Janet Brennan Croft, editor

Volume 39, № 2: Ursula K. Le Guin

26 April 2021

In this issue: 6 peer-reviewed articles, 2 editorials, 2 notes, 12 reviews, letters.


Introduction to the special issue

Melanie A. Rawls, p. 22

This issue of Mythlore commemorates the life and writing of author Ursula Kroeber Le Guin: visionary essayist, poet, blogger, critic, teacher, and grandmaster of fantasy and science fiction via novel, novella, and short story. Le Guin was indisputably a gamechanger in the fiction genres of fantasy and science fiction, and her essays about these genres remain some of the most thought-provoking and insightful ever published. Le Guin has left us a body of mythopoeic work that is an inexhaustible source of wonder.

Peer-reviewed articles

Aspects of worldbuilding: Taoism as foundational in Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea saga

Dennis Friedrichsen, p. 1

Ursula K. Le Guin’s influential Earthsea novels are an integral part of the fantasy literature tradition, and the way Le Guin constructed both her narrative and the accompanying storyworld continues to inspire reader reactions and scholarly attention. This article seeks to directly link the Taoist philosophy to Le Guin’s worldbuilding and argues that Taoism is foundational for Earthsea and its construction. Multiple aspects of the storyworld are affected by Taoism including dialogue, character motivations, major quests, and moral systems. Through examples from primarily A Wizard of Earthsea, the article showcases how Taoism is meaningful in Earthsea and the strong degree to which Le Guin used Taoism as a building block in the same manner that J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis employed Christianity in their work. The main character, Ged, provides the most material for examining Taoist influence, and his journey — which is reminiscent of a classic Bildungsroman — produces several crucial moments that highlight central areas Taoism is concerned with, including Balance, Wholeness, and Equilibrium.

Magic, witchcraft, and faërie: Evolution of magical ideas in Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea cycle

Oleksandra Filonenko, p. 2

In my article, I discuss a peculiar connection between the persisting ideas about magic in the Western world and Ursula Le Guin’s magical world in the Earthsea universe and its evolution over the decades. For centuries in the Western European culture, magic has been a subject for an ongoing debate vacillating between the total rejection of this part of human spiritual life or reluctant acceptance of it. There is also some internal hierarchy of types of magic revealed in the dichotomy magic versus witchcraft.” Encyclopaedia Britannica describes magic and witchcraft as two separate phenomena, connected yet distinctively different. The former is an umbrella term for everything that is or might be perceived as magical. Yet, in the Western world, the concept of magic has strong connections with Western esoteric tradition and is quite often designated as learned magic” implying hard learning and intellectual practices, in particular knowledge of ancient and secret languages. Moreover, learned magic had been an exclusively male occupation for centuries and, to some extent, complied with the dominant Christian worldview. Witchcraft, on the other hand, does not normally demand much learning; however, practitioners are expected to have an inborn or acquired ability to work magic. In the context of Western culture, witchcraft has predominantly been a female practise and, until recently, stigmatized as demonic. There is also a third branch of magic designated by J.R.R. Tolkien in his seminal essay On Fairy-Stories” as Faërie — the magic of non-human magical creatures as there natural ability, which is the strongest of all magical types and does not seem to have any limitations.…

Who is there? Subjectivity, transformation, and the child’s journey in Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Tombs of Atuan

Meghann Cassidy, p. 4

The intricately crafted worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin provoke us into thinking about our own world’s constructs, our languages, and our very being. Though The Tombs of Atuan sets many puzzles for readers, subjectivity, or what it means to be an individual person, is an overarching theme. The paper demonstrates how The Tombs’ narrative leads readers through three stages of identification of name to subject: an initial, partial identification (Tenar), a passage to namelessness and near-negation of self (Arha) and finally, the retrieval of the name (Tenar). These three stages, or moments of naming, (and calling) reflect an active, violent and unstable process of subjectivation — a process through which human beings do seem to go, in the passage from childhood to adulthood. The fact that we are beings whose journeys can include radical destruction and transformation is itself crucial. The paper concludes that a certain will to power, friendship and a limited type of self-knowledge or intuition all subsist the stripping away of the name and self in Arha, (and in the passage from childhood to adulthood), and enable a performative and experiential retrieval of identity. As such, it seems that if The Tombs of Atuan is to yield any notion of a subject, no set of universally true and immutable conditions can be delineated. Rather, an individual’s who is formed and performed in the ethical sphere, meaning that performative and transformative practices and events occurring with, and in relation to, others contribute to the very constitution of self. In this respect, parallels between Tenar’s story and women’s initiation rites can be drawn. Le Guin’s tale may provide symbols and moments by which to understand the profound transformation a child undergoes in adolescence.

“Beware her, the day she finds her strength!”: Tehanu and the power of the marginalized to affect social change in Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea saga

Jon Alkorta Martiartu, p. 5

The present paper aims to study the central role that Ursula K. Le Guin gave to the character of Tehanu in her Earthsea novels of Tehanu and The Other Wind, with the intention of showing how even the most marginalized and liminal individuals of society should be given a chance to prove their worth. For this purpose, we will study the reasons that make Tehanu such a character, focusing especially on her inscription as a female individual, her namelessness, and disability. At the same time, making use of the proposals offered by liminality and disability studies, we will suggest that it is by means of a thorough reflection on her physical condition that this character will end up acquiring a powerful position from which she will be able to affect change in a global scale.

The four deaths of Ged

John Rosegrant, p. 6

A grim land of the dead holds a central place in Le Guin’s Earthsea series. This underworld, its relationship with the land of the living, and its final transformation, have important psychological meanings: Le Guin demonstrates that to develop a self that is integrated, differentiated, and vibrant, not only does the conscious mind need connection with the unconscious, but the unconscious mind needs connection with the conscious ego as well. Le Guin further demonstrates that these connections between the conscious and unconscious mind must take different forms across the lifespan. The arc of Ged’s story provides the rare opportunity to observe a literary character’s changing relationship to death as he matures and ages. This changing relationship plays out as Ged dies four times: in actuality at the end, and thrice symbolically before that.


The practical geography of always coming home

David Bratman, p. 7

Ursula K. Le Guin is a fantasy writer focused on the detailed description of the locales of her stories, in particular Always Coming Home. In this she may be usefully compared and contrasted with Tolkien and other authors of fantasy of place. This article is particularly concerned with the geography of the Valley of the Na in Always Coming Home as a fictionalization of the Napa Valley. It describes in detail the maps in the book and their relationship with the primary world geography. It recounts, from fieldwork, what is to be found at the Kesh townsites in our primary-world geography, and where exactly they are located. Lastly, it notes that the maps only acquire importance and interest from their relationship with the story’s text.

Ursula’s bookshelf

Kristine A. Swank, p. 8

In keeping with the purpose of the Mythopoeic Society — promoting the study, discussion, and enjoyment of fantastic and mythic literature” — this selective list examines a few of the authors and works Ursula K. Le Guin acknowledged as being influential or among her favorites, and to which some connections might be traced in her own mythopoeic and cosmopoeic works. The list includes Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles, Lord Dunsany’s A Dreamer’s Tales, Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle, T.H. White’s The Sword in the Stone, Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Books, and J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, among others.


In memoriam: Richard C. West

Janet Brennan Croft, p. 26

Richard C. West (1944−2020) was one of the pioneers of serious Tolkien scholarship. He was the founder of the Tolkien Society at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. West is known particularly for his invaluable resource Tolkien Criticism: An Annotated Checklist. Among West’s other scholarly works, his 1975 essay, The Interlace Structure of The Lord of the Rings” (in Jared Lobdell’s collection A Tolkien Compass) has proven to have particularly long-lasting impact. West had a long affiliation with the Mythopoeic Society.


Tolkien’s Lost Chaucer (Bowers)

Joe R. Christopher, p. 10

A review, by Joe R. Christopher of Tolkien’s Lost Chaucer. John M. Bowers. Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press, 2019. xvi + 310 pp. ISBN-13: 978 – 0198842675. ISBN-10: 0198842678.

Tarot (Hundley) and Astrology (Richards)

Emily E. Auger, p. 11

Reviews, by Emily E. Auger, of Tarot, edited and written by Jessica Hundley, with essays by Penny Slinger, Johannes Fiebig, and Marcella Kroll, and of Astrology, edited by Jessica Hundley, with essays by Andrea Richards.

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