All Art is entertainment. That’s so clear it’s fatuous to repeat it. Art and Entertainment are the same thing, in that the more deeply and genuinely entertaining a work is, the better art it is. To imply that Art is something heavy and solemn and dull, and Entertainment is modest but jolly and popular, is neo-Victorian idiocy at its worst.

Every artist is deeply serious and passionate about his or her work, and every artist also wears a clown suit and capers in public for pennies.  The fellows who put on the clown suit and the painted grin, but who don’t care about performing well, are neither entertainers nor artists; they’re fakes.”

Ursula Le Guin did not pull any punches with those words from her The Stone Ax and the Muskoxen essay reprinted in The Language of The Night essay collection published in 1979.  Susan Wood edited this collection and provides an introduction to Mrs. Le Guin’s thoughts about science fiction and fantasy literature at the end of the 1970s.  Also, she reprinted various essays that reflect on Le Guin’s published works up to that time and gave some excellent insight to the genre she dedicated her artistry too.

The Language of the Night is divided into five sections, with Ursula Le Guin introducing herself to the science fiction and fantasy community while discussing her beginnings as a writer. The next section details Le Guin’s definition of Science Fiction and Fantasy and reprints two of her of most well-known essays, Why Are Americans Afraid of Dragons and Science Fiction & Mrs. Brown. The third section includes the Le Guin’s introductions to her early novels from Rocannon’s World to The Left Hand of Darkness. The fourth section discuss Le Guin’s thoughts on what it takes to be a writer and the need for community. The final section dives into Ursula’s beliefs about how science fiction and fantasy should be respected as a literature and demands the wider reading public on how to view the genre.

I will write that my favorite section of this collection was the final one.  The aforementioned quote at the beginning of the post hits on something that I have believed since I started reading and writing nearly three decades ago.  I have never believed there is a divide between art and entertainment.  My favorite novels (Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler, Home Is the Sailor by Jorge Amado, Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, The Little Country and Memory & Dream by Charles de Lint) are both artistic and entertaining.  The best books have both qualities.  It is great to read a respected writer like Ursula Le Guin that feels the same way.

The Language of the Night is Le Guin’s first published essay collection and I believe to be essential reading for all science fiction and fantasy writers.  Also, I will recommend it for readers of the genre as well.  In closing, Le Guin writes about the purpose of art and it is a fitting way to end this review:

“Art wants to get to you. To break down the walls between us, for a moment. To bring us together in a celebration, a ceremony, an entertainment—a mutual affirmation of understanding, or of suffering, or of joy.”

It does, Ursula. It really does. Thank you for your contribution and the story of the science fiction and fantasy literature can not be told without you. This essay collection shows why.


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