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January 2018

Ursula Le Guin on the truth of fantasy

Studio Muse 1

Like just about everyone else in the Mythic Arts field, I've been rocked by the death of Ursula Le Guin -- not only one of the greatest writers of our age, but also a vital, necessary figure for my generation of fantasy writers, editors, and illustrators. We entered the field in the late '70s and '80s when women were few and still unwelcome by a daunting number of professional colleagues, readers, and reviewers. Ursula was a guiding light, encouraging some of us directly, and many more through the pages of her books. In honor of her influential presence in American Arts & Letters for half a century (her first novel was published in 1966), I've gathered together all of the posts from the Myth & Moor archives related to her work. You'll find them here. The following post first appeared on Myth & Moor two years ago.

From The Language of the Night by Ursula K. Le Guin:

Dragon hatchling by Alan Lee"I believe that maturity is not an outgrowing but a growing up: than an adult is not a dead child, but a child who has survived. I believe that all the best faculties of a mature human being exist in the child, and that if these faculties are encouraged in youth they will act wisely and well in the adult, but if they are repressed and denied in the child they will stunt and cripple the adult personality. And finally, I believe that one of most deeply human, and humane, of these faculties is the power of imagination: so that it is our pleasant duty, as librarians, or teachers, or parents, or writers, or simply as grownups, to encourage that faculty of imagination in our children, to encourage it to grow freely, to flourish like the green bay tree, by giving it the best, absolutely the the best and purest, nourishment that it can absorb. And never, under any circumstances, to squelch it, or sneer at it, or imply that it is childish, or unmanly, or untrue.

"For fantasy is true, of course. It isn't factual, but it's true. Children know that. Adults know it too and that's precisely why many of them are afraid of fantasy. They know that its truth challenges, even threatens, all that is false, all that is phony, unnecessary, and trivial in the life they have let themselves be forced into living. They are afraid of dragons because they are afraid of freedom.

Dragon by Alan Lee

On my desk

"So I believe that we should trust our children. Normal children do not confuse reality and fantasy -- they confuse them much less often than we adults do (as a certain great fantasist pointed out in a story called 'The Emperor's New Clothes'). Children know perfectly well that unicorns aren't real, but they also know that books about unicorns, if they are good books, are true books. All too often, that's more than Mummy and Daddy know; for, in denying their childhood, the adults have denied half their knowledge, and are left with the sad, sterile little fact: 'Unicorns aren't real.' And that fact is one that never got anyone anywhere (except in the story 'The Unicorn in the Garden,' by another great fantasist, in which it is shown that a devotion to the unreality of unicorns may get you straight into the loony bin.) It is by such statements as, 'Once upon a time there was a dragon,' or 'In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit' -- it is by such beautiful non-facts that we fantastic human beings may arrive, in our peculiar fashion, at truth." 

Unicorn by Alan Lee & John Howe

Studio Muse 2Words: The passage above is from "Why Are Americans Afraid of Dragons?" by Ursula K. Le Guin, which first appeared in PNLA Quarterly 38 (1974), and can also be found in her essay collection The Language of the Night (GP Putnams, 1979). Drawings: The two dragon drawings are by Alan Lee, and the unicorn drawing by Alan Lee & John Howe. Photographs: A quiet morning the studio. All rights to the text and art above reserved by the author and artists.


Breaking open

Waterfall 1

From Wild Comfort by Kathleen Dean Moore:

" 'There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature,' Rachel Carson wrote. 'The assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.'

"I have never felt this so strongly as I do now, waiting for the sun to warm my back. The bottom may drop out of my life, what I trusted may fall away completely, leaving me astonished and shaken. But still, sticky leaves emerge from bud scales that curl off the tree as the sun crosses the sky. Darkness pools and drains away, and the curve of the new moon points to the place where the sun will rise again. There is wild comfort in the cycles and the intersecting circles, the rotations and revolutions, the growing and ebbing of this beautiful and strangely trustworthy world.

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Waterall 3

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 "I settle back on the rock and drag my sleeping bag over my knees. Diffuse light silvers the water; I can just make out a dragonfly nymph that crawls toward the surface with no expectation of flight beyond maybe a tightness in the carapace across its back. No matter how hard it tries or doesn't, there will come a time when the dragonfly pumps the crinkles out of its wings, and there they will be, luminous as mica, threaded with lapis and gold.

Waterfall 5

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 "No measure of human grief can stop Earth in its tracks. Earth rolls into sunlight and rolls away again, continents glowing green and gold under the clouds. Trust this, and there will come a time when dogged, desperate trust in the world will break open into wonder. Wonder leads to gratitude. Gratitude into peace." 

Waterfall 9

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Wild Comfort by Kathleen Dean Moore

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Where, or how, do you find wild comfort?

Leap

 The passage above is from Wild Comfort: The Solace of Nature, essays by Kathleen Dean Moore (Trumpeter Books, 2010); all rights reserved by the author. The text is the picture captions is adapted from a  post after winter storms in 2012.


On a dark day in Devon

Oak 1

"This far north, the changes from winter to spring and from summer to autumn are rapid," wrote Sharon Blackie in 2012, when she was living on a croft in Scotland's Outer Hebrides. "In spring, a sudden clatter of light announces that winter is over; then one day around the beginning of September you wake up to find that summer slipped away while you weren't paying attention. There is none of the drawn out descent that characterizes the long sleepy slide into autumn in more southerly places.

"And so now here we are, entering that Long Darkness....In places like this, at this time of year, there are no distractions from being. And so we are now becoming engaged in our own responses to this lengthening darkness, to the more vivid reality of simply being. The process reminds me of the work I used to do as a narrative therapist, using personal storytelling and mythmaking with people undergoing life crisis or transitions. That descent into the underworld which underpins our most compelling myths and fairy stories is a real phenomenon for everyone -- whether or not we choose to heed the 'call to adventure.' For me, such descents have always been a time of deep excitement mixed with a little apprehension at whatever I might be allowing to enter next into my life. Though now, of course, I'm describing a different kind of descent, a seasonal -- annual --  descent into another mode of being as the year closes in and headspace opens up."

Oak 2

"This Outer Hebridean darkness is one of the inextricable links between place, weather and seasons which play a major role in our imaginative lives. Because weather and seasons are the foundations of our sense of belonging to a place. Curiously, perhaps, weather is rarely mentioned in writing about the sense of place. And yet, it is weather that largely shapes a place and its landscape.

"The islands of the Outer Hebrides, for example, are as they are precisely because of centuries of wind and driving rain. The land is boggy, treeless, hard, pared to the bones -- and possessed of a vivid, uncluttered clarity precisely for that reason. It's always surprising that so many people who come to live in these islands begin to long for periods of hot dry wind-free sunshine and to complain bitterly about the weather, as though the weather could somehow be extracted and then you'd be left with a place that was so much more reasonable to live in. But hot dry sunshine isn't the Outer Hebrides, it's Provence or Tenerif...or so many other places, but not this place."

Oak 3

"Weather is what you walk in, along with landscape, when you walk in a place. It isn't something accidental that happens to you as you walk on the surface of the earth: it's intrinsic. Anthropologist Tim Ingold writes about this in his book, Being Alive:

" 'To inhabit the open is not, then, to be stranded on a closed surface but to be immersed in the incessant movements of wind and weather, in a zone wherein substances and medium are brought together in the constitution of beings that, by way of their activity, participate in stitching the textures of the land....Sea and land are engulfed in a wider sphere of forces and relations comprise the weather-world. To perceive and to act in the weather-world is to align one's own conduct to the celestial movements of sun, moon and stars, to the rhythmic alterations of night and day and the seasons, to rain and shine, sunlight and shade.' "

Tree in rain

Village in rain

Mossy branches

"All over the world," wrote Gretel Erhlich in Orion Magazine in 2004, "the life of rocks, ice, mountains, snow, oceans, islands, albatross, sooty gulls, whales, crabs, limpets, and guanaco once flowed up into the bodies of the people who lived in small hunting groups and villages, and out came killer-whale prayers, condor chants, crab feasts, and guanaco songs. Life went where there was food. Food occurred in places of great beauty, and the act of living directly fueled people’s movements, thoughts, and lives.

"Everything spoke. Everything made a sound -- birds, ghosts, animals, oceans, bogs, rocks, humans, trees, flowers, and rivers -- and when they passed each other a third sound occurred. That’s why weather, mountains, and each passing season were so noisy. Song and dance, sex and gratitude, were the season-sensitive ceremonies linking the human psyche to the larger, wild, weather-ridden world....

"When did we begin thinking that weather was something to be rescued from?"

Oak dog

Books by Gretel Ehrlich

EarthLines Magazine  November 2012

 The passage by Sharon Blackie is from the Editorial page in EarthLines Magazine, November 2012. The passage by Gretel Ehrlich is from "Chronicles of Ice" in Orion Magazine, November 2004. The poem in the picture captions is from The Wrong Music by Olive Fraser (Canongate, 1989).  All rights reserved by the authors or their estates. 


Tunes for a Monday Morning

“June in the Artist's Garden” by Violet Oakley (1874-1961)

Today, women's voices from America....

Above: "Little Lies" by I'm With Her, a trio comprised of bluegrass & folk musicans Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz, and Aoife O'Donovan. The song is from their much-anticipated first album as a trio, See You Around, which comes out next month.

Below: "Émigré" by Alela Diane, a singer/songwriter from Portland, Oregon. The song appears on her fifth album, Cusp, due out next month. The album, she says, is an exploration of motherhood in many different guises, inspired by her second daughter's birth.

Above: "Let Them Be All" by Kyle Carey, a singer/songwriter inspired by both the American and Gaelic folk traditions. It comes from her fine second album, North Star. Carey's third album, The Art of Forgetting, is just about to be released.

Below: "At The Purchaser's Option" by Rhiannon Giddens, the brilliant young singer/songwriter/fiddler/banjo player from North Carolina who was awarded a MacArthur "genius grant" last year. (And well deserved too.) The song comes from her new album Freedom Highway (2017).

Above: Tish Hinojosa's now-classic song about migrants on the American/Mexican border, "Donde Voy (Where I Go)."  She's accompanied by Mavin Dykhus in this performance, which was filmed on tour in Germany.

Below: "Going Home" performed by singer/songwriter/banjo player Abigail Washburn with Wu Tong, Yo-Yo Ma, and The Silkroad Ensemble, a group dedicated to music "sparking radical cultural collaboration." The song -- first popularized by singer & civil rights activist Paul Robeson (1898-1976) -- is performed in Chinese and English as part of the Poem for You project. To learn more about it, go here.

Above: Abigail Washburn again, this time performing "Don’t Let it Bring You Down” with her husband, fellow banjo player Béla Fleck. The song is from their terrific new album, Echo in the Valley (2017).

Below, to end with: "True Freedom" by Native American musician and activist Pura Fé, of the Tuscarora Nation. This lovely performance was filmed two years ago at The Alhambra in Paris.

Mural study by Violet Oakley

The art today is by American painter, illustrator, muralist and stained glass designer Violet Oakley (1874-1961). Oakley was one of The Red Rose Girls: three women artists who lived and worked communally at the Red Rose Inn near Philadelphia in the early 20th century. (The others were Jessie Willcox Smith and Elizabeth Shippen Green.) Read "The Exceptional Life & Polictical Art of Violet Oakey" by Carrie Rickey if you'd like to know more about Oakley, and Alice A. Carter's book wonderful book, The Red Rose Girls.


Women's March 2018

Roses at Bumblehill

Sending love, solidarity, and flowers (in suffragette white) to everyone who is participating in the Women's March in the United States (today), the United Kingdom (tomorrow), or wherever else in the world you are gathering. I'm grateful for you all.

In 1922, writer & activist Winifred Holtby wrote in a letter to The Yorkshire Post:

"I am a feminist because I dislike everything that feminism implies. I desire an end to the whole business, the demands for equality, the suggestion of sex warfare, the very name feminist. I want to be about the work in which my real interests lie, the writing of novels and so forth. But while the inequality exists, while injustice is done and opportunity denied to the great majority of women, I shall have to be a feminist. And I shan't be happy till I get ... a society in which there is no respect of persons, either male or female, but a supreme regard for the importance of the human being. And when that dream is a reality, I will say farewell to feminism, as to any disbanded but victorious army, with honour for its heroes, gratitude for its sacrifice, and profound relief that the hour for its necessity has passed."

Like Holtby, I would prefer to focus on "the writing novels and so forth," but the work of social change is far from done. I am proud to call myself a feminist, today and every day.

Roses in suffragette white

The white roses were given to me by my British mother-in-law on the day of the American election in 2016. She knew how much it meant to me to vote for a woman candidate, and how devastated by the outcome I was. The picture on the wall is by our friend and neighbor Alan Lee: the cover image for JRR Tolkien's posthumous book The Children of Húrin. Howard posed for the central character in the picture some years ago, and we treasure it.