Imagination is dangerous. It is dangerous because it shows us what the world can be. And “if a world is dreamable, maybe it can be dreamed into being.” This is the life-changing message that Ursula K. Le Guin has for us today.
Spring Creek Project and Annares Project for Alternate Futures sponsored a screening of a feature documentary called Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin. The film is a spectacular expose of Le Guin’s life and work. It follows her life and her writings, showing how each formed and shaped the other. By the end, the story has brought us out of our narrow humdrum lives into not just the worlds she has created, but into a state of mind that is able to create worlds.
Le Guin did not like to be constrained by rules, genres, or social boundaries. She pushed each one, both in her books and in her activism. She stretched expectations of women- becoming a prolific writer while remaining a full-time mother. She stretched science fiction- writing fantasy, realism, and all kinds of ungenreable novels. She stretched the walls of imagination- letting it seep into the real world and change it. This freedom of imagination is the key to all that Le Guin achieved in her memorable lifetime. She began by dreaming worlds. She wrote those worlds into being. They actualized ideas which had yet been unimagined in this world. But those who read about these worlds entered into them. And after reading them and returning to their own world her readers brought back the ideas never before dreamed. Now those ideas are permeating our own world.
This is power. This is immense power. Power which lies in words. A power that Le Guin recognized in herself and in her writing, as best seen in the Earthsea novels. Magic in Earthsea is in words: words and names. A commentator in the documentary, Neil Gaiman, remarks that there is something incredible in the fact that the “strongest magic [of Earthsea is] made of the same things as the books”: words. It is the books, the words of the books, that brought the magic of imagination to us readers in this world.
If we realize the enormity of such power, we realize that each of us, also, has this power of words. At this very moment I am evoking the power of words to tell you a story, a story meant to inspire you and spark your imagination. I can, with more or less skill, paint an image of a future world, an image of my own imagination and the inspiration of Le Guin’s words. That image can then move the imagination within you. And once our imagination has been awakened, it is almost impossible to put back to sleep.
Imagination shall draw the most beautiful thoughts you have ever discovered. Imagination shall become the drug which brings you joy, the joy of unseen yet powerfully real beauty. And beware, my friends! Once you have tasted the joy of beauty, nothing else shall satisfy you as deeply. You shall follow that path on and on, further up and further, pushing deeper and deeper into your imagination, ‘til you end up in a new world. For your journey shall not take place in your mind only. Its joy permeates all of your being, and changes who you are. And your change shall ripple out into your interactions with those around you, ‘til the world is changed. The new world you shall find shall be a world of both your imagination and your experienced life.
Ah and what a world it will be! A world not only our own, for we shall take others with us. That is the last aspect of the power of our imagination and our words. They impact and inspire others, as Le Guin’s words and imagination have inspired us. Le Guin has begun it; let us follow that path. She tells us, at the end of the film, that she is traveling with us up into her valley. We keep encountering more and more beautiful sights, and eagerly asking if each new place is our destination. But she tells us to drink in the stream and view the flowers and birds, for “we have a long way to go yet, and I can’t go without you.” Let us go with her. Let us dream and imagine worlds of beauty yet unimagined. Let us go together and bring Ursula’s worlds into this world, the world of our own dreaming, our own shaping, our own magic words.
 References: All quotes are from film documentary “Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin”, produced by Arwen Curry.