The Left Hand of Darkness

John Thiel III

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I had to leave "The Left Hand of Darkness" way back when I was in college, it was required reading for my science fiction literary course. I was highly there in class discussions of the book, because, as I mentioned to the teacher of the course, I wanted to sound out how my views on the book took if I was going to be able to get good grades on my test. That's when the teacher started to talk about how indirect the book was. Finally he said, "There's never been another like it." I said, "Yes there was" and mentioned Chad Oliver's "Blood's a Rover" that was in, I think, the Groff Conklin anthology "Operation Future", or one of the Conklin anthologies, anyway. The title was considered inexplicable in that course. I offered, "Genli Ai might have said, "Gen'ly I shake with my left" and had them all wondering if the author really had this word play in mind. "It shows you've read it word for word," the teacher said. "I'd give you an A on that, if it was the only thing I was grading."
 

DZara

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It was a hard read for me, but there were parts of it I loved. Want to read more of her short work.
 

johnnyjet

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Hi, DZara from Texas! Ursula LeGuin is one of my all-time favorite authors, but she is a highly literary author and, for that reason, can sometimes be difficult to read. Definitely search out her shorter works. Her collection The Wind's Twelve Quarters has some of her best work: The Wind's Twelve Quarters: Ursula K. Le Guin: 9780060914349: Amazon.com: Books

By the way, welcome to the Chrons, @DZara! You should introduce yourself in the Introductions section.
 

DZara

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Thanks, Johnny. Didn't know there was an introductions section - be right over as soon as I find it. :)
 

galanx

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One of the greatest s-f novels. My main objection was that she used standard masculine pronouns- he, him, his- even when the characters were in neuter phase, which weakened the effect. Of course it's hard to do otherwise in English.
 

Letty D

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Hiya :) I've just read The Left Hand of Darkness and loved it! Just curious, how did you guys see the characters in your minds? Were they male or female? (I'm looking for back-up on this for a debate I'm having with my friend!) Thanks!
 

BAYLOR

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Hiya :) I've just read The Left Hand of Darkness and loved it! Just curious, how did you guys see the characters in your minds? Were they male or female? (I'm looking for back-up on this for a debate I'm having with my friend!) Thanks!

Complex and interesting.:)(y)
 

Letty D

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Complex and interesting.:)(y)

(y) Did you see Estraven as physically male or female in your mind? I think I was prevented from fully appreciating Le Guin's 'manwoman' thing from her use of the male pronoun ...
 

BAYLOR

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(y) Did you see Estraven as physically male or female in your mind? I think I was prevented from fully appreciating Le Guin's 'manwoman' thing from her use of the male pronoun ...

Its been about 30 years since I read it .:)
 

John Thiel III

I'm sitting with a south shoe.
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It's been influential. I've read stories in Analog and Asimov's--and F&SF too, fairly recently, that are still with the man-woman theme more or less started there.
 

Abernovo

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Hiya :) I've just read The Left Hand of Darkness and loved it! Just curious, how did you guys see the characters in your minds? Were they male or female? (I'm looking for back-up on this for a debate I'm having with my friend!) Thanks!
Hi, @Letty D, and welcome to the Chrons.:)
Loved it, too. Partly for the travelogue aspect, and partly for the social and gender components. As to the inhabitants of the planet Gethen, I honestly saw them as neither solely male nor female, but both, and changing sex from one to the other as appropriate.
To that end, I saw the relationship between Ai and Estraven not just based on shrifgethor, or obligation of honour, but almost akin to them beginning a form of kemmer, or sexual desire, for each other. That comes with the commonly used romance trope of initial distrust, and even dislike between them, to the point of Ai's anguish when Estraven is killed.
It just made sense to me.

I definitely saw a change in Estaven, so that while he was initially male, later interactions show a female persona. Also took Le Guin's use of 'he' for Gethenian people as the old gender neutral usage, which I've always thought of as becoming more prominent in Victorian times and propagating through the English language establishment from there, to the detriment of 'they', or any other gender neutral pronoun.

Still very much a binary gendered scenario, rather than a spectrum, but The Left Hand of Darkness is influential on so many levels. It's also a fantastic read, although I'll always view it as a travelogue, as noted above, which explains a snapshot of a complex society.
 

farntfar

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(y) Did you see Estraven as physically male or female in your mind? I think I was prevented from fully appreciating Le Guin's 'manwoman' thing from her use of the male pronoun ...

As you say, Letty, we are led from the beginning to think of the Karhidish as being male, by the use of the use of the male pronoun and honorifics (LORD Estraven, the King etc.) and Ms Le Guin leads us gently into the truth of their sexually with the quip about the king being pregnant etc. and their (as opposed to Genly's) amusement about it.

Thoughout the book she teases us with the question: The King, the monks and the pervert (even as a "female" identifier Le Guin uses HE for the pervert, if I remember correctly), the commissariat and the camp, and finally the long journey.
The story of "Estraven the traitor" is the clearest statement of the question.

So yes, I would have to say that most of my mind pictures of Estraven are of him male and it's by pushing us down that road and then showing us that it isn't that simple that the author forces us to question ALL our preconceived ideas about sexual identity.

I have also asked myself, as a man, to what extent women make different assumptions.
We all, after all, imprint some of ourselves onto the characters we read of, particularly the heroes.
 
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farntfar

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A second question presented itself to me as I wrote that last reply.

In some languages (French, for instance. I currently live in France), there is no neuter pronoun, and the possessive pronoun agrees with the thing possessed not the possessor. (Thus son livre = his or her book, sa livre = his or her pound).

This would clearly change some of the impact of the male identification of the descriptions and may change the impact of the book.
 

Jojo999

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I loved this book and have reread it numerous times over the years. One thing that always impressed me was Le Guin's success in how she described the environment of Gethen, making me feel the constant coldness of the planet mired in an ice age.
 

Brunhildax

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I loved this book and have reread it numerous times over the years. One thing that always impressed me was Le Guin's success in how she described the environment of Gethen, making me feel the constant coldness of the planet mired in an ice age.

Yes. I tend to think of this novel whenever I am out in the cold of winter doing some sort of physical activity, like teaching a herd of small children to ski on a blustery day.

"Estraven and Genly could do it, children. So can you."
 

Al Jackson

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I cut my teeth on Heinlein , Asimov and Clarke , in the 1950s, and I still love them, at one time they would have been in my top ten , when I got into my 20s in the 1960 I put Ted Sturgeon, in particular More Than Human in my to spot , it stayed there until 1969 and Left Hand of Darkness. No nothing like since, I love Chad Olivers' "Blood's a Rover" but it's not the same.
Left Hand of Darkness is SF's most unique novel.
 

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