Academic journal article Extrapolation

Coyote's Song: The Teaching Stories of Ursula K. le Guin

Academic journal article Extrapolation

Coyote's Song: The Teaching Stories of Ursula K. le Guin

Article excerpt

A Different Kind of Textbook. Richard D. Erlich. Coyote's Song: The Teaching Stories of Ursula K. Le Guin. Rockville, MD: Borgo Press, 2010. 658 pp. ISBN 9781434457752. $24.99. pbk.

Reviewed by Michelle K. Yost

If any teacher of science fiction ever felt the need to dedicate an entire course to the study of Ursula Le Guin's decades-spanning canon (and yes, it has been done), then Richard Erlich has provided them the de facto textbook for such a course. Drawing on his own relationship with Le Guin, Erlich's massive tome combines a rich survey of nearly every word Le Guin put to page with support and contentions from other academics. It will likely satisfy every seeker of (generic) Le Guin-centric information. Structured around close reading, the approach is not groundbreaking, but it benefits from Erlich's attention to detail, and the book should resolve almost any question anyone has ever had about Le Guin over its 650-plus pages. This is not a biography of Le Guin, but a biography of her literature. The uniqueness of Erlich's project brings out as many positive as negative attributes.

Le Guin herself provided the selling-point blurb for the back cover:

A major study, including prose and poetry, adult and children's books, covering many works often ignored by other critics, and coming more nearly up-to-date than most. It is written in English, not academese, and will be of interest to a wide spectrum of students, scholars, and interested readers.

One could hardly expect her to be unbiased, but it is an honest assessment. The "nearly up-to-date" part of Le Guin's comment does not take into account that a decade passed between Erlich publishing his study on the SERA website and Borgo Press putting it in print. In terms of setting aside the "academese," Erlich attempts to make this work accessible to nearly everyone, exchanging gratuitous multisyllabic mash-ups like "metonymic syntagms" for language that does not require the constant presence of The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory. When Erlich wants to engage in philosophic or literary theory, he provides his own definition for readers of "Ontology/Metaphysics" (8), "Transcendence" {9), and so on, emphasizing that Coyote's Song is not just for the advanced academic, which may be a bit disappointing to academics looking for something deeper in such a prodigious Le Guin study. Anyone who is easily offended at having his or her knowledge of academese questioned, or who feels patronized by certain facts and terms being explicitly spelled out, will not appreciate Erlich's belief in broad accessibility.

It would be a mistake, though, to think Erlich is only rehashing what has been said before (at least from a 2001 standpoint), cataloguing and putting it into chronological and thematic order. He is also attempting to provide an interpretive framework-not one based on the familiar Derridean and Marxist apparatuses that views Le Guin's canon through a narrow academic lens, but one based on Le Guin's own employment of various philosophies that have come to define her works. From the anarchism in The Disposessed {1974) to the Daoism in most of her early works, Erlich ensures a rich understanding of these ideas for readers. He even provides a reference table to themes in the Tao Te Ching should readers wish to visit the source of Le Guin's inspiration. Erlich also takes it a step further, introducing his own interpretation of Kulturkampf which he redefines from its traditional "struggle for the hearts and minds of [...] people" into "an alternative metaphor for 'the market-place of ideas'" (io). He does so to explain the exchange of philosophic "ideas" found in Le Guin's works (e. …

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