic, and Moral Caution

Is Harry Potter a decent person? Okay, we all know that the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling has been the subject of Christian concern, some criticism, and…

New Harry Potter Movie Ahoy – The Half-Blood Prince

Harry Potter is coming back to the silver screen, on July 15, 2009, in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the sixth of seven movies, based on the series by J.K. Rowling. In general, I’m a fan of Rowling’s books. But I do have some some doubts how well the Harry Potter series will fare as the years go by.

Dragonfly – Dark Fantasy Set in Illinois

Frederic S. Durbin’s novel Dragonfly (Arkham House hardcover 1999, Ace Fantasy paperback 2005) has a wonderful sense of place, deeply rooted in the central Illinois town Durbin grew…

Speculative Fiction versus Literary Snobs

Here’s an insightful comment from author James Morrow, from a 2000 interview by Nick Gevers posted on The SF Site, talking about the literary qualities of speculative fiction….

Six Questions of Story – His Dark Materials

Here are Six Questions of Story that occur to me, prompted by the controversy raised in some circles by Philip Pullman‘s series, His Dark Materials (with my own…

The Elemental Spirits, or How Tall is a Fairy?

In a foreshadowing of Tolkien’s impressive elves (and C.S. Lewis’s terms for humans as sons of Adam and daughters of Eve), G.K. Chesterton described fairies as beings that…

The Logic of Fantasy – Chesterton, Part 2

“The Ethics of Elfland” is a chapter from Orthodoxy, (1908) by G.K. Chesterton. As I mentioned in the first part of this two-part post, he describes two core…

The Logic of Fantasy – Chesterton, Part 1

“The Ethics of Elfland” is a chapter from Orthodoxy, (1908) by G.K. Chesterton. As Amazon.com notes in a review: If G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy: The Romance of Faith is,…

Never Laugh at Live Dragons!

Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten. — G. K. Chesterton…