Random Epiphanies

Documentary Review: ‘The Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin’

When established actors, musicians, writers, and other people of note die, many people get on social media and write so many words to elaborate on their broken hearts and flowing tears.

There have only been two such people for me–Terry Pratchett and Ursula Le Guin.

I’d always dreamed of meeting them, Ursula especially, and now I never will. So I had all the more reason to look forward to this documentary, which I backed on Kickstarter some time ago. Well, the backers-only link dropped last week and I got my chance to watch it earlier today.


The documentary is a thing of beauty, well worth the money I spent in order to help bring it into existence. You can tell that it was made with love: from the evocative music to the startling animation to the in-depth discussions of some of her best-known work (the four Earthsea books, The Left Hand of Darkness, The Dispossed, and “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”) to the well-shot scenes of Ursula giving readings, discoursing with her husband, walking on the beach. It’s also a brief look into the fierce, clear, intelligent mind of Ursula Le Guin. Honestly, I didn’t want it to end. I’d recommend this documentary to those who’ve always loved her work and those who are just beginning to discover it.

There was just one rub.

The documentary was interspersed with interviews with not just her close family, but with other writers–some of whom were her contemporaries, such as Margaret Atwood and Vonda McIntyre, but most of whom were her younger colleagues. The latter included Neil Gaiman, David Mitchell, and China Mieville.

And I have to say, it irritated me that a documentary that gave so much focus to Ursula’s struggle–to write more heroic female characters and to identify with the feminist movement despite being a wife and mother in the 70s–interwove that section with comments from three male writers. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that Gaiman, Mitchell, and Mieville had more screentime than any of the other interviewees, including Ursula’s husband and children. I’m pretty sure that Margaret Atwood, whose work is as thought-provoking and as genre-redefining as Ursula’s, had less than a minute of talk time altogether.

One particular scene that struck me was Neil Gaiman saying that he considered it an honor to present Ursula with the National Book Awards medal. I mean, I’d consider that an honor too, but there was something about the way that was presented that made me think, “Why do we need the affirmation of a famous male writer to underscore how important Ursula and her work is to science fiction and fantasy?”

All in all, it’s still a pretty damn good documentary, one that rightfully–and joyfully!–celebrates the life and work of a giant of literature. It’s also a fitting farewell.


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