Tuesday, September 17, 2002

Margaret Atwood writes with great insight about Ursula LeGuin and her latest collection of stories - "The Birthday of the World":

The last story, "Paradises Lost," continues the note of renewal. Many generations have been born and have died on board a long-distance space ship. During the voyage a new religion has sprung up, whose adherents believe they are actually, now, in Heaven. (If so, Heaven is just as boring as some have always feared.) Then the ship reaches the destination proposed for it centuries earlier, and its inhabitants must decide whether to remain in "Heaven" or to descend to a "dirtball" whose flora, fauna, and microbes are completely alien to them. The most enjoyable part of this story, for me, was the release from claustrophobia: try as I might, I couldn't imagine why anyone would prefer the ship.

Le Guin is on the side of the dirtball, too; and, by extension, of our very own dirtball. Whatever else she may do— wherever her curious intelligence may take her, whatever twists and knots of motive and plot and genitalia she may invent—she never loses touch with her reverence for the immense what is. All her stories are, as she has said, metaphors for the one human story; all her fantastic planets are this one, however disguised. "Paradises Lost" shows us our own natural world as a freshly discovered Paradise Regained, a realm of wonder; and in this, Le Guin is a quintessentially American writer, of the sort for whom the quest for the Peaceable Kingdom is ongoing. Perhaps, as Jesus hinted, the kingdom of God is within; or perhaps, as William Blake glossed, it is within a wild flower, seen aright.

I was recently bowled over by Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale", and of course LeGuin's work has been a treasured part of my mental furniture for most of my life. (via Nick Denton)

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