Dramatisation of the award-winning, ground-breaking and deeply influential novel by Ursula K. Le Guin
BBC Radio 4 Classic Serial, 2015
TBB April 12th & 19th, 3-4pm;
Rpt. April 18th & 25th, 9-10pm
Producer/Director: Allegra McIlroy
Le Guin, daughter of an anthropologist father and novelist mother, takes apart the components of what it is to be human in this ‘reality’ and experiments with new environments in time and space that re-examine the very heart, muscle and bone of how to be more fully human in other, startling ways.
“A book does not come to me as an idea, or a plot, or an event, or a society, or a message; it comes to me as a person. A person seen, seen at a certain distance, usually in a landscape…..Once… I saw two of them. As my vision is not ironic, but romantic, they were small figures, remote, in a tremendous waste landscape of ice and snow. They were pulling a sledge or something over the ice, hauling together. That is all I saw. I didn’t know who they were. I didn’t even know what sex they were (I must say I was surprised when I found out). But that is how my novel The Left Hand of Darkness began, and when I think of the book, it is still that vision I see. All the rest of it, with all its strange rearrangements of human gender and its imagery of betrayal, loneliness and cold, is my effort to catch up, to get nearer, to get there, where I had seen two figures on the snow, isolated and together.“
Ursula K. Le Guin: The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and (Science) Fiction.
Losing the generic “He”
The Left Hand of Darkness “fails”; as a feminist book of course. Le Guin brings both sides of gender into play – and the sense of light and darkness inherent in both genders – by leveling the playing field with her invention of an abandoned genome experiment: the people of Gethen, suspended for four fifths of their lives in a state of androgyny. And, as she now regrets, she “condemned them” to a state of heterosexuality. By her own admission, this story, which won the Hugo and Nebula Awards in 1974, was written before she herself understood quite how to express androgyny linguistically and perhaps thematically too:
I left out too much for the reader. One does not see Estraven as a mother with his (*strike “his”) children. If I had realized how the pronouns I used shaped, directed, controlled my own thinking, I might have been “cleverer”. Ursula Le Guin: The Language of the Night.
With the value of her own hindsight, our production hopes to create a sharper experience of the Gethenian species through new language choices in the dramatization, more ambiguity in the narrative and through the voices used for the two main characters; one a liberal humanist human and the other a fluid person who moves between genders in cyclical response to her/his companion.
By the time we close the piece, the listener should share with the human Envoy, Genly Ai, the disturbing strangeness of the arrival of men and women on the planet from a ship in stasis that has been waiting to dock and welcome Gethen to the peaceful Ekumen (trade union) of Planets. He, like Gulliver, no longer feels at home among his own species.
Their voices sounded strange: too deep, too shrill. They were like a troupe of great, strange animals, of two different species: great apes with intelligent eyes, all of them in rut..not a human face among them. The face of a friend.
Into this world Le Guin throws a terrible and beautiful sense of its ecology as a planet of ice, snow and eyeball-freezing winds, and a breath-taking gallop of a narrative as Gethen (or Winter) poises itself on the brink of moving from a history of “family quarrels” towards its first war.