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

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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.

250 pages, Paperback

First published June 1, 1979

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About the author

Ursula K. Le Guin

781 books22.9k followers
Ursula K. Le Guin 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. She lived in Portland, Oregon.

She was known for her treatment of gender (The Left Hand of Darkness, The Matter of Seggri), political systems (The Telling, The Dispossessed) and difference/otherness in any other form. Her interest in non-Western philosophies was reflected in works such as "Solitude" and The Telling but even more interesting are her imagined societies, often mixing traits extracted from her profound knowledge of anthropology acquired from growing up with her father, the famous anthropologist, Alfred Kroeber. The Hainish Cycle reflects the anthropologist's experience of immersing themselves in new strange cultures since most of their main characters and narrators (Le Guin favoured the first-person narration) are envoys from a humanitarian organization, the Ekumen, sent to investigate or ally themselves with the people of a different world and learn their ways.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 161 reviews
Profile Image for Magrat Ajostiernos.
549 reviews3,754 followers
May 4, 2022
Una lectura totalmente inspiradora sobre la literatura de fantasía y ciencia ficción, sobre el arte, la manera de escribir y sobre diferentes autores que impactaron a Le Guin.
No voy a negar que cada vez que mencionaba a Tolkien (y son muchas) o a Virginia Woolf yo chillaba.
Creo que es un libro indispensable para los fans de la autora y para quien quiera ver una perspectiva muy particular sobre la literatura de género en plenos años 70... hay cosas que se han quedado desfasadas y algunos pensamientos quizás evolucionaran con los años para la autora, pero resulta un testimonio fascinante.
Y bueno, con Ursula, siempre se aprende.
Profile Image for Beth.
228 reviews
April 27, 2020
This is a book of essays, talks and introductions first published in 1979, and revised in 1989.

"From Elfland to Poughkeepsie" is an essay on style in fantasy. She focuses on three writers: JRR Tolkien, ER Eddison & Kenneth Morris. I don’t know much about the latter two; I had never heard of Morris before, and Eddison is an author I’ve attempted to read before, but I did not get very far in The Worm Ouroboros.

She also has this wonderful description of Lord Dunsany’s style:
"The King James Bible is indubitably one of the profoundest influences on Dunsany’s prose; another, I suspect, is Irish daily speech. Those two influences alone, not to mention his own gifts of a delicate ear for speech rhythms and a brilliantly exact imagination, remove him from the reach of any would-be peer or imitator who is not an Irish peer brought up from the cradle on the grand sonorities of Genesis and Ecclesiastes. Dunsany mined a narrow vein, but it was all pure ore, and all his own. I have never seen any imitation of Dunsany that consisted of anything beyond a lot of elaborate made-up names, some vague descriptions of gorgeous cities and unmentionable dooms, and a great many sentences beginning with ‘And.’ "

I’m a little skeptical about this part, though:

"The lords of Elfland are the true lords, the only true lords, the kind that do not exist on this earth: their lordship is the outward sign or symbol of real inward greatness. And greatness of soul shows when a man speaks. At least, it does in books. In life we expect lapses. In naturalistic fiction, too, we expect lapses, and laugh at an 'overheroic' hero. But in fantasy, which, instead of imitating the perceived confusion and complexity of existence, tries to hint at an order and clarity underlying existence–in fantasy, we need not compromise."

This essay was written in 1973, and I wonder if she would have qualified this assertion had The Silmarillion been published by then (it was published in 1977). The Silmarillion is told in a more remote, mythic register than LotR, but if anything it has a good deal *less* order and clarity -- certainly the "lords of Elfland" have more than a few lapses...

In "Do It Yourself Cosmology" she discusses the relationship between sf and fantasy:

"The original and instinctive movement of fantasy is, of course, inward. Fantasy is so introverted by nature that often some objective hook is necessary to bring it out in the open and turn it into literature. Classically, satire provided this hook, as in Ariosto or Swift. Or the reforming impulse shaped the dreamworld into an identification with Utopia. Or identification with nature enabled the Romantic fantasist to speak, at least briefly, out of the silence of the moors. Nowadays it is science that often gives fantasy a hand up from the interior depths, and we have science fiction, a modern, intellectualized, extroverted form of fantasy. Its limitations and strengths are those of extroversion: the power and intractability of the object.

The strength of fantasy is the strength of the Self; but its limitation or danger is that of extreme introversion: left to itself, the vision may go clear out of sight, remaining entirely private to the fantasist’s consciousness, or even remaining unconscious, exactly like a dream. The purer the fantasy, the more subjective the creation, the likelier this is to happen. It is a miracle, and pretty much a modern one, that we have any great non-satirical fantasies in print."

"American SF & the Other" is a short essay about elitism and the portrayal of aliens in sf. This one is available online, you can read it here:

"Science Fiction & Mrs Brown" is an essay on character in science fiction. Le Guin uses Virginia Woolf’s essay "Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown," essay on the role of characterization in the novel, as a starting point to discuss character in fantasy and science fiction. I am not sure exactly what to say about this one; I'll have to come back to it some other time.

"A quite good simple test to detect the presence or absence of Mrs. Brown in a work of fiction is this: A month or so after reading the book, can you remember her name? It's silly, but it works pretty well."

"Is Gender Necessary, Redux" is an annotated essay about The Left Hand of Darkness. The essay was written in 1967, but the annotations are from a revision in 1988. It’s really interesting, but will make more sense in context, so if you haven’t read the novel you might not understand this one.
Profile Image for Librukie.
494 reviews260 followers
February 17, 2021

"Creo que madurar no es dejar atrás la infancia, sino crecer conservándola: que los adultos no son niños muertos, sino niños que han sobrevivido"

En este recopilatorio de ensayos de Úrsula conoceremos un poquito más a una autora que ya se deja vislumbrar bastante en su obra. Porque, como ella misma respondía cuando alguien le pedía que hablase de ella... ¡Ya está todo ahí, en mis libros!. Y es que yo al menos sí he sentido una cierta conexión con ella a través de su ficción. Esa sensación de que leyendo sus libros la conoces un poquito a ella como persona.

A través de las páginas de "El idioma de la noche" Úrsula nos habla del arte como alimento para el alma, de su proceso creativo y de su escritura, alejada de "normas" y de lo que significa para ella la fantasía y la ciencia ficción (los géneros en los que se sintió más cómoda durante su vida).
Ha sido muy especial para mi leer esa defensa férrea que hace Úrsula a estos dos géneros, considerados todavía a veces a día de hoy como literatura menor. Una defensa que sin embargo no le impide ser crítica, ya que no se corta en decir aquello que es mejorable. Ya que si queremos que estos géneros compartan estantería con los autores clásicos más aclamados, debemos juzgarlos y exigirles el nivel que merecen. Cuando una persona tan culta e inteligente como Le Guin ha elegido dedicar su obra a estas vertientes, está claro que hay muchas obras en ellas que merecen la pena.
Úrsula también habla de como se ha sentido como mujer escritora de un género dominado por hombres, de la censura, del lado más oscuro del ser humano y de la madurez, entre otras cosas.

Es una lectura que todo amante de la autora debe tener en cuenta, y una que yo personalmente disfruté muchísimo, ya que admiro a Úrsula como escritora y como persona.
Profile Image for Mangrii.
829 reviews235 followers
March 22, 2021
3,75 / 5

Han tenido que pasar exactamente cuarenta y dos desde la publicación original de El idioma de la noche, el primer libro de ensayos sobre fantasía y ciencia ficción de Le Guin, llegue en castellano. Aún visto en la distancia, dado que los escritos datan en torno a los años 70, Le Guin invita a pensar y reflexionar hasta donde ha avanzado el estado de la literatura fantástica y de ciencia ficción. Con su peculiar voz cercana, mordaz y repleta de humor, el lector de El idioma de la noche puede descubrir un poco más a una mujer como Le Guin. A lo que representa una escritora de tal magnitud, que cambio y subvirtió el mundo de la literatura fantástica. La antropología cultural, el taoísmo, el anarquismo, el feminismo, la ecología o los escritos de Carl Jung, temas que siempre rondaron su ficción especulativa, se encuentran aquí vertidos y deglutidos en forma de ensayos, reflexiones, discursos, conferencias e introducciones.

Domina en los escritos un tono contundente remarcado por pequeñas dosis de humor. No llega a ser aleccionador, pero si incisivo. Texto tras texto vamos descubriendo la figura de Le Guin, sus influencias y autores más queridos (Dick, Triptree, Tolkien, Woolf o Zamiatin), así como su permanente combate feminista, ecologista, antimilitarista y anticapitalista. Escritos entre 1972 y 1978, a sus 43 y 49 años, entre los que se encuentran algunos de sus textos más reconocidos: El niño y la sombra, donde reflexiona a través de un cuento de Anderson sobre las novelas, el reconocido ¿Por qué los americanos temen a los dragones?, el simpático A propósito de la escritura donde invita a escribir mucho para si uno quiere ser escritor, o el tema de la censura, tocado en Stalin en el alma. También mi favorito: La ciencia ficción y la señora Bown, donde Le Guin parte de un ensayo de Virginia Woolf titulado Mr. Bennet and Mrs. Brown para indagar en los elementos que debe contener toda narración.

El mayor valor de El idioma de la noche, a parte de su sencillez y claridad, es como muestra a una de las grandes figuras de la ciencia ficción contemplando y valorando los cambios que surgían en una época convulsa para el género. Proponiendo cosas nuevas, exponiendo reflexiones sobre el proceso de escribir y hasta criticando su propia obra. Sin embargo, una vez leídos todos los textos, uno puede tener la sensación de haber rondado sobre los mismos temas una y otra vez: indagando sobre que es la ciencia ficción y la fantasía, que objetivos debe perseguir y como el autor debe hacerlo lo mejor posible. También, en cómo Le Guin es una exploradora, que aspira a algo más profundo y sustancioso en cada una de sus historias, aunque no siempre lo consiga.

El idioma de la noche es un libro de no ficción que logra mantenerse en un plano bastante atemporal, situando la mayor parte de sus cuestiones como validas hoy en día. Quizá algunas ideas están desactualizadas, como el psicoanálisis Jungiano o la situación de la ciencia ficción actual. O que dada la heterogeneidad de los textos, no todos sean de tanta calidad ni profundidad. Sin embargo, su acérrima defensa de la literatura fantástica y su visión tan personal de la situación hacen del libro una obra indispensable tanto para aquel lector seguidor de la autora, que verá enriquecida su comprensión sobre cada una de sus obras, como para cualquier lector que tenga interés por el arte de escribir historias.

Reseña en el blog: https://boywithletters.blogspot.com/2...
Profile Image for Tatiana.
148 reviews111 followers
November 18, 2012
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. This is the only unfailing rule that I have been able to find.'" Von Franz is Marie Louise Von Franz, in The Problem of Evil in Fairy Tales. What does this mean for us today?

I love UKL, so I'm interested in every word she ever wrote. This collection of essays, introductions, talks, etc. is great and I'm really glad I read it. I think UKL fans would agree, but those who aren't already big fans of hers might not care that much. In general, I prefer reading books to reading books-about-books, and this book is no exception to that rule. I'd far rather read a new novel by her than essays and opinions, however astute and well-written. But, alas, I've read them all so I have to fill in the blank time before her next novel comes out some way or other, and this was as interesting and pleasing a way as any. I loved to read her ideas about writing, how writers should write and readers should demand only their very best work, not simply what's easy or what sells. I hope as a reader and nascent writer I always do that. Aim for perfection, even though we always fall short, is my philosophy as well.

Based on these essays I'm definitely going to read some Phillip K. Dick, a writer I've never read up to now, though I've heard many good things about him. Her opinion of what is possibly the greatest SF novel of all time, "We" by Yevgeny Zamyatin, sounds really bad to me, though. It must be great but perhaps it's great in a way I generally dislike. I generally don't like dystopias and that one sounds a whole lot like 1984, a book I think is dreadful, though many would call it great. I'll have to read some GR review of it to see what more people think.

But the others on her various lists I'll definitely have to check out. I do think SF is the most important literature of the 20th c. and will probably be of the 21st c. as well. It just lets one say more. I feel bad for my mom and others who don't read it. They're missing out.

Profile Image for Sara.
59 reviews51 followers
May 15, 2012
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 write at all). She offers some great writing advice and talks about her perspectives not only as a sci-fi writer, but as a "feminist writer" as well.

I love this one so much that I'm holding onto the book I checked out from the library (which is LOADED with removable post-it tabs) until the copy I ordered from Alibris gets here so I can mark it up with all the notes I made on the post-its in my library copy. There are a ton of notable passages and ideas in here that I don't want to forget. This book will become a lifetime reference for me.

The only thing that dropped this book a star was the fact that there are numerous points which are repeated throughout the book due to the fact that a number of these essays are actually adapted speeches she made at various events. I feel like the book needed a little bit more editing to remove those redundancies, because they were unnecessary in the work.

However, other than that little detail, I'd definitely say this is a must-read...a must-devour and must-own, in fact. Read it. Know it. Love it. It's golden wisdom from easily one of the most amazing science fiction writers in the past half-century and deserves to be treasured.
Profile Image for Derek.
1,217 reviews9 followers
September 4, 2018
Her discussions are better when highly targeted, and targeted on things other than her own work. She admits to writing intuitively, with the words coming from some level other than the analytic, so the essays talk in terms of symbolism, archetypes, and Jung. If this is not your thing, then the first fifty to seventy five pages are going to be real work and will not make you appreciate her fiction any more.

The criticisms--particularly "From Elfland to Poughkeepsie" and "American SF and The Other--are more toothy and toothsome. "Poughkeepsie" in particular rips into a recent fantasy tendency to make the stories more 'realistic' by storylines or characters that are essentially nonheroic: realpolitik, accountancy, and other behaviors that you would not see in myth and legend. It's a delight when she has her dander up and she drops the waffling-talk about symbolism and really rips into the subject with exceedingly specific, eloquent language. She says that she's been writing since the age of nine, and you can feel the force of every single year of craftsmanship.
Profile Image for Bibliotecario De Arbelon.
230 reviews94 followers
January 31, 2021
Una maravilla leer estos ensayos de Ursula K. Le Guin.

Aunque escritos en los años 70, estos ensayos te invitan a pensar y a reflexionar sobre el estado actual de la literatura fantástica y de ciencia ficción, pues gran parte de lo que comenta Le Guin todavía es aplicable hoy en día.

Recomendable para toda persona que quiera reflexionar sobre la literatura de género o, simplemente, leer a Le Guin.
Profile Image for Tom Meade.
213 reviews8 followers
January 2, 2016
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 point, demand from them a simple explanation. I think a large part of this might come from the fact that many critics, when they sit themselves down to expound, may not actually have much idea of what it is they're going to say. It's a similar set of circumstances to that which the novelist finds himself in, confronted by dozens of blank pages and with nothing to fill them but a vague notion, or a half-glimpsed image of a man in a silly hat playing cards with a dragon. It all goes back to the idea of the essay, I suppose - an idea which sits with deceptive frankness in the very name of the thing.

Ursula K. Le Guin, however, actually seems to know what she wants to say - and would that all critics were as clear as she in saying it. As she herself puts it, she is a novelist and not a theorist, and as such she has some very definite opinions of what it is that sf/f (can't forget the second "f"!) should and should not be. In this collection of essays, she makes a wonderfully eloquent argument not just that spec fic isn't automatically trash, and not just that it should be treated with the same respect as mainstream literature, but that it is, can and should aspire to achieve the highest levels of art. It's an exciting argument to hear made, even if it's probably not quite as radical as it once might have seemed. But then, if it isn't all that radical then why are so few authors aspiring to it? Then again, how does one even gauge such a thing?

Le Guin, who cites her principle influences as Tolstoy and Dickens (oh, and Dunsany), is coming from a background of psychological realism, and as a consequence she cites as the key task of any novel the ability to effectively create a whole and comprehensible human being. Quite rightly, she criticises most science fiction for the absence of real human beings. Now, I might criticise her for her placing of a primacy on human experience, but she makes two very compelling arguments for this. Firstly, she rejects conventionally realistic fiction as a construct. She does this in the essay "Why Are Americans Afraid of Dragons", summing things up with the wonderful (and depressingly true) statement that "fake realism is the escapist literature of our times". By doing this, she proceeds (making considerable use of Jung) to provide an argument that the conventional fantasy world, with its monotone characters, is possible of function in the whole as a sort of grand allegory of the human mind. The curious thing here is that she never once makes any mention of the trend away from strict realism in Modernist and Post-Modern fiction, but then I suppose that she would consider that fantasy as well and simply grow frustrated at the hypocrisy which sees one thing labelled as another depending upon how "literary" it is (in fact, this is probably the main reason why SF seldom reaches such heights - if it gets too good, they call it something else and then give it the Pulitzer).

Now, as I've said, none of this is really revolutionary at this point, but much of the joy in Le Guin's writing comes from the writing itself. Much of the book just breezes by, as Le Guin shares thoughts on everything from postgenderism (though she never calls it that), to "women in SF), to the need for an individual style and the impossibility of teaching anyone how to write (although, having said this, her book has given me quite a few ideas). There are insights into the evolution of the genre, frank criticisms of its limitations, and scarcely a word is wasted where it could instead be put to use making an excellent point. There's also the genuine joy of a companion piece by a popular author which actually stacks-up as a piece of academic criticism - Le Guin really, really, really knows her stuff.

In the end I'm not really the kind of guy to go around calling anything indispensable, but this really is indispensable. It confirmed my suspicions in some respects, challenged me greatly in others (I debate some of her more mystical conclusions) and even managed to make me change my mind about one or two things. This is a great, great book for anyone interested in the history and mechanics of the genre, and of the process of writing itself.
Profile Image for Mary Catelli.
Author 53 books165 followers
August 25, 2015
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 and whether she can be found in science fiction. And more.
Profile Image for Fran.
129 reviews2 followers
January 19, 2023
Probablemente, no ha habido mejor defensora y embajadora de la ciencia ficción y fantasía que Ursula K. Le Guin. Y en parte sucedía así porque mantenía cierta distancia con el género, es decir, no era ningún hooligan defensor de cualquier basura —la palabra es suya y de Sturgeon— publicada con la etiqueta de ciencia ficción o fantasía. Todo lo contrario. En esta colección de ensayos tiene buenas palabras para Tolkien o Dick (y Dickens y Tolstoi y Wolf...), regulares para Leiber o Zelazny, y horribles para otros muchos que tiene la delicadeza de no nombrar. Además, lejos de la autocomplacencia, no tiene inconveniente en criticar —y de qué manera— sus propias obras.

¿Y qué queda al lector tras pasar por este libro? Pues su inteligencia, su sinceridad, su humor y su visión firme, categórica, de la literatura, de la ciencia ficción y de la fantasía: la importancia del lenguaje, del personaje, de las metáforas, de hablar de nosotros. Se puede no estar de acuerdo en su análisis y concepción de estos géneros, pero es imposible no admirar su perspicacia y su comprensión, esa manera que tiene de encontrarse siempre un paso por delante del resto.

Más de cuarenta años han pasado desde su publicación y es reconfortante comprobar que siempre se mantuvo firme en sus convicciones, y que mucho de aquello que afirmaba en este libro se pudo ver reflejado tiempo después en su polémica con Ishiguro, por ejemplo. Un paseo por su blog muestra todo esto y muchas cosas más: siempre tan brillante.

Como digo, la mejor defensora.
Profile Image for Ignacio.
1,014 reviews197 followers
February 22, 2018
Esta colección recoge los primeros ensayos publicados por Le Guin en fanzines, revistas... entre finales de los 60 y los 70. Aparte de algunos de sus textos más afamados ("Why are Americans Afraid of Dragons?", "The Child and the Shadow", "A Citizen of Mondath"...) contiene otros menos conocidos, caso de las introducciones para las reediciones de las novelas del Ekumen en tapa dura, recomendaciones de varios de sus fetiches literarios (ESDLA, Dick) o "The Stone Ax and the Muskoxen", su percepción del mundo del fandom anglosajón de la época. Los más generales abren las puertas a su interés por la fantasía y la ciencia ficción como mecanismos narrativos para contarse a sí misma; defiende el poder de la imaginación, la importancia de la visión del autor y cómo el acto de narrar lo debe dejar al descubierto; el cuidado que presta a la construcción del lenguaje... Los más específicos permiten ver a una escritora humilde sin problema para tratar los puntos más débiles de su obra, firme en sus convicciones y asertiva a la hora de tratar temas espinosos, ingeniosa y divertida, siempre a la busca de comunicarse con el lector desde un entorno muy cercano.

Leído con cuatro décadas de diferencia respecto a su publicación, The Language of the Night mantiene su vigencia; para los lectores más ajenos a su obra y para los que deseen abrirse una vez más a ella. La continua búsqueda personal que albergan sus páginas transmiten una visión genuina de la creación literaria. Como tantas obras de no-ficción de escritores de género, es una pena que se haya quedado sin traducir.
Profile Image for Michael.
Author 2 books332 followers
February 6, 2019
.??? 80s: 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...
Profile Image for Sarah.
Author 109 books694 followers
September 19, 2008
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 become more legitimate in the eyes of the literary world since you wrote 'Why Are Americans Afraid of Dragons'?"
She looked me in the eye and said, "First of all, I use the term science fiction to include both science fiction and fantasy..."
I interrupted her. "I don't."
She looked affronted, but went on to answer my question, and later signed my copy of "The Lathe of Heaven", thankfully without referencing what an obnoxious kid I was.
Profile Image for Pam Baddeley.
Author 2 books41 followers
June 13, 2022
This is a collection of essays, introductions from various editions of the author's novels, and talks given at workshops and conventions. They set out the author's philosophy on what makes good science fiction or fantasy - truth rather than commercial qualities. There is quite a lot of Jungian philosophy which sometimes veers close to pretentiousness. The most interesting parts for me are where she discusses her own method of writing, which was intuitive and from the subconscious. She usually began with a character in a scene - or maybe a couple of characters - and then had to write the story to work out what was happening.

Some of what she said about "trash" writing is probably correct, but she was quite proscriptive on what constitutes truth in fantasy. In this connection, the essay 'From Elfland to Poughkeepsie' stoops to an attack on the work of a particular author. I immediately recognised whose work was being pilloried from the character names in the quoted extract. A footnote at the end of the essay confirmed it was taken from that author's first novel. Le Guin posits a fictional novel in which only four words are changed in that extract, transforming it into a political novel set in Washington DC. She apologises to the author for picking her for this object lesson, saying something good had gone wrong for her to be able to do this, and decides it is the straightforward style.

Although I haven't read the book in question for many years I greatly enjoyed it, and I think its use is unfair, especially as the examples of 'good' fantasy it is compared to include E R Eddison (whose prose I found so impenetrable I gave up the idea of reading 'The Worm Ouroboros') and Kenneth Morris who isn't much better. (Considering I once read William Hope Hodgson's 'The Night Land', which is written in a kind of cod Elizabethan, I don't think I can be accused of giving up easily on a novel.) From my memory of the book attacked, I don't think much of it could be translated into a Washington political thriller: the story is set in an alternative medieval Wales, beset by political and religious strife and the persecution of a race who have magical abilities. If anything, if it were to be reassigned to another genre and the magic were somehow to be removed (which might not be possible anyway), it would be a historical novel. But I don't see anything wrong with lucid, straightforward prose that does not get in the way of the story - as the Eddison and Morris examples do.

Le Guin characterises this plain prose as 'Poughkeepsie' style (ironically, as someone from the UK, Poughkeepsie sounds to me like somewhere in Elfland). In her view, this is fake plainness (she takes care to distinguish it from Tolkien's who she admired) equivalent to journalism. She attributes it to a lack of serious intention: 'a failure to take the job seriously'. Presumably permission was given for the quote to be used, but with the author denied the right of comeback, the attack mounts up over several pages into overkill, causing me to lose respect for Le Guin as a person. It wasn't necessary to quote a particular author's work to make the points she wanted to make, and I'm sure the book's author takes her job just as seriously as Le Guin did.

She also attacks the extract for a line spoken by one of the characters who says 'I could have told you that at....' This she interprets as "I told you so" and says 'Nobody who says "I told you so" has ever been, or will ever be, a hero.' This isn't consistent, since elsewhere in the collection she talks about people not being heroes but doing heroic things, and having normal human flaws etc. The quote from the story is given no context anyway, but I don't see a problem with a protagonist, heroic at other times, having the odd impatient moment under stress. But, she tells us, Lords of Elfland are the only true lords and the sign of their lordship is their inward greatness and therefore they can't actually show human flaws. To me, that sounds more like a cardboard cutout than the portrayal of a real person with weaknesses and strengths.

Given my level of annoyance with this essay and the slight pretentiousness elsewhere, I can only rate the collection overall at 3 stars.
Profile Image for Jeanne.
912 reviews61 followers
August 24, 2019
I first read The Language of the Night in about 1979, when it came out. I had enjoyed some of LeGuin's science fiction before that and had not known about her essays and nonfiction. My father gave me this book for Christmas, perhaps the only book and one of the few individually-chosen gifts he ever gave me. Perhaps the rarity of his gifts endowed it with special power, perhaps not; nonetheless, The Language of the Night opened my eyes to a new world: writers can cross genres, sci fi is fun but also serious.

Never underestimate the power to your gifts to young people, regardless of the shape they take (e.g., encouragement, feedback, books).

Ursula LeGuin talked about many different things in The Language of the Night, many of them surprising to me then (and now). Some of these have become part of how I look at the world, without me recognizing:

How do you become a writer? Answer: You write. (p. 197)

My students should blame LeGuin for their writing assignments throughout the year. I review on GR, in part, to write (but also to reflect and later remember).

Books can help us consider who we are and what we want to be:

I have lived in the same world with Stalin and Hitler, and in the same country with Joe McCarthy and G. Gordon Liddy, and they have all scared me. But none of them so much as Solzhenitsyn does, because not of them has had his power: the power to make me ask myself, Am I doing right? (pp. 214-215)

Perhaps this is one part of my frequent choice of memoirs: Not to scare me, but to make me ask myself, Am I doing right?

She asks us to think about censorship – from outside (as when Playboy asked her to sign her submission U. K. LeGuin, because "Many of our readers are frightened by women authors", p. 217) – but also from inside:

But out censors are not just the publishers and editors and distributors and publicists and book clubs and syndicated reviewers. They are the writers, and the readers. They are you and me. We censor ourselves. We writers fail to write seriously, because we're afraid to write seriously, because we're afraid – for good cause – that it won't sell. And as readers we fail to discriminate; we accept passively what is for sale in the marketplace; we buy it, read it, and forget it. We are mere "viewers" and "consumers," not readers at all. (pp. 219-220)

LeGuin asked me to read beyond the surface and see more to the stories I read, to the life around me: fantasy is the natural, the appropriate, language for the recounting of the spiritual journey and the struggle of good and evil in the soul (p. 68).

I hadn't recognized this at the time, but somehow Ursula LeGuin has become my Wise Aunt, encouraging me to be my best self. Thank you, auntie!

Thank you, Dad!
Profile Image for S.W. Wilcox.
Author 6 books57 followers
May 9, 2018
This was almost a 4 for me, but the expectations it had to live up to teetered the 3.5 down to a 3. Piers Anthony's "Bio of an Ogre" remains the best in this category imo, along with some of Tolkien's essays.
Profile Image for Laura.
236 reviews67 followers
January 18, 2022

Me resulta muy placentero leer no ficción de autores a los que admiro, de autores de los que no sólo me gustan sus novelas sino la que intuyo que es su manera de pensar, de ver y entender (si es que se puede) la vida, de expresarlo mediante su ficción. Ursula K. Le Guin es una de ellas. Una escritora que me aporta muchísimo a todos los niveles posibles y, como no podía ser de otra forma, también lo ha hecho mediante esta colección de 24 ensayos.

Este libro es una verdadera delicia tanto para los lectores del género como para los escritores del mismo; aunque me atrevo a decir que sean cuales sean vuestras preferencias literarias, si amáis este arte, disfrutaréis su lectura. Sí, es cierto que es una férrea y contundente defensa de los géneros fantásticos y también un precioso y honesto homenaje, pero encontraréis muchas otras cosas.

Es el discurso interior de una escritora inteligente que se muestra firme y categórica en sus convicciones, pero que a pesar de ello no busca sentar cátedra aun mostrándose profundamente incisiva. Son sus respuestas a preguntas que van más allá de lo estrictamente relacionado con la literatura o, mejor dicho, que ella hace que vayan más lejos. Esta es su verdad (como reitera a lo largo de la colección) y el camino que recorre para encontrarla. Una verdad que impregna por completo su obra y que va evolucionando, cambiando a medida que reflexiona, analiza y las circunstancias vitales la moldean. Veremos que Le Guin es igual de crítica consigo misma que con lo que la rodea.

Recurriré en muchas ocasiones a este libro tanto para disfrutar de su derroche de inteligencia como del conocimiento que tiene del género y el amor que le profesa. Han pasado muchos años desde que se escribieron estos ensayos, pero por la mayoría de ellos el tiempo no ha pasado (y es probable que jamás lo haga).

Nota: se puede leer sin conocer nada de la obra de ficción de la autora, pero considero que es más interesante y desde luego se degusta más si ya has leído alguna de sus novelas o relatos.
Profile Image for Morgan.
186 reviews14 followers
Shelved as 'partially-read'
November 12, 2008
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 collection covers much of the stuff that any Ursula K. Le Guin fan would want. Herein there are introductions to several of her books, most notably her 1976 justification and 1988 apology for her choice to use male pronouns for the genderless people in Left Hand of Darkness. She exposes us to her wealth of literary knowledge in her own fields as well as others, and exposes herself as the political activist whose ethos oozes seductively from every one of her novels. She fights the battle that all marginalized genre fiction writers wage. "Why Are Americans Afraid of Dragons?" asks the title of one piece, not knowing that 34 years later—after the mass marketing of D&D, the publication of seven Harry Potter books and the production of three blockbuster films based on Tolkien's Lord of the Rings—that America would have vanquished that fear. The SF of the caliber that Le Guin writes was condemned to the fringes of the bookshop in the pre-Star Wars 1970s. The truth is that yes, fantasy and the science fiction become dated, but the essays on them have become period pieces as well and, in Le Guin's case, worthy barometers to measure the times.
Profile Image for Nicholas Whyte.
4,565 reviews175 followers
January 29, 2010

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 bad) fantasy, and also includes the memorable line, 'they are not only crazy but Welsh'.

The other particularly remarkable piece is her 1988 fisking of her own 1976 essay, 'Is Gender Necessary?', where she critiques her earlier defence of The Left Hand of Darkness, admitting that from a feminist perspective the book is not a success, and concluding that 'women were justified in asking more courage of me and a more rigorous thinking-through of implications'.
Profile Image for Jordi Balcells.
Author 9 books106 followers
February 16, 2022
Como toda recopilación, tiene cosas muy buenas y otras aburridas (el ensayo sobre lo mucho que le molaba Carl Jung es soporífero). Lo normal. Lo que pasa es que es una recopilación de ensayos de mediados a finales de los 70, y como compendio hace 50 años sí tendría sentido. En 2021, lo interesante sería una recopilación de “lo mejor de” o, al menos, con un hilo en común. En fin.

Os dejo con un par de citas molonas.

No conozcas a tus héroes. “Yo superé el deseo de conocer a escritores vivos hace mucho tiempo. Hay un libro estupendo que te ha cambiado la vida, y entonces conoces al autor y resulta que tiene la mirada esquiva y lleva zapatos estrambóticos y no habla más que de la injusticia con que el sistema tributario estadounidense trata a los contribuyentes con ingresos irregulares, o de la cría de vacas de raza black angus, o de lo que sea”.

Aunque personalmente me guste estar en el gueto (por despecho, claro), esto sigue siendo muy vigente. “Aferrarse a la postura de evasión y defensa cuando han cesado la persecución y el desprecio no revela rebeldía, sino parálisis. Y yo quiero ver la cf en rebelión continua. Quiero ver como huye, no de quienes la desprecian, sino de aquellos que pretenden que siga siendo lo que era hace treinta años. Quiero verla pasar por encima de las ruinas del muro caído y dirigirse al siguiente muro para derribarlo también”.
Profile Image for Daniel A. Penagos Betancur.
176 reviews43 followers
February 18, 2022
¿Existe un idioma de la noche? Esta fue la pregunta que más rondó mi cabeza mientras leía esta colección de ensayos de Ursula K. Le Guin. Lo hizo por el hecho de ser el título de la colección y por el efecto que produce en el lector: aquel de querer descifrar cuál es ese idioma nocturno del que se habla, del que tanto se dice, pero que no se nombra. Nombres, nombres y nombres. Los verdaderos, los que tienen tanto poder, a los que nos tiene tan acostumbrados Ursula.

Acá están compilados los ensayos escritos entre 1972 y 1978 por motivos muy varios: una colaboración, un discurso o una intervención en un evento. Tratan temas como la llegada de Ursula al género, la percepción del género en Norteamérica, los orígenes de algunas de sus obras —las ya aparecidas para la época en que fueron escritos los ensayos—, críticas al género y un grupo muy colorido de ensayos sobre temas muy variados que atañen al Fantasy y a la Ciencia ficción.

Pocas veces he tenido el placer de descubrir lo que un autor piensa de su obra, de los géneros que más explora o del “simple” acto de escribir. No es frecuente, estamos más familiarizados con conocer la obra ya publicada y un par de pensamientos del autor, pero conocer pensamientos tan profundos es supremamente revelador y muestra lo serio del trabajo, lo difícil, lo que pocos ven.

Los ensayos mezclan anécdotas y reflexiones sobre el género que permiten descubrir la posición que tiene Ursula sobre el arte de escribir y sobre los géneros que más exploró. Resulta revelador la forma en la que ella escribía: lo hacía descubriendo qué había detrás de una imagen; algo poco frecuente y que va por una vía muy distinta al planear y esquematizar que usan tantos autores. Sin duda, Ursula es una escritora diferente a todos los demás.

Lo que dice Ursula no se limita a ser una simple opinión. Cada vez que suelta al aire una idea lo hace con bases teóricas muy sólidas que le aportan otras miradas a sus pensamientos, que le dan peso y razones a sus decisiones. Esto no es simplemente sentarse a imaginar planetas y naves espaciales o magos y dragones; esto es pensar mundos, lo que no todo el mundo se detiene a hacer, ni todos son capaces de reconocer. Esto me parece muy bello, pues muestra la persona que fue Ursula: pese a la posición y el prestigio que le trajo su obra, prefiere llenar su discurso de argumentos en vez de opiniones vacías o pretensiones. Esto le añade contundencia y un tono de autoridad bien ganada a lo que dice.

Si bien el libro desde la primera página se vende como no ser un manual —porque efectivamente no lo es y Ursula no gustaba mucho de cosas del tipo—, poco a poco y con todo el material que tiene dentro, el libro trasciende y se convierte en una cátedra completa sobre el género ¡Una completa maravilla!

De una forma muy bella en cada uno de los ensayos Ursula demuestra el amor que le tenía por el género y la seriedad que le imprimía a su obra —que no tambalea a la hora de llamar trabajo, porque lo es y se lo toma muy en serio—. Esto viene acompañado del pensamiento de que, si bien todo parece estar ya hecho, no todo está pensado; y es algo que debe tener un lugar fundamental dentro de la creación literaria. Pero pensar los mundos de parte del autor no basta y eso lo deja muy en claro Ursula en estos ensayos al sacar al lector del papel de un simple espectador y darle herramientas para ser crítico ante lo que lee. Desde este punto de vista: Aquí hay para todos, lectores, autores y aspirantes a cualquiera de los dos.

Un detalle que me pareció muy tierno y que obviamente no pasó desapercibido para mí fue la profunda admiración que sentía Ursula tanto por Tolkien como por su coterráneo Dick. De ambos habla con pasión y con deleite. De ambos es capaz de hablar de una forma crítica y señalar los puntos de su escritura que llaman su atención sin escrúpulo alguno, con franqueza, con un verdadero deleite y sin prepotencia de por medio. Este hecho llamó mi especial atención porque a mí todavía me cuesta mucho hablar de Tolkien objetivamente, para mí es algo visceral, algo de adentro y que escapa a cualquier deje de razón; así que encontrar alguien que es capaz de hablar con una admiración tan profunda, pero con argumentos, es una completa maravilla.

Cabe notar que, si bien los ensayos que están dentro de este título son los escritos en la década de los 70’s, no son los únicos que escribió Ursula, así que personalmente espero que alguien en el mundo se anime a compilar los ensayos posteriores a 1978, porque los hay, porque son necesarios y leer esta fase de Ursula es simple y llanamente una maravilla.

Este es un libro que da ganas de leer más libros, sobre todo más libros de Ursula, los cuales no son pocos y lo demuestra la bibliografía que acompaña la edición en forma de colofón. Es una obra basta, que abarca un amplio espectro de lo que es la literatura de ficción y que merece ser escarbada con el único temor de que te cambie, de que te amplíe la visión del mundo. No por nada estamos ante la que muy probablemente sea la mejor escritora del siglo XX. Si leer estos ensayos no despierta su interés por leer algo más de su obra, no sé qué más lo podría hacer.

En la edición en cuestión, que ha preparado Gigamesh y que era inédita en español hasta ahora, es una pena que las notas sobre el origen de cada uno de los ensayos no estén junto a cada texto, si no al final, en forma de bibliografía; si hubieran dejado las coordenadas originales de cada texto al pie o al final del mismo, hubiera sido un punto muy enriquecedor para la lectura.

El idioma de la noche es un libro al que hay que volver, un libro que fácilmente se convierte en una fuente de consulta constante. Es un libro que por sí solo tiene todo el peso de alguien que habla con toda autoridad sobre el género fantasioso. Ese es el idioma de la noche: el idioma que se hablaba otrora solo en las noches y que era invocado por el fuego y un grupo de humanos alrededor para escuchar las historias de un tiempo todavía más pasado en donde dioses, héroes y espíritus andaban a sus anchas por la faz de la tierra. El idioma de la noche, es sin lugar a dudas, la magia que hay detrás de nuestros relatos.
Profile Image for Leah Rachel von Essen.
1,165 reviews159 followers
November 15, 2022
The Language of The Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction contains fascinating literary criticism from Ursula K. Le Guin, compiled and edited by Susan Wood.

The collection brings together writings by Le Guin defending SFF from its skeptics and defining and shaping the genre. She also defends the imagination, writes about why America and the Western world at large have a pronounced skepticism of the fantastic, and discusses shadows and how good art helps us to acknowledge and confront evil. She writes about the difficulty of writing, and of writing about writing, of how her stories come to her more like discoveries than inventions, of gender and feminism in her novels, and much, much more. Her sarcastic wit and excellent analysis results in some of the best writing we have about SFF and imagination. Fans of Neil Gaiman's nonfiction will likely love Le Guin's as well.

I will say that at times, a certain genre snobbery comes out: as part of her defense of science fiction and fantasy being dismissed and labeled as escapism, she recasts pop fiction as actually dismissible escapism. She makes a real argument for it, and defines SFF as 'real art' that deals in truth. Her quotes on escapism are commonly used to defend escapism of all kinds, and so I found it jarring to realize that actually, she still does condemn escapism into things like comic books or romance that she finds to be flat, while defending 'escapism' into genres that deal with truth, into novels that deal with character and issues of freedom. (I'll add that nine times of ten, I found Wood's section introductions unnecessary and skippable.)

Overall, Le Guin is a powerhouse and an icon, and it's a joy to read nonfiction where her anticapitalist, sarcastic, witty self shines through alongside her usual great writing.
Profile Image for Charlotte L..
332 reviews115 followers
February 18, 2019
Ce petit livre regroupe plusieurs courts textes de Ursula Le Guin sur la SF et la fantasy et sur ce que ces genres en général sous-estimés peuvent nous apprendre sur le monde, sur nous-même et à quel point ils sont importants dans nos sociétés actuelles.
Si je ne mets que 3 étoiles, c'est parce que j'ai été très inégalement touchée et convaincue par les différents textes. J'ai adoré certains, et d'autres m'ont laissé de marbre, notamment parce que ceux-ci parlaient un peu trop de la culture américaine et donc de références qui me sont inconnues. Mais d'autres étaient passionnants et passionnés, et j'ai beaucoup aimé les passages sur Jung et le pouvoir de l'imaginaire.
Profile Image for Pablo Mallorquí.
505 reviews31 followers
November 5, 2020
Leer los artículos de Ursula K. Le Guin siempre es estimulante por la capacidad que tiene de expresar con ideas claras su visión de la literatura fantástica y de ciencia ficción. The Language of the Night recoge una selección de sus primeras obras de no ficción que arroja luz sobre su proceso de escritura, su preferencia por la literatura de género o analiza algunos escritores clásicos de fantasía. Una lectura agradable que se ve levemente enturbiada por un artículo infame donde hace una apología del psicoanálisis y se refiere a él como "ciencia". Pero bueno, no todo tenía que ser perfecto.
Profile Image for Mireia Crusellas.
152 reviews12 followers
March 11, 2021
Aquest recull d'articles l'he llegit en dues tirades i en la primera sé qui hi va haver alguna cosa que em va xirriar una miqueta, però la resta és meravellós. He llegit altres assajos de la Le Guin, però aquest és el primer en el qual a tots els articles es parla de literatura de gènere, a hores d'ara ja conec tant a la Le Guin com el palmell de la meva mà, tot i que sempre t'acaba sorprenent i ensenyant alguna cosa nova.
Profile Image for Deniss.
430 reviews27 followers
April 17, 2022

Em general me gustó mucho aunque, como pasa con cualquier colección de cosas que primero se publicaron en otros lados, es algo repetitivo y, aunque la mayor parte de los ensayos son increíblemente relevantes, como si se hubieran escrito apenas hace un par de años, otros están muy uhhh "outdated" (anticuado no suena a lo que me refiero). Pero bueno, es Ursula, leerla siempre se siente como descubrir una puerta nueva que te lleva a un lugar de tu mente y del mundo que no sabías que existía.
Profile Image for Mirexblood.
97 reviews1 follower
January 27, 2021
És un llibre que originalment va ser publicat cap al 1979. Fins ara, mai havia estat traduït al castellà, per això no havia arribat a les meves mans. És un llibre ple de discursos i reflexions de l'Ursula. De fet, si tens una imatge seva al cap, a través de les seves paraules, la retornes a la vida i te la pots imaginar parlant. Una gran feina de traducció i una edició bonica per part de Gigamesh.
Sobre el contingut... Reflexions sobre la CF, el feminisme i el punt de vista de l'autora. També el seu reconeixement i admiració cap a autors que li agradaven: Philip K.Dick, Charles Dickens, J.R.R. Tolkien, Zamiatin... Tot un pou de sabiesa envers la CF. Gràcies, Ursula K. Le Guin.
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