Ursula K. Le Guin

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To leave the reader free to decide what your work means, that’s the real art; it makes the work inexhaustible.

Ursula K. Le Guin (born 21 October 1929), is a US-based author, known mostly for writing science fiction and fantasy.

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When true myth rises into consciousness, that is always its message. You must change your life.
Great artists make the roads; good teachers and good companions can point them out. But there ain't no free rides, baby.


  • It did not matter, after all. He was only one man. One man's fate is not important.
    "If it is not, what is?"
    He could not endure those remembered words.
  • Truth, as ever, avoids the stranger
    • Zove (master of the house) in City of Illusions (1967), p. 5
  • True myth may serve for thousands of years as an inexhaustible source of intellectual speculation, religious joy, ethical inquiry, and artistic renewal. The real mystery is not destroyed by reason. The fake one is. You look at it and it vanishes. You look at the Blond Hero — really look — and he turns into a gerbil. But you look at Apollo, and he looks back at you. The poet Rilke looked at a statue of Apollo about fifty years ago, and Apollo spoke to him. “You must change your life,” he said. When true myth rises into consciousness, that is always its message. You must change your life.
    • "Myth and Archetype in Science Fiction" (1976)
  • I have never found anywhere, in the domain of art, that you don't have to walk to. (There is quite an array of jets, buses and hacks which you can ride to Success; but that is a different destination.) It is a pretty wild country. There are, of course, roads. Great artists make the roads; good teachers and good companions can point them out. But there ain't no free rides, baby. No hitchhiking. And if you want to strike out in any new direction — you go alone. With a machete in your hand and the fear of God in your heart.
    • The Language of the Night (1979)
  • My imagination makes me human and makes me a fool; it gives me all the world, and exiles me from it.
    • "The Creatures on My Mind" in Unlocking the Air and Other Stories (1996), p. 65
  • All of us have to learn how to invent our lives, make them up, imagine them. We need to be taught these skills; we need guides to show us how. If we don't, our lives get made up for us by other people.
    • The Operating Instructions in The Wave in the Mind: Talks and Essays on the Writer, the Reader, and the Imagination (2004)
  • To think that realistic fiction is by definition superior to imaginative fiction is to think imitation is superior to invention.
    • The Question I Get Asked Most Often in The Wave in the Mind: Talks and Essays on the Writer, the Reader, and the Imagination (2004)
  • What's to gain by silence?
    • Cannoc, in Gifts (2004)
  • Whenever they tell me children want this sort of book and children need this sort of writing, I am going to smile politely and shut my earlids. I am a writer, not a caterer. There are plenty of caterers. But what children most want and need is what we and they don't know they want and don't think they need, and only writers can offer it to them.
  • The notion that a story has a message assumes that it can be reduced to a few abstract words, neatly summarized in a school or college examination paper or a brisk critical review.
    • "A Message About Messages" in CBC Magazine
  • No truth can make another truth untrue.
    All knowledge is part of the whole knowledge.
    Once you have seen the larger pattern,
    You cannot get back to seeing the part as the whole.
    • Four Ways to Forgivenes (1996)
You must not change one thing, one pebble, one grain of sand, until you know what good and evil will follow on that act. The world is in balance, in Equilibrium. A wizard's power of Changing and Summoning can shake the balance of the world. It is dangerous, that power. It is most perilous. It must follow knowledge, and serve need. To light a candle is to cast a shadow.

A Wizard of Earthsea (1968)

  • To hear, one must be silent.
    • Spoken by Ogion
  • You must not change one thing, one pebble, one grain of sand, until you know what good and evil will follow on that act. The world is in balance, in Equilibrium. A wizard's power of Changing and Summoning can shake the balance of the world. It is dangerous, that power. It is most perilous. It must follow knowledge, and serve need. To light a candle is to cast a shadow.
    • Spoken by the Master Hand

The Left Hand of Darkness (1969)

To learn which questions are unanswerable, and not to answer them: this skill is most needful in times of stress and darkness.
  • If civilization has an opposite, it is war.
  • When action grows unprofitable, gather information; when information grows unprofitable, sleep.
  • It is good to have an end to journey towards, but it is the journey that matters in the end.
  • The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty: not knowing what comes next.
  • A man wants his virility regarded, a woman wants her femininity appreciated, however indirect and subtle the indications of regard and appreciation. On Winter they will not exist. One is respected and judged only as a human being. It is an appalling experience.
  • To oppose something is to maintain it.
    They say here "all roads lead to Mishnory." To be sure, if you turn your back on Mishnory and walk away from it, you are still on the Mishnory road. To oppose vulgarity is inevitably to be vulgar. You must go somewhere else; you must have another goal; then you walk another road.
  • There are things that outweigh comfort, unless one is an old woman or a cat.
    • Chapter 5, The Domestication of Hunch
  • To be an atheist is to maintain God. His existence or his nonexistence, it amounts to much the same, on the plane of proof. Thus proof is a word not often used among the Handdarata, who have chosen not to treat God as a fact, subject either to proof or to belief: and they have broken the circle, and go free.
    To learn which questions are unanswerable, and not to answer them: this skill is most needful in times of stress and darkness.
  • Light is the left hand of darkness
    and darkness the right hand of light.

    Two are one, life and death, lying
    together like lovers in kemmer,
    like hands joined together,
    like the end and the way.

The Lathe of Heaven (1971)

Things don't have purposes, as if the universe were a machine, where every part has a useful function. What's the function of a galaxy?
The end justifies the means. But what if there never was an end? All we have is means.
  • I haven't any strength, I haven't any character, I'm a born tool. I haven't any destiny. All I have is dreams. And now other people run them.
    • Orr
  • Things don't have purposes, as if the universe were a machine, where every part has a useful function. What's the function of a galaxy? I don't know if our life has a purpose and I don't see that it matters. What does matter is that we're a part. Like a thread in a cloth or a grass-blade in a field. It is and we are. What we do is like wind blowing on the grass.
    • Haber
  • The end justifies the means. But what if there never was an end? All we have is means.
    • Orr
  • I guess I can't, or my subconscious can't, even imagine a warless world. The best it can do is substitute one kind of war for another. You said, no killing of humans by other humans. So I dreamed up the Aliens. Your own ideas are sane and rational, but this is my unconscious you're trying to use, not my rational mind. Maybe rationally I could conceive of the human species not trying to kill each other off by nations, in fact rationally it's easier to conceive of than the motives of war. You're trying to reach progressive, humanitarian goals with a tool that isn't suited to the job. Who has humanitarian dreams?
    • Orr
  • What's wrong with changing things? Now, I wonder if this self-canceling, centerpoised personality of yours leads you to look at things defensively. I want you to try to detach yourself from yourself and try to see your own viewpoint from the outside, objectively. You are afraid of losing your balance. But change need not unbalance you; life's not a static object, after all. It's a process. There's no holding still. Intellectually you know that, but emotionally you refuse it. Nothing remains the same from one moment to the next, you can't step into the same river twice. Life-evolution-the whole universe of space/time, matter/energy-existence itself-is essentially change.
    • Haber
  • When things don't change any longer, that's the end result of entropy, the heat-death of the universe. The more things go on moving, interrelating, conflicting, changing, the less balance there is-and the more life... Life itself is a huge gamble against the odds, against all odds! You can't try to live safely, there's no such thing as safety. Stick your neck out of your shell, then, and live fully! It's not how you get there, but where you get to that counts. What you're afraid to accept, here, is that we're engaged in a really great experiment, you and I. We're on the brink of discovering and controlling, for the good of all mankind, a whole new force, an entire new field of antientropic energy, of the life-force, of the will to act, to do, to change!
    • Haber

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