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From East to West

The Portrayal of Nature in British Fantasy and its Projection in Ursula K. Le Guin’s Western American "Earthsea"


Martin Simonson and Jon Alkorta Martiartu

The portrayal of nature in the genre of fantasy fiction, from the Middle Ages to more modern times, has been conditioned by the diverging social, political and historical contexts. This book seeks to disclose how the natural world has been depicted within this genre during different periods, drawing a comparison between the British tradition of fantasy literature and Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea cycle. Le Guin adheres to the general traits of the genre up to a point, but as a woman of the 20th century living in the American West, her works also deviate from the received tradition in many significant ways.

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The powers of nature have been a defining feature of all civilizations and human identity throughout history, and will inevitably remain one until anything akin to a post-human civilization has been established—if such a regrettable state of affairs should ever occur. As a consequence, myths and other types of narratives aiming to make sense of the world and give it meaning, have hinged upon the relationship between human beings and nature to a very great extent; from the earliest known nature-myths to modern science fiction dealing with the tensions between earthly bonds and digital reality.

In literature dealing with the fantastic, the natural world has been one of the central characters from the beginning. It has consistently displayed a fascination with natural phenomena and our varying interpretations of them, acting as a threshold for liminal experiences of reality, or serving as potent metaphors for different aspects of the human condition in fantastic guises. The natural world has been a force to contend or blend with, a repository of mystery or a source of horror; its portrayal has consistently reflected the particular preoccupations of the age in which the works were written. In epic literature, it was the abode of monsters of the mind, but also a guarantor of bliss and harmony. In the Middle Ages, nature was frequently given a symbolic treatment that reflected the concerns of an aristocratic society obsessed with courtly love and manners, while in the eighteenth century, nature in the Gothic novel centered...

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