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The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction

4.22  ·  Rating Details ·  770 Ratings  ·  80 Reviews
A Nebula and Hugo Award-winning writer of science fiction presents a collection of essays that explores the various issues, concepts, challenges, and paradoxes that confront the science fiction writer.
Hardcover, 250 pages
Published May 1st 1992 by HarperCollins Publishers (first published June 1st 1979)
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Feb 20, 2011 Tatiana rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
UPDATE: Last night I was reluctant to follow Frodo and Sam on their last leg through Mordor, so I dug this out for a reread instead. Was struck by something lovely and amazing and true and important. Let me quote. "In this labyrinth (of the strange morality of fairy tales) where it seems one must trust to blind instinct, there is, Von Franz points out, one -- only one -- consistent rule or 'ethic': 'Anyone who earns the gratitude of animals, or whom they help for any reason, invariably wins out. ...more
Apr 25, 2012 Sara rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I can't believe my luck. I stumbled across this gem while I was picking through the writing essays section in my library and did a little happy-dance when I saw the name on the cover. It was like finding a Spanish Dubloon mixed in with my pocket change.

This book is a fantastic analysis of science fiction and fantasy as a writing path and its place in society at large. I highly recommend it for fans of sci-fi particularly and those who are looking to write in the genre (or even people looking to
Tom Meade
Few great critics are great writers. It's true that their ideas may topple dynasties with their brilliance, but that's only provided you can make head or tail of them after wading through three hundred pages of dry, tangled prose. And then there is the inevitable padding - ideas like brightly-coloured bits of cloth hanging from the thorns of brambles, as though the author had torn their way through the shrubs at great speed in terror that their readers might catch them and, holding them at knife ...more
Mary Catelli
A collection of her works on literature. Includes the famous "From Elfland to Poughkeepsie" essay.

Both essays on the theory and on works -- her own and others, such as J.R.R. Tolkien. (She was writing in the day when Lin Carter's series meant a massive increase in the availability of fantasy.) She's a little over-fond of Jung as an interpretative lens for fiction. "From Elfland to Poughkeepsie" is heavy on style, of course. Market pressure and its effects. Virginia Woolf's essay on Mrs. Brown an
Macallister Stone
Aug 11, 2011 Macallister Stone rated it it was amazing
This is one of the books about writing that I wish every writer would read, read, then read again. I've read these essays over and over--some of them were originally published nearly 40 years ago--and still find this a remarkable and breathtaking collection, offering invaluable perspective on life, genre, writing, and the nature of art.
One of the most quotable books I've read in quite a while. Makes a great case for why Fantasy and Science Fiction should be included in the realm of literature.
Nov 12, 2008 Morgan marked it as partially-read
Recommended to Morgan by: Raphael Lyon
When it comes to the literature of the impossible and unlikely—myths, folktales, fantasy and science fiction—subgenres are delineated by how they become dated. The "myth" and the "legend" are timeless while the "folktale" takes on a rustic quaintness reminiscent of the quirks in the antiquated culture that produced it. But, as Le Guin notes, fantasy and science fiction rarely fare as well—or at least they didn't when she wrote the essays in The Language of the Night back in the 1970s. This colle ...more
Nicholas Whyte
Apr 08, 2009 Nicholas Whyte rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

This book has been strongly recommended to me for years, and I am glad I finally obtained it and read it. It is a collection of Le Guin's writings about sf and fantasy, almost all from 1973 to 1978 (one piece on Philip K. Dick dates from 1967), originally published in 1979 and revised for a 1989 edition. It is all fascinating stuff, with the standout essay being 'From Elfland to Poughkeepsie', which describes the rhetorical style of good (as opposed to b
Kathleen Dixon
Sep 27, 2008 Kathleen Dixon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: essays
I marked this book to read a few years ago without making note of where I'd read about it or who recommended it to me, but I remember enjoying LeGuin's novels very much so I had clearly thought it would be interesting to read these essays by her.

This book was published in 1979, and contains essays written as articles for magazines, introductions to works by her and by other authors, and speeches given. Because of these different genre, there is a fair amount of repetition, though as none of it i
Nov 12, 2015 kari rated it liked it
Passionate, inspiring, and friendly - the latter may not be the most obvious word, but this collection gave an impression of discussing sci-fi with Le Guin. Which would be delightful (if I ever had the courage, let alone a chance). Some essays are deeply personal, some veer into literary criticism - and there I found myself happily and ardently disagreeing with Le Guin's occasional elitism or faith in psychoanalysis - and some are the best pieces of advice from a writer I've ever gotten. I got t ...more
Jun 01, 2015 Mia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-i-own
A really great collection of essays on the merit of SFF lit by one of the genre's great writers. Le Guin is witty and eloquent in her writing, championing SFF as worthy not only to be read, but to be studied and taken seriously by adult readers.
the gift
sf is ultimately... characters. humanist, liberal, modernist interpretation, where ideas inform but do not define the genres. manifesto for sociology-sciences inflected work. really liked this when i read this... decades ago...
This book includes the brilliant 15-page Le Guin essay "From Elfland to Poughkeepsie," which is essential reading for anyone who loves heroic fantasy and wonders why the genre seems to produce so little memorable material.
Oct 01, 2016 Fish added it
Shelves: storytelling
Raises some interesting points about storytelling if you ignore the mandatory feminist rants.
Best essays are From Elfland to Poughkeepsie and Science Fiction and Mrs. Brown.
I think this is the edition I have.

I doubt, based on her own works, whether LeGuin is capable of parsing or writing a grammar/dictionary of the language of the nocturnal. It's more a pidgin we've developed to try to communicate with diurnal people. So I'm not sure what LeGuin means when she talks about 'the Night', but suspect it's not the physical night.

One technical point: this book's running head only includes the name of the book, which makes it hard to find the end of one essay/the beginni
Ursula Le Guin is the best.
Scott Lee
Oct 21, 2012 Scott Lee rated it really liked it
I had reviewed this thing, had the review nearly finished and then hit a button (a wrong button apparently) and it all disappeared. I hate computers. But, as it is indubitably the result of user error, I digress.

I finished this today and discovered I hadn't entered it here on my "currently reading" list.

Le Guin is fantastic as always, and her defense of the genres of SF&F is impassioned, intelligent, and clear as mile-high mountain air. This book of nonfiction sees Le Guin defending SF agai
Jamie Leighton
Jan 09, 2014 Jamie Leighton rated it liked it
This compilation of essays by Ursula LeGuin made me want to read more science fiction and fantasy. Filled with memorable quotes, she examines science fiction, fantasy, gender, art, the work of other writers like Philip K. Dick, utopias, dystopias and yes, even Virginia Woolf. The most memorable essay is perhaps, "Science Fiction and Mrs. Brown." Virginia Woolk is in a train sitting across from a woman she calls "Mrs. Brown." This Mrs. Brown, who asked a question about an oak tree and caterpillar ...more
Rachel Welton
Apr 13, 2014 Rachel Welton rated it it was amazing
This book is just so packed full of wisdom and joy. Le Guin tackles some of the questions that have been plaguing me ("can sf/f be art? should spec fic be held to the same standards as literary fiction? can/should we demand integrity and quality from genre authors when we as readers just want entertainment?") and expands them. Her answers are unflinching, but also offer real compassion and hope for both reader and writer. She never descends into cynicism, snobbery, or snark.

The book's premise is
Debby Zigenis-Lowery
It was interesting returning to Language of the Night, by Ursula Le Guin, thirty years after my initial reading of it.

When I first read it, I was in my early twenties, fresh off a Science Fiction class in my college career at Berkeley, and considering trying to write fantasy fiction.

Now, I have actually written seven fantasy novels, having spent many years bounding off onto a new one instead of seriously seeking publication. Something that has definitely changed in the last decade.

I had fallen i
Sep 14, 2009 Roxanne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
I picked this up at a used bookstore, which was really exciting because it's out of print and I'd never even heard of it before. It was a really neat book. Published in 1979, it's a collection of Le Guin's essays and talks on science fiction to date. I found this really interesting because that was only maybe halfway through her career. She'd written The Dispossessed and The Left Hand of Darkness and the three Hainish novels, and the first three Earthsea books, and a ton of short stories, but th ...more
Nov 28, 2007 Sarah rated it it was amazing
This isn't so much a review as an anecdote. When I was in high school, Ursula LeGuin came to Toronto to speak. I went for our school paper, of which I was the arts editor. I was a very serious journalist at the time; I had all my questions lined up, and everything but the fedora with the little press card in it. When it came my turn to ask her a question, I stood up. I worded it carefully, referencing the gist of the essay in question.
"Are we still afraid of dragons, or has speculative fiction
Kathy Dunn
Dec 17, 2013 Kathy Dunn rated it it was amazing
I read this in my transition period between "all sci-fi/fantasy, all the time" and "now I mostly read non-fiction". I really enjoyed reading about her ideas on language and what science fiction ought to be -- in particular, that it needs to be foreign. If the characters, actions and dialog could be simply transported to another location and still make sense, she felt this shouldn't quality as sci-fi (or as fantasy). Which pretty much killed 75% of the crappy fantasy novels I had been reading. Sh ...more
Jul 16, 2012 Margaret rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
A wonderful collection of literary criticism from a writer who I admire and of whom I agree with just about everything she says, which is probably why I enjoy reading her so much. Le Guin's language and ideas are as elegant when writing nonfiction as they are when writing fiction. Here is my favorite quote from the book, from the essay entitled "The Stalin in the Soul": "Reading is not a passive reaction, but an action, involving the mind, the emotions, and the will. To accept trashy books becau ...more
Sep 10, 2010 Blake rated it it was amazing
Ursula K. Le Guin is so cool. I have to admit that I didn't read all the essays in this book, but I read most of them and there are just so many wonderful little nuggets... like this one... "Kids will devour vast amounts of garbage (and it is good for them) but they are not like adults; they have not yet learned to eat plastic." These essays on science fiction and fantasy are incredibly insightful and relevant today, even though they were written more than 30 years ago (for the most part, I thin ...more
Martin Fossum
Sep 30, 2011 Martin Fossum rated it really liked it
Fascinating book. Kind of jumps around from speech to speech that Le Guin gave at some point or other in the late 70s, but it's wonderful to hear her talk about her ideas of literature - fantasy and SF. I was particularly interested in her thoughts on C.G. Jung and the "shadow" self that she incorporated into her Earthsea stories. It's also interesting to get her take on what it's like to be (or what it was like) a female author in a male-dominated field - how feminism fits in with pervasive man ...more
Oct 16, 2014 Mark rated it really liked it
Shelves: sci-fi
I rarely read books on writing, whether criticism or technique. Nice to discover Mrs. Le Guin never does either. And this was actually worth the while. Her opinions on why writers write, how they write, the difference between writing as art and writing as commercial work are spot on. I like what she says about not wishing to give younger writers any advice but taking heart since "someone else is going to learn what jumping off the cliff is like" because at least they are courageous enough to try ...more
Mar 15, 2011 Andrew rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
There are some great pieces in here for aspiring SF writers, as well as for writers and creative types in all arts. A bit dated (all essays are form the 70's or earlier) in its discussion of the "ghettoization" of SF as a genre, but still incredibly relevant when you consider that the "escapism" SF has always been accused of indulging has morphed into the twisted version of reality that we call "reality TV." What's more escapist, or fantastical, than thinking the stars of Jersey Shore deserve an ...more
Jon Garrad
Sep 17, 2015 Jon Garrad rated it it was amazing
Slow going, because towards the end there are a few slaps in the face. One to the critic who quotes Sturgeon's Law with a whim. One to the aspiring author who remembers distinctly making the choice to go off and live a bit because he felt his life was empty of things to say. One to the fan who defines his taste by distinction from the mainstream. And so on, and so forth. Le Guin is full of lessons, leavened with wit and with ownership of the errors she feels she's made, the ways in which she's f ...more
L. Blankenship
Mar 04, 2013 L. Blankenship rated it liked it
These essays were written in the 1970s. I was born in '71. I'm glad to say that the world Le Guin indirectly describes is completely alien to me... one where fantasy and science fiction are pooh-poohed, and have no "literary" aspirations in any case, and can only be found in second-hand book stores hidden away behind the children's section.

I never knew that world, and I'm thankful.

The essays about writing, in here, made me nod in agreement. I count myself as part of the choir, for those sermon
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As of 2013, Ursula K. Le Guin has published twenty-two novels, eleven volumes of short stories, four collections of essays, twelve books for children, six volumes of poetry and four of translation, and has received many awards: Hugo, Nebula, National Book Award, PEN-Malamud, etc. Her recent publications include the novel Lavinia, an essay collection, Cheek by Jowl, and The Wild Girls. Forthcoming ...more
More about Ursula K. Le Guin...

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“I doubt that the imagination can be suppressed. If you truly eradicated it in a child, he would grow up to be an eggplant.” 77 likes
“The use of imaginative fiction is to deepen your understanding of your world, and your fellow men, and your own feelings, and your destiny.” 66 likes
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