Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Language of the Night

One of the books I'd debated getting with my gift card was We by Yevgeny Zamyatin. They actually had two different translations of this book, and it's one I first heard of when reading LeGuin's collection of essays, Language of the Night as an example of science fiction that has power to confront the world. The blurb on the book called it an inspiration for 1984 and other dystopias.

Anyway, thinking of that made me think back to when I first discovered this book of essays. It was a paperback, tucked in among the fantasy/SF paperback fiction books--one jumbled case at the back of the narrow library. I'd read one LeGuin book earlier and hated it (I realize now I was much too young to appreciate it), but it had been several years and I was in high school now, so I decided to give it a read.

Wow. These essays made me realize that there was more going on in the stories I read than I'd ever known. I'd never realized that someone could look at fantasy in these others ways and see all kinds of different layers of meaning, of intellectual play. In fact, I probably hadn't really realized you could look at any story that way, and I think that's important--I discovered a literary approach to reading fantasy as early as learning a literary approach to the classics and other writing. (You may have to dig through the archives to see how exactly I use the term literary--I don't tend to consider it an attribute of the writing itself so much as an approach that a reader takes when reading any text--so the ones they [we] call 'literary' are the ones that satisfy or reward those ways of approaching them.) That had a big impact on me as I went on to study literature at college, and I was able to incorporate my interest in fantasy into my studies.

I have since reread it as well as reading some of her other collections of essays, and I can still say that they're well worth reading for any reader or writer of fantasy. (I've also gone on to read many of her novels, and I greatly enjoy them, though it took me several years even after appreciating the essays to try again. And I never went back to give Lathe of Heaven another try. The other book I read in late grade school that I hated was the fourth Dune book--I still have no desire to reread that either, or even any of the other sequels because of how much that poisoned the series. I did, however, reread Dune itself a couple years ago and enjoyed it.)

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