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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"

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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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IV Nature, Fantasy and the American West in Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea

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Ursula K. Le Guin was born in Berkeley in 1929 and settled in Portland, Oregon, in 1959 after ten years in Europe and on the East Coast. The West thus framed her experiences abroad, and gave shape to much of her writing. Kunzru, writing on Le Guin’s status as a Western American writer, holds that the “coastal tradition looks west to the Pacific, with a wilderness at its back and European or East coast cities very far away”, and quotes Le Guin as saying that she felt “‘very uppity’ about the ‘parochialism and snobbishness’ of the East Coast literary establishment. ‘The idea that everybody lives in a large city in the east, it’s such a strange thing for an American to think’”. Kunzru implies that wild nature and the immensity of the Pacific gave shape to Le Guin’s imaginary worlds.

Le Guin, growing up in California and developing as a writer in Oregon, was naturally exposed to many of the core characteristics of the American West. Both California and Oregon are bordered by the vast Pacific Ocean, and in one very strong and tangible sense, the coastline was equated with the end of a long journey of western expansion. In another sense, however, it was the beginning of an imaginative journey that gave shape to the previous experience. To get to the West Coast, several generations of pioneers had progressively made their way across the continent, conquering nature as they went. As they did so, the white people...

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