Friday, 24 April 2015

The Left Hand of Darkness

Radio 4 at the moment are celebrating the life and work of Ursula Le Guin.
There was a documentary recently which interviewed her on the occasion of her 85th birthday, and included comments from several well known authors who said that she had been an influence on their work. One of them was Neil Gaiman.

This was followed by a two part adaptation of The Left Hand of Darkness, which is about an envoy of the Ekumen, a grouping of around 80 planets, as he makes first contact with Gethen, or Winter, a new world which they are inviting to join them. His presence upsets the political situation on the planet forever - the nations have to deal with the idea of actual beings from other worlds, and put aside their differences to work together if they want to be part of the Ekumen.
But the story is also about gender. The inhabitants of Gethen only become male or female for a few days every month, and they can become either male or female at that time. The rest of the time, they're asexual adults. The famous phrase that's always quoted is "The King is pregnant."
This is difficult to convey on radio, where voices are either male or female, but I think the adaptation did it well, giving Estraven, the main character from Gethen who befriends the envoy, a low female voice. Genly Ai, the envoy, is a man - male all the time, something the inhabitants of this world consider to be perverted.
It's a thoughtful, intelligent work of science fiction and I think they did a pretty good job of adapting it for radio.

Next, they're adapting Earthsea. I'm not sure if they're doing just the first book or the whole first trilogy (I love the Tombs of Atuan, so I hope they do that). In a way, this is a straightforward "boy goes to wizard school" story, but I remember the first time I read it - or rather devoured it. I spent every spare moment immersed in the story - I think I lived on the island of Roke for a while! Young, arrogant Sparrowhawk unleashes something terrible on the world during some magic that gets out of his control, and he has to spend the rest of the book dealing with the consequences of that, and hunting the Shadow down.
I'm looking forward to it.

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