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

4.25 of 5 stars 4.25  ·  rating details  ·  517 ratings  ·  56 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 July 1st 1992 by HarperCollins Publishers (first published June 1st 1979)
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Tatiana
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
Sara
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...more
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
Morgan
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
Macallister Stone
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.
Nicholas Whyte
http://nwhyte.livejournal.com/1386729.html

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...more
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...more
Rachel Welton
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...more
Jamie Leighton
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
Adam
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.
Valerie
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...more
Scott Lee
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...more
Roxanne
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
Nicole
I wish I could give copies of this unfortunately out-of-print gem to every feminist, sci-fi fan, and feminist sci-fi writer/fan I know. I can only dream of being as awesome a human being as Le Guin is, but I felt like her advice on writing and her critical analysis of the writing process (and of the moral/ethical obligations of SF/fantasy lit) gave me a few hints on how I might take some steps towards that unattainable goal. Truly, my only complaint is being unable to give this book more stars.
Sarah
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...more
Kathy Dunn
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
Margaret
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
Blake
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
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
Andrew
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
L. Blankenship
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...more
John Staats
Why read science fiction and fantasy? What's the point?

While she is more deferential than I am to Joseph Campell, I appreciate how she pushes his philosophy to more lucid analogies. While I don't agree with some of their conclusions I admire the insight and precision of which Ursula uses to define these genres. A word of caution: Like any philosophical essay, this book requires some fairly heavy reading (requires more concentration than a story) but the intellectual stimulation is worth it.

If...more
Sarah
Listened to "Why Are Americans Afraid of Dragons?"
Jenn
Quite possibly the most important book on science fiction I have ever read. If I ever teach scifi on the college level I will be sure to include passages from this book as part of my syllabus. Le Guin is insightful and deep. The only sad part about it are the essays where she predicts the dawning of a new age for women in science fiction and that the walls between literature and genre were coming down back in 1978. These walls and the new age for women is still something of a hopeful dream. Stil...more
Selahattin Samet
I am not a dead child, but a child who survived.
Cheryl
This book is a collection of talks and essays Ursula K. LeGuin. Even if you're not a writer of fantasy or science fiction--which I'm not--this is a good how-to book for learning how to incorporate fantastical elements into a story in such a way the reader is willing to go along with the writer.

One of the best quotes from the book covers writing of all types: "You head for Perfection and you may very well get trash. But you head toward trash, and by gum, you always get it." (page 225)
Val
This is out of print now, and my copy is dog-eared and beaten. It is a collection of essays, some adapted from acceptance speeches, some just lectures, by an excellent author.

Interesting and entertaining to read, LeGuin speaks about her genre and her writing and even though some of the content is somewhat dated, because Science Fiction and Fantasy are main-steam nowadays, there is still value here. If you can get your hands on a copy, you will not be sorry.
Stephanie Brown
These essays are a must read for anyone writing science fiction and fantasy. While not instructional or "how-to", this collection of essays provides a dialog between Le Guin and the reader that is all at once intellectual and accessible. She has much wisdom and insight to depart, and even talks a bit about her own process while also stressing that there are many ways for the writer to get his or her work done. Highly recommended!
Colin
Originally published in 1979, my edition dates from a decade later. It's one of the landmark texts of Fantasy & SF Lit-crit, from a time when there was no such beast, as Le Guin points out repeatedly. The essay 'From Elfland to Poughkeepsie' should be read by every aspiring fantasy writer, but on the whole, I found too many of her essays rather wordy - that may be because some were adapted from speaking engagements.
Nicole
Disclaimer: I did not read every single essay in the book.

On one hand, LeGuin had some really fascinating insights into the art of writing. She has a beautiful way of explaining what a writer does. On the other hand, I think she has an extremely narrow view of what fantasy literature is and who its readers are. The genre - and its readers - are much more diverse than she gives them credit for.
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874602
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...
A Wizard of Earthsea (Earthsea Cycle, #1) The Tombs of Atuan (Earthsea Cycle, #2) The Farthest Shore (Earthsea Cycle, #3) The Left Hand of Darkness (Hainish Cycle, #4) The Dispossessed (Hainish Cycle, #5)

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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.” 61 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.” 55 likes
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