Sparrow's Reviews > The Lathe of Heaven

The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin
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Jan 28, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: pacific-northwest-glory, slaves, up-hill-both-ways-in-the-snow, utopia-dystopia, beards-are-mesmerizing, reviewed
Recommended to Sparrow by: Ceridwen
Recommended for: C.S. Lewis fans
Read from January 05 to 08, 2012

I have long been a fan of dreams: talking about dreams, working out the interweavings between dreaming life and reality. I almost scare-quoted reality there, but then I realized that this review is probably going to be douchey enough as it is without adding a scare-quoted reality to it. Anyway, Ursula LeGuin’s worlds are typically not my worlds; when I’m reading her books, I tend to bump into walls and trip over furniture, where other readers intuitively know the lay of the interior decorating. And, that is just the way reading goes, I think. Neither bad nor good. Sometimes an author puts the couch were we would like to sit, and other times not. This book, though. This is the LeGuin for me. This book is lovely in a way I can understand.

I grew up in a sometimes-fundamentalist home, so for those who didn’t, this comparison might sound like an insult. Please know that I don’t mean it that way. It strikes me that in some pretty superficial ways, The Lathe of Heaven is to Daoism what Narnia is to Christianity. In making that comparison, I am really comparing two things I love, even though they are both representing two very different value systems. I think that both present an emotionally symbolic world in which the roots of a belief system can grow in a simple and understandable way. I think both do a really good job of not sacrificing story to allegory, but still forming a perceptible spiritual message.

The other preliminary thought I have is a spoiler about Heather, so I’ll hide it. (view spoiler)

But, that is really only about the structure of Lathe, and what I really want to talk about is dreams. In Lathe, George Orr has “effective” dreams that change his reality. That is the basic premise that you find out at the opening of the story, and I will try not to spoil the plot beyond that. Joel was making the point that the story is a reflection on writing, which I think is an interesting, but narrow, reading of the story, and honestly was not how the story resonated with me at all. I think it is a good point, though, and worth noting. A writer re-creates the world, and in that way probably also shapes other people’s perceptions of the world. I think in many ways, though, we all do that, writing or no writing.

I guess the way the story resonated with me was more literal than Joel’s reading. I do think that any of us can have a dream in the Martin Luther King, Jr., sense, and that dream can guide culture, but I also think that literal dreams can do that, and maybe that is more where the book fascinated me. In college, I once went to sleep with no interest in a boy in my class and I woke up with a crush on him that it took me months to get over. And all that happened was that, in a dream I had that night, he looked at me a certain way. Dreams seem mysterious and mysteriously powerful to me. I had a dream like that this week, and the content of it is not very important, but there was a snake in it, and the snake was also human, and the dream changed something to me, so I thought of this book. I’m not sure what it changed, but it was just different than other dreams.

Once, in college, my best friend from high school had a dream in which we were both preparing for her wedding. About a year later, I had the same dream but from my point of view, which I didn’t realized until later that night I started describing the dream to her and she knew all of its details before I told her, but from her own point of view.

In my part of the dream, after she got married, I went to help an ex-boyfriend move his things into a new house and there was a soundtrack in that part, which is something I don't think I've had in another dream. After I woke up, I was walking to work and I put the Velvet Underground Loaded CD into my discman (I had bought it the day before). “Who Loves the Sun” came on, I realized it was the song in my dream, and I looked up and saw my ex-boyfriend sitting in front of the house he had moved into in my dream. The whole day was off, with the people I cared about in my dreaming and waking life crossing over.

I don’t have a moral or a lesson to that story, but it was an experience I had that made me wonder whether my dreams were creeping in to my reality, like they do with poor George Orr. And I do think many dreams can shape the world in a way I don’t understand, in a way that makes me small and brittle. I think LeGuin captures that literal power of dreams very gracefully, without creating a heavy-handed allegory, leaving room for many applications of the tone and texture of the story. I also love what she does with George and his therapist, and the yin and yang of their personalities, though I can't think of more to say about that than just stating it. I’m glad I found a LeGuin that is for me; I’m glad somebody wrote a story about dreams.
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Quotes Sparrow Liked

Ursula K. Le Guin
“Love doesn't just sit there, like a stone, it has to be made, like bread; remade all the time, made new.”
Ursula K. Le Guin, The Lathe of Heaven

Reading Progress

01/05/2012 page 53
30.0% "I'm actually really loving this! Who knew there was a UKL for me?"
01/08/2012 page 153
87.0% "<spoiler>"They had been married seven months. They said nothing of any importance. They washed up the dishes and went to bed. In bed, they made love. Love doesn't just sit there, like a stone, it has to be made, like bread; re-made all the time, made new. When it was made, they lay in each other's arms, holding love, asleep."</spoiler>" 8 comments
01/08/2012 page 153
87.0% ""In her sleep Heather heard the roaring of a creek full of the voices of unborn children singing. In his sleep George saw the depths of the open sea.""
12/24/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-45 of 45) (45 new)

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message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

Weird! I am just this second watching the movie! The 70s one.

message 2: by Sparrow (last edited Jan 05, 2012 07:59PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sparrow Oh funny! Or, maybe you have it on 24-hour replay and it's not so random.

message 3: by [deleted user] (new)

No, I've never seen it. Bruce Davidson is a tiny baby. For some reason I always thought he was old, so it's funny to see him as George Orr.

Sparrow Oh weird. I always pictured him old too. And melty. OH WHAAAA??? He is Mr. Henderson! I always picture Chevy Chase being Mr. Henderson. Weird. I must have watched back-to-back National Lampoons vacations and Harry and the Hendersons as a kid.

message 5: by [deleted user] (new)

Sounds like quite the film festival.

Sparrow I've always had a feel for a good marathon.

Sparrow I have only finished the first Earthsea. But, I started the Left Hand of Darkness, and it was not for me.

message 8: by [deleted user] (new)

Movie's pretty cheesy. FYI.

Sparrow noted.

message 10: by [deleted user] (new)

It's not terrible like the SyFy one, just to be clear. Just cheesy.

Sparrow K, well. This is all not a shock, right?

Sparrow That seems like the way nature has ordained this type of thing.

message 13: by [deleted user] (new)

Water finds its own level and all.

Sparrow amen

message 15: by j (new) - rated it 4 stars

j how the hell did they make this book into a movie?

Sparrow I don't really think I want to know the answer to that. Apparently, not well.

message 17: by [deleted user] (new)

TWO movies.

message 18: by Ian (new)

Ian Tregillis Was the 1970s one made for PBS or maybe British TV? I think I saw it when I was 7 or 8. Just wondering if that's what you watched.

message 19: by j (new) - rated it 4 stars

j it has very strong reviews according to wikipedia. but apparently cost $3.

message 20: by [deleted user] (new)

I'm thinking PBS, but yeah, that's the one. If you think about it, Lathe is kind of a three personal play, so it could work on film, but the budget for the science fictional aspects in the 70s one was obvs $3, hence the cheese. When Orr turns everyone grey was especially bad. The SyFy one looked good, but they completely fucked up the Taoist stuff. Crassly even. I'm still not over being mad about it.

message 21: by Ian (new)

Ian Tregillis The 70's movie of Lathe was my introduction to UKL, and I thought it was pretty boss. But then I was like 7.

Didn't know there was a SyFy version!

message 22: by [deleted user] (new)

It would be boss at 7! But then also UKL rocks.

The SyFy one is so bad. I'm sorry I keep mentioning its existence.

message 23: by j (new) - rated it 4 stars

j according to wikipedia, the syfy one "departs" from the text. i am curious to know more.

message 24: by [deleted user] (new)

I could spoil it for you if you want.

message 25: by j (new) - rated it 4 stars

j well i'm certainly not going to watch it...

Sparrow Please, spoil.

message 27: by [deleted user] (last edited Jan 09, 2012 12:26PM) (new)

(view spoiler)

Sparrow WHAT????!!! Wait, when was he in prison?


message 29: by [deleted user] (new)

Yeah, that's a departure too.

Sparrow That is terrible. Terrible.

message 31: by [deleted user] (new)

It's all pretty awful. Plus, George is played by Lukas Haas of kid from Witness fame, and Heather was Lisa Bonet. Those two get the 2nd place award for least chemistry ever. (1st is, of course, Darth Vader and Padme.)

message 32: by j (new) - rated it 4 stars

j you know, that gets me thinking. could he dream a world where god existed and create god? or, alternately, destroy him?

this is really a book about writing though, right?

i just put together a list of books for my book club and stuck in the left hand of darkness. now i'm thinking i should have done this one, i forgot how rich it is thematically. and with so few pages.

message 33: by [deleted user] (new)

It is about writing, but there's other stuff too.

Like, the SyFy movie used the image of the jellyfish, which starts Lathe if I recall correctly? And I though, oh, they've totally read this! Then, nope. Apparently it's not about Taoism, but keyring theism. Thanks.

Sparrow Ceridwen wrote: "(1st is, of course, Darth Vader and Padme.)"

third is buffy and riley.

message 35: by [deleted user] (new)


message 36: by [deleted user] (new)


Sparrow haha, stupid notifications did not tell me you were here. But, yes, yay!

message 38: by [deleted user] (new)

Yes I am here with my yays! I'm just jazzed you found the UKL for you. Did you see DFJ is reading a super early UKL, for school? I'm pretty sure she's going to haaaaate it. Sometimes school does authors no favors.

Sparrow I saw that! I know, school is really good at ruining things. Maybe DFJ will give UKL another chance, though. There are so many really excellent books in the world, though, it is unfortunate when teachers have to go more obscure and maybe ruin a whole author for someone. Not that I know anything about that book.

Finding the UKL for me is all thanks to you! Good work! And I think the one you sent is even autographed!

message 40: by Daniel (new)

Daniel Smythe Read this book a looong time ago. Never knew there was a movie... Awesome book though. Total classic.

Sparrow Yes! So good! Ceridwen says there are two movies: the syfy Jesus one and the cheesy one.

message 42: by [deleted user] (new)

I am not wrong.

message 43: by j (new) - rated it 4 stars

j "Joel was making the point that the story is a reflection on writing, which I think is an interesting, but narrow, reading of the story, and honestly was not how the story resonated with me at all."

yeah, that's not really all i thought she was going for, but for me a lot of the rest of what it is about gets filtered through the writing thing, the way you can use your dreams to create a kind of reality and how once it is out in the world, you can't really control how hey will be actuated/interpreted. maybe.

Sparrow Yeah, totally. I was thinking of that reading of it as a kind of MLK-type-dream reading. I think that is totally valid and correct about the story. That sort of morality lesson is always kind of dreary to me, though, if there isn't an entertaining literal reading to go along with it. And I think a literal reading of this one is really fun. I'm not sure if that makes sense.

message 45: by Dylan (new) - added it

Dylan Tomorrow Loved your anecdotes about the power of dreams. I wonder if I ever fell in love with someone in a dream, but then didn't remember next day and thus back-dated the falling in love moment to make sense of it all. Fascinatingly primal thingys, dem dreams.

Also, more on topic: I may have found the next Le Guin book to read here. Sounds right up my alley. Thanks :).

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