I am pleased to announce that I am part of a team delivering a course at Signum University this fall on Ursula K. Le Guin: Worldbuilder. Prof. Kris Swank, PhD candidate at the University of Glasgow, is delivering a series of lectures on Le Guin, taking an approach to the eclectic Le Guin that is understudied. Le Guin was a “world-builder”–a shaper of speculative universes that are as dynamic, alluring, and provocative as her characters, storylines, and poetic prose have always been. Le Guin is the focus of much of my leisure reading in 2021–and well worth the time for authors, teachers, literary critics, and lovers of speculative fiction.
Brownyn Rivera has created a blog post invitation at the Signum University website that I thought was worth reblogging. If you would like to delve further into Le Guin’s worlds, I hope you can join us this fall. Registration for credit, discussion audit, and audit is open now for this masters-level course. You can always send me a personal note if you are wondering if an MA in Imaginative Literature is the right thing for you (my @signumu.org email address is brenton.dickieson).
From fantastical creatures, to unraveling the mysteries of time travel, to the classic Hero’s Journey, fantasy and science fiction are constantly being defined and redefined by reader and writer alike. Rather than striving for global-scale wars and high word counts, Ursula K. Le Guin chose to write about small, everyday people in small, everyday villages, often within the span of 100-150 pages per story. When she passed away in January 2018, she left behind an expansive collection of novels, short stories, poetry, essays, and translated works. According to Kristine Ainsworth Swank, lecturer for Ursula K. Le Guin: Worldbuilder, “There’s usually a battle going on within a person. Someone becoming an adult, a person learning their powers, a stranger fitting into a new world. Sometimes you meet royalty, but most often you don’t. If you can’t find someone to relate to in Le Guin, you haven’t read enough Le Guin yet.”
That’s all well and good, you might say. But why should I study Le Guin? We ask you the following:
- Would you like to sit at the feet of a passionate “grandmaster” of storytelling?
- Do you already enjoy the works of other fantasy and science fiction authors such as N.K. Jemisin, Neil Gaiman, and Ray Bradbury?
- Is the technique of worldbuilding something you’d like to learn, especially for crafting your own epic novel or video game?
- Do you want to see how an author ahead of her time tackled social and political movements such as Black Lives Matter, #metoo, and equality for all genders?
- Do stories which “seem to favor villages over cities, craft over industry, poetry over gunfire,” but also involve talking dragons and strange gizmos appeal to you?
- Are you a book lover who simply wishes for a TBR pile that will have you set for life?
If you answered “Yes!” to any of these, we invite you to sign up for Ursula K. Le Guin: Worldbuilder for the Fall 2021 semester. Even if you aren’t familiar with Le Guin or have only read a few of her works, deep knowledge isn’t required in order to enjoy the class. That being said, Swank does recommend getting a headstart on the reading list and watching the 2018 documentary Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin (available on Amazon, Kanopy, and PBS Passport). Additionally, Mythgard Academy offers comprehensive seminars on two of Le Guin’s novels, The Dispossessed and A Wizard of Earthsea. These are led by “The Tolkien Professor” Dr. Corey Olsen, founder and president of Signum University, and can be accessed through those links on Mythgard Institute’s website for free.
If you’re not able to dive deep into every book, fret not. The goal of the class is to have an overview of the novels and come away with what you will. Students who join the class will have access to all of the lectures and course materials even after the semester is over, and are welcome to revisit Ursula K. Le Guin: Worldbuilder as many times as they wish. We hope you’ll join us for the adventure.
By Bronwyn Rivera
This course includes two live 90-minute lectures per week with one 60-minute discussion session as assigned.
- Le Guin’s biography
- Early world-building
Week 2: The Hainish Cycle I: Beginnings
- “Myth and Archetype in Science Fiction”
- The early Hainish Cycle writings
- The Left Hand of Darkness
- Gender revisited
Week 4: The Hainish Cycle III: Politics
- The Dispossessed
- Politics in Le Guin’s writings
Week 5: The Hainish Cycle IV: The Environment
- The environment in Le Guin’s writings
- The Word for World is Forest
- Le Guin and the New Wave Science Fiction
- The Lathe of Heaven
Week 7: The Books of Earthsea I: Power
- The early Earthsea writings
- A Wizard of Earthsea
Week 8: The Books of Earthsea II: Race and Culture
- Race & culture in Le Guin’s writings
- The Tombs of Atuan
- Religion in Le Guin’s writings
- The Farthest Shore
Week 10: The Books of Earthsea IV: Feminism
- Feminism in Le Guin’s writings
Week 11: The Books of Earthsea V: Later Re-visions
- The Other Wind
- Tales from Earthsea
- Late world-building, and the Annals of the Western Shore series
- “Omelas” and Le Guin’s literary legacy
Note: Students may use any edition of the following texts.
- Required Texts:
- The Hainish Cycle
- The Lathe of Heaven (1971)
- The Books of Earthsea
- Powers (Annals of the Western Shore Book 3) (2007)
- The Wind’s Twelve Quarters (1975)
- Optional Texts (not required):
- Suggested Edition:
- Single-volume Library of America edition of Annals of the Western Shore (includes Gifts, Voices, and Powers)
Further readings will be provided by the course instructors in the final syllabus.
Special Note: Robert Steed, PhD, Professor of Humanities at Hawkeye Community College, will give a special guest lecture during Week 9 of this course. Steed specializes in the study of Chinese religions, particularly Daoism, and Asian religions more generally. His research and teaching interests extend to religion and popular culture, medieval and world Christianity, mysticism, religion and art, and mythopoeic art, especially that of J.R.R. Tolkien, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Miyazaki Hayao.