Sunday, May 15, 2011

Ursula LeGuin: The Lathe of Heaven

A recent trip to the Pacific Northwest to help 1HP celebrate her birthday included a trip to Portland. Portland gave us fun food carts, beautiful gardens, interesting restaurants, some local brews and Powell’s Bookstore. The later is famous and proved fun. In honor of the person I consider Portland’s most famous author (and one of my personal favorites), I purchased Ursula K Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven. (Darned, she was on the marquee for making an appearance shortly after our trip there.)

The Lathe of Heaven isn’t just by Portland’s most famous author, it’s also set in Portland. From this rather mundane setting (Portland isn’t all beautiful scenery), Le Guin tells her tale of the young protagonist who experiences “effective dreaming”; in other words, his dreams come true, in a very literal and often disturbing way. As one would expect in our society, he tries to stop this weird occurrence with drugs, and he ends up with a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist, once aware of this unusual gift (if one can call it that), tries to harness this power to the good of humanity. From this premise, Le Guin spins yarns of alternative and dystopian futures, as rationality cannot master the world of the dream. Le Guin, however, masters a blend of the contemporary quotidian, current politics, reigning zeitgeist, and the fantastic, weaving them together so that one hardly blinks at the juxtaposition of the fantastic and the ordinary.

Le Guin’s book was a delight to read while visiting Portland (although finished in Seattle). I never leave one of her stories without a sense of having been caught up in a compelling story, well told, yet I also find myself continuing to ponder what I've just read because she offers a perspective on the world that always challenges us and the reality that we live in. In this case, she challenges us with the world of dreams; not just the dream world of Freud or Jung, with their sometimes too easy interpretations, but the world of dreams suggested by the Tao Te Ching (of which she has written a translation), Chuang Tsu, Victor Hugo, and others.

A trip to Portland for those of us in the Midwest doesn’t happen very often, but you can read The Lathe of Heaven to take a virtual trip to Portland and far beyond.

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