Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Green Country of Fantasy

This weekend's Los Angeles Times has a feature on Ursula Le Guin as well as a review of Cheek by Jowl by Kate Bernheimer." While I'm happy to see a piece like "Ursula Major" taking note of Le Guin's importance, I'm less than thrilled by its author's taking Thomas M. Disch's attack against her seriously. On the other hand, Kate Bernheimer's review, while on the brief side, offers a deeper perspective:

"Fantasy's green country is one that most of us enter with ease and pleasure, and it seems to be perfectly familiar to most children even if they've never been out of the city streets," writes Ursula K. Le Guin in "The Critics, The Monsters, and The Fantasists," which appears in her collection of essays "Cheek by Jowl," just published by the valiant, feminist press Aqueduct.

Le Guin continues, "I will defend fantasy's green country. . . . Although the green country of fantasy seems to be entirely the invention of human imaginations, it verges on and partakes of actual realms in which humanity is not lord and master, is not central, is not even important."

She concludes her review:

Hundreds of writers still work today from fairy tales and for the green country in large part because of [Frank] Baum's popular [Oz] series. For more exploration of why fantasy and its astral-ecology is the Real Thing, Le Guin's "Cheek by Jowl" is the source.

Earlier this week, Publishers Weekly also reviewed Cheek by Jowl:

The work of poet and novelist Le Guin (Lavinia, The Left Hand of Darkness) spans genres, including science fiction, fantasy and kid lit, and here she collects scholarship and opinion on the importance of fantasy in every stage of our lives. Aside from taking on “the whole misbegotten procedure” of condemning a genre with the standards of another (why not “judge Moby Dick as science fiction” or “Pride and Prejudice as a Western”?), Le Guin delineates a number of intriguing points just by focusing on animal characters, and their relationships to humans, in her multi-part essay “Animals in Children's Literature”: Jack London’s White Fang, for example, uses the perspectives of canine and human characters to create a genuine understanding of the love between them. Le Guin’s most charged argument tackles the idea that fondness for fantasy equals lack of maturity; instead, Le Guin attests that fantasy is the only type of fiction that can be fully appreciated at any age, and is often involved in important poetry and unique imagery. This compact collection will stoke readers' affection and appreciation for fantasy by highlighting important but overlooked qualities in many familiar tales (such as the duplicity at work in Lewis Carroll) that prove its lasting value as literature. (May)

1 comment:

Josh said...

Timmi, thanks for the heads-ups! I don't think that Timberg takes Disch's attack seriously: I think that he takes seriously the journalistic formula that requires he find someone just at that point in his article who has denounced the subject he's hitherto been celebrating. Except that, if asked, he'd say, "It's not a formula: it's a format!"

One notable UKL fan I didn't see him quoting was Harold Bloom, who would have been interesting, juxtaposed with Disch.