Ursula K. LeGuin is universally hailed as one of the best contemporary science fiction and fantasy (SF/F) writers. Her science fiction, including the award-winning Left Hand of Darkness (Walker, 1969; Ace, 1969) and The Dispossessed, An Ambiguous Utopia (Harper & Row, 1974; Avon, 1975) have appeared as adult fiction while her Earthsea fantasy trilogy—A Wizard of Earthsea (Parnassus Press, 1968; Ace, 1970; Bantam, 1975), The Tombs of Atuan (Atheneum, 1971; Bantam, 1975), and The Farthest Shore (Atheneum, 1972; Bantam, 1975)—was published originally on the children's list, although Bantam has subsequently marketed the set as adult fiction. Like her adult SF, LeGuin's fantasy has been much praised. A Wizard of Earthsea received the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award in 1969; The Tombs of Atuan was a Newbery Honor Book for 1971; in 1972 The Farthest Shore won the National Book Award for Children's Literature.
LeGuin has always been a champion of children's literature. In an essay first published in an SF magazine ["Dreams Must Explain Themselves," Algol 21 (Nov. 15, 1973), pp. 6-14], she castigates the patronizing attitude of some adults towards writers of children's books. ("I love your books—the real ones, I mean, I haven't read the ones for children, of course!") [End Page 19] This attitude she labels "adult chauvinist piggery."
Her critical perceptiveness in the field of fantasy and children's literature in general has been highly valued by those aware of her writing, which all too often appeared in hard-to-come-by sources. The Language of the Night, edited by Susan Wood, puts an end to this difficulty and collects in one convenient volume the most important critical statements LeGuin has made to date.
The collection opens with "A Citizen of Mondath" in which she details the influences on her as a child and as an adult which led her to become an SF/F writer.
The second section of the book is a collection of her major critical writing. In the first essay, "Why Are Americans Afraid of Dragons?" she examines what she considers a flaw in the American character —"a moral disapproval of fantasy, a disapproval so intense, and often so agressive, that I cannot help but see it as arising, fundamentally, from fear." (p. 39) The essay then offers a compelling defense of fantasy. In the second selection, "Dreams Must Explain Themselves," LeGuin describes the genesis of the Earthsea trilogy and her personal method of writing. After her brief but eloquent acceptance speech for the National Book Award, there follows a most important essay, "The Child and the Shadow," in which she discusses fantasy, particularly in terms of Jungian pyschology. In "Myth and Archetype in Science Fiction," she developes the idea that SF is one of the mythologies of the modern world and discusses the mythmaking process. In the sixth essay, "From Elfland to Poughkeepsie," another major critical statement, she turns to a discussion of the appropriate language and style of fantasy. The section concludes with three more critical essays dealing chiefly with SF.
In the third section, "The Book Is What Is Real," the editor notes in her introduction that the essays collected in this section present LeGuin talking about her work with the object of finding out what the genre called "science fiction" is and how, given specific examples, it can be made better. Among the critical concerns LeGuin discusses in this section are: the differences and similarities between SF and fantasy; the creation of characters; and the strengths and limitations of the genre and of the English language.
Section IV presents LeGuin as teacher, and the fifth section expresses her view of SF as a serious art demanding artistic responsibility.
The book concludes with an excellent bibliography of LeGuin's works including: Books, Booklets, and Records; Books edited by LeGuin; her short fiction; her non-fiction writing including essays, book reviews...