All posts by RW

Ursula K. Le Guin, “The Left Hand of Darkness”

“It was an introverted life, self-sufficient, stagnant, steeped in that singular ‘ignorance’ prized by the Handdarata and obedient to their rule of inactivity or noninterference. That rule (expressed in the word nusuth, which I have to translate as ‘no matter’) is the heart of the cult, and I don’t pretend to understand it. But I began to understand Karhide better, after a halfmonth in Otherhord. Under that nation’s politics and parades and passions runs an old darkness, passive, anarchic, silent, the fecund darkness of the Handdara.”

Ursula K. Le Guin, “The Left Hand of Darkness,”  New York: Penguin Group, 1969, pg. 63. Print.

This passage uses a few key literary devices to convey a certain tone. Probably the most noteworthy one is alliteration: “self-sufficient, stagnant, steeped in that singular,” and “politics and parades and passions.” Linked by this connection, the meanings of these phrases are colored in a tone of repetition. Because they are put together this way, the reader gets the impression that these belong together–rather, that this is a run-of-the-mill, typical situation. Suddenly the “introverted life” as described by the narrator makes immediate sense because it seems recognizable, commonplace, and so too do the characteristics of the nation, with its “politics and parades and passions,” presumably just like every other nation.  A totally foreign world comes alive to the reader as a result, capable of seeming not so otherworldly after all.

But “The Left Hand of Darkness” is a jarring text; despite the localized comfort created by the alliteration surrounding this passage, there remains alien subtext within. A primary example of this can be seen in Genly’s parenthetical, where he translates a term that is literally alien. His word choice shows that his translation is loose at best–he “has to” translate nusuth as “no matter,” indicating that there is no predefined, standard translation. This hesitation, though slight, reinforces the notion that this is still very much a foreign world, where not even the shift between languages can be comfortable. This is clear again in the conclusion of the surrounding sentence, where Genly says “I don’t pretend to understand it.” The atmosphere of the novel is set incrementally in this fashion–by relating it to the reader in comprehensible phrases, but reminding them all the while that this is not really a familiar place at all.

H. P. Lovecraft, “The Call of Cthulhu”

“Locally, interest was intensified by the obscurity of the cause of death…. Physicians were unable to find any visible disorder, but concluded after perplexed debate that some obscure lesion of the heart, induced by the brisk ascent of so steep a hill by so elderly a man, was responsible for the end. At the time I saw no reason to dissent from this dictum, but latterly I am inclined to wonder–and more than wonder.”

As a whole, the Cthulhu Mythos should not be taken at much deeper than face value. It is in many ways a fantastical and thoroughly fictional tale. However, I really identified with this passage in particular with regards to the Mythos because it gave introduction to the whole idea of Cthulhu. Somewhat familiar in this passage’s adaptation to the real world is the sense of paranoia that manifests itself and envelops in a society following an interesting occurrence. I have no doubt that plenty of cults or schools of thought in history, even modern-day, were founded and developed due to an inexplicable event. The unexplained is perhaps the most fearsome, and I believe that Lovecraft is commenting on the curious nature of humanity with juxtaposition to the mysterious.

Lovecraft, H.P. “The Call of Cthulhu.” The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories. Ed. S.T. Joshi. New York: Penguin Books, 1999. 140. Kindle Edition.

H.G. Wells, The Star

“But of the new brotherhood that grew presently among men, of the saving of laws and books and machines, of the strange change that had come over Iceland and Greenland and the shores of Baffin’s Bay, so that the sailors coming there presently found them green and gracious, and could scarce believe their eyes, this story does not tell.”

Pervasive throughout the whole text is a sense of doom, gloom, and hopelessness. The detached narrator is, in some ways, an objective chronicler of only the events immediately surrounding the Star. As a result, this quote is surprisingly uplifting, and may even capture the essence of one of Wells’s points: mankind is capable of living on, and there may at least be a silver lining of sorts in even the worst and most inexplicable tragedies.

Wells, H.G. “The Star.” The Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction. Ed. Arthur B. Evans, Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Jr., Joan Gordon, Veronica Hollinger, Rob Latham, and Carol McGuirk. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2010. 40-49. Print.