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Ursula Le Guin and the Pastoral Mode (Critical Essay)

Extrapolation 2006, Winter, 47, 3

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In discussing how "cognitive estrangement" differentiates SF from not only realistic fiction but also fantasy and the folk tale, Darko Suvin makes the specific point that Pastoral is closer to science fiction than is fantasy (9). I want to expand upon this to suggest that the Elizabethan Pastoral is a mode analogous to modern fantasy and science fiction, which it in part informs and has constructed and which in part it opposes, and to suggest that some of the problems set to modern readers by the pastoral, such as its estranging location and its hermeneutics, are those set by fantasy and SF. My working hypothesis is that the pastoral "did" for Elizabethan readers what fantasy and SF "does" for modern readers. These modes exist not as tightly-defined genres but as dynamics, and it is the interplay of contending generic forces in each mode that creates the greatest effect for the reader. Ursula K. Le Guin is a writer to whom the word "pastoral" has often been applied, partly because she avoids "hard" SF, partly because she writes fantasy (which is identified as a-technological, therefore "pastoral"), partly because country rather than city environments, (City of Illusions (1967), "The Word for World is Forest" (1972) are often the milieux of her SF. Ian Watson, in "The Forest as Metaphor for Mind: 'The Word for World is Forest' and 'Vaster Than Empires and More Slow'" (Science Fiction Studies, November 1975) (2) notes the debt of the latter story to the works of a poet, Andrew Marvell, whose complex and allusive poems are of a later form of Pastoral to that which I shall refer, and, like Marvell, Le Guin's nature references are, as I want to argue, "pastoral" in a much more fundamental and interesting way than this simplistic use of the term. Considering Le Guin's Always Coming Home (1985), (3) I hope to build ways in which the pastoral, fantasy and science fiction are modes which reflect each other, and argue that SF/fantasy writers are reworking tropes once used by writers of the pastoral mode.

Ursula Le Guin and the Pastoral Mode (Critical Essay)
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  • Category: Language Arts & Disciplines
  • Published: 22 December 2006
  • Publisher: Extrapolation
  • Print Length: 40 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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