The Long Dance

Like so many others who have posted here and elsewhere today, I first met the work of Ursula K. Le Guin as a young reader prowling the library shelves. My unforgettable find was The Farthest Shore. I have never been particularly cooperative about reading series in order (I started The Lord of the Rings with The Two Towers, just for starters), and the shiny gold Newbery seal drew me to this book. I can still remember swallowing it whole: Arren by the fountain, Ged in his boat, the Long Dance, the white straits of Solea, Havnor and Selidor and tragic Elfarran.

I’ve always been sensitive to the music in prose, and this book sang. It still sings, all these years later, when I reread it and remember that first meeting with a new and wonderful author.

Then, rather later, I discovered that this author wrote essays, too. Witty, incisive, occasionally wicked essays that turned my head inside out and made me think about familiar things in new ways. The way “cellar door” evolved into Selidor; the way cultures build themselves on unexamined and too frequently damaging assumptions–a theme that I found also in The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed and Always Coming Home. The last was, for its time, rather a radical concept: a multimedia novel, with audio! too! Who’d have thought?

If there is one thing Ursula does better than just about anyone, it is mess with your head. Turn your assumptions upside down. Make you think.

She does it in person, too. I am painfully, cripplingly shy around famous people whom I admire tremendously. If I were offered the chance to have dinner with the greats of history, to meet and talk to them, I would decline. I’d be too bashful to get my head out from under the tablecloth. But when I attended the World Fantasy Convention in Seattle in 1989–twenty years ago next week, good heavens–I found myself empaneled with Ursula, which meant I had better climb out from under the table and speak up.

That was some panel. Vonda McIntyre was on it, too, and Jane Yolen, and a selection of younger women pros. Some serious feminist power there. And Ursula was the life of the party. She was warm, wicked, funny, and she talked us all into messing with the audience’s heads. And we did. We rocked the house.

She’s still doing it. I love a world-class author who posts cat comics in a writers’ co-op. She could be all Serious and Important and Academic. She is all those things, mind, with the awards and the conference papers to prove it, but she’s also one of us. Those who have been too shy to meet or talk to her–the next time you have the opportunity, by all means take it. You will be very glad you did.

Happy birthday, Ursula. I hope you have a splendid day–and many more to come.

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