Ursula K. Le Guin: Worldbuilder

Disclaimer: The information on this page is provided as an overview. The course outline, readings, and assignments may be subject to change in the final syllabus as determined by the lecturer and/or preceptors.

Ursula K. Le Guin (1929-2018) described herself as “A Citizen of Mondath,” that country of the imagination where live the storytellers, the mythmakers, and the singers. In this survey of her works, we will study Le Guin’s own use of story, myth, and song to build unique worlds at the heart of her fiction: the far-flung Hainish Universe, the intimate islands of Earthsea, the disparate states of the Western Shore, and others. We will examine her literary theories of science fiction and fantasy as vehicles for myth, archetype, and character, and as locations for the exploration of gender, politics, the environment, race, culture, religion, and power. Finally, we will examine how her views evolved over time as she revisited and re-visioned the worlds she had built, and how her legacy empowers other authors to build worlds of their own.

Robert Steed, PhD, Professor of Humanities at Hawkeye Community College, delivers a special guest lecture during Week 9 of this course. Steed specializes in the study of Chinese religions, particularly Daoism, and Asian religions more generally. His research and teaching interests extend to religion and popular culture, medieval and world Christianity, mysticism, religion and art, and mythopoeic art, especially that of J.R.R. Tolkien, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Miyazaki Hayao.

Notes for 2024: This Flex course includes recorded lectures by Kristine Ainsworth Swank and will be precepted by Kris Swank and Dr. Sara Brown. The Summer 2024 term will include a 1-week summer break during the week of June 17, 2024.

Weekly Schedule

This course includes two live 90-minute lectures per week with one 60-minute discussion session as assigned.

Course Schedule

Week 1: A Citizen of Mondath

  • Le Guin’s biography
  • Early world-building

Week 2: The Hainish Cycle I: Beginnings

  • “Myth and Archetype in Science Fiction”
  • The early Hainish Cycle writings

Week 3: The Hainish Cycle II: Gender

  • The Left Hand of Darkness
  • Gender revisited

Week 4: The Hainish Cycle III: Politics

  • The Dispossessed
  • Politics in Le Guin’s writings

Week 5: The Hainish Cycle IV: The Environment

  • The environment in Le Guin’s writings
  • The Word for World is Forest

Week 6: New Wave SF

  • Le Guin and the New Wave Science Fiction
  • The Lathe of Heaven

Week 7: The Books of Earthsea I: Power

  • The early Earthsea writings
  • A Wizard of Earthsea

Week 8: The Books of Earthsea II: Race and Culture

  • Race & culture in Le Guin’s writings
  • The Tombs of Atuan

Week 9: The Books of Earthsea III: Religion

  • Religion in Le Guin’s writings
  • The Farthest Shore

Week 10: The Books of Earthsea IV: Feminism

  • Tehanu
  • Feminism in Le Guin’s writings

Week 11: The Books of Earthsea V: Later Re-visions

  • The Other Wind
  • Tales from Earthsea

Week 12: Other Worlds

  • Late world-building, and the Annals of the Western Shore series
  • “Omelas” and Le Guin’s literary legacy

Required Texts

Note: Students may use any edition of the following texts. The links are provided for convenience only, and we encourage students to purchase texts wherever they wish.

Further readings will be provided by the course instructors in the final syllabus.

Course History

This course has been offered in the following semesters.

Summer 2024Kristine Ainsworth Swank
Fall 2021Dr. Sara Brown, Dr. Brenton Dickieson & Kristine Ainsworth Swank
Ursula K. Le Guin: Worldbuilder

This course explores the major science fiction and fantasy works of Ursula K. Le Guin, how they relate to her literary theories and social interests, and how she envisioned and revisioned the worlds of her imagination.

START: April 29, 2024

DURATION: 12 Weeks

ID: LITA 5316