Ursula K. Le Guin just died. She was an American novelist who set her stories in the worlds of science fiction and fantasy. She explored important ideas like gender, religion, politics and the individual’s place in society. She has been compared to Tolkein, the author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. That alone makes her worth checking out for me.She writes about big ideas and I regret that I have not discovered her before this. I intend to correct this.

The Left Hand of Darkness looks really interesting. It has a race of androgynous beings who choose their sex only for procreating, and the challenge of a person making contact with that alien world, and making sense of it. The link for this book brings you to Audible which sells audible performances of books. If you go there, you can listen to a five minute excerpt that sounds intriguingly Jungian in some respects. She is certainly plowing the same deep fields.

Margaret Atwood discusses Le Guin’s legacy in a piece in the Guardian.

Le Guin also wrote a well-regarded translation of the Tao Te Ching.

Sourceless

The way is empty, used,

but not used up.

Deep, yes! ancestral

to the ten thousand things.

 

Blunting edge,

loosing bond,

dimming light,

the way is the dust of the way.

 

Quiet,

yes, and likely to endure.

Whose child? born

before the gods.

 

Everything Lao Tzu says is elusive. The temptation is to grasp at something tangible in the endlessly deceptive simplicity of the words. Even some of his finest scholarly translators focus on positive ethical or political values in the text, as if those were what’s important in it. And of course the religion called Taoism is full of gods, saints, miracles, prayers, rules, methods for securing riches, power, longevity, and so forth—all the stuff that Lao Tzu says leads us away from the Way.

In passages such as this one, I think it is the profound modesty of the language that offers what so many people for so many centuries have found in this book: a pure apprehension of the mystery of which we are part.

Guin, Ursula K. Le. Lao Tzu: Tao Te Ching: A Book about the Way and the Power of the Way (Kindle Locations 263-275). Shambhala. Kindle Edition.

“A pure apprehension of the mystery of which we are part.” She is a kindred spirit for sure.

If you’re like me and want to read more of Le Guin, here are two suggested reading lists:

Oregonlive Le Guin Reading List

The Guardian Reading List