So how do you feel about pebbles?
Susan Wood was a Canadian literary critic, professor, author, and science fiction fan who edited The Language of the Night, a collection of Ursula Le Guin essays which discuss various aspects of fantasy and science fiction. In her fanzine, Warm Champagne, Wood wrote about a 1977 seminar she attended along with a number of other science fiction types. I think you’ll be able to guess why I’m repeating the story here:
I have been back to Berkeley, where I delivered my paper, saw Ursula Le Guin, and had dinner with her, Elizabeth Lynn and Terry Carr. Also got to see Dignified Ursula (all of us sitting cross-legged in a Thai restaurant and little giddy after a day of Academic Serconity) using the skewer from her barbecued beef to flick grains of rice at Saintly Terry Carr. (You wondered what Pros do when they aren’t signing autographs?)
The nadir of the Sercon-Academic Stuff came when an earnest Jungian critic, the young man (she said patronizingly) who organized the seminar, tried to get Ursula to pin down the Meaningful Symbolism of her work. “Trees, you use a lot of trees. They seem to represent Good.”
“Well, yes,” said Ursula with her usual tact, “I do like trees, yes.”
“And rocks now, Rocks are Bad.”
Ursula, straight-faced, “Why, no. I never met a pebble I didn’t like.”
Academic, undeterred, asked her how she celebrated the Vernal Equinox; did she strip and dance on the lawn to the fertility goddesses, or what?
Ursula, still deadpan, left a meaningful, then replied, sweetly, “That’s none of your business.”
It’s a great little anecdote but I have to admit I have a hard time believing anybody would ask a question like the one Susan Wood claimed the academic asked Ursula Le Guin in regards to the Vernal Equinox. It feels to me like her account drifted from reality to whimsy at that point. Still, I could be utterly wrong, perhaps that’s how Jungian critics think. Perhaps we should be asking the tough questions of our authors? Questions like:
Do you think rocks are Bad?
Are you ever tempted to flick rice at your editor?
Do you dance naked on the Vernal Equinox?
If you do ask please report back. I’m sure we’re all desperate to know the general attitude of science fiction and fantasy authors towards rocks.
2 thoughts on “Tales Too Good To Forget #3”
Buck Coulson in a brief YANDRO review of a potboiler space opera quoted the line therefrom I remember as “Resourcefully, he found a rock and sat down to think.” He suspected the author was making a joke there, but was uncertain because if so it seemed to be the only joke in the book. Anyway, whoever that author was, he apparently had a strong respect for rocks.
But I’d never ask an author what his or her favorite rock was — I’d hope that would be taken for granite.
I’ll forgive you for that pun but only because it was funny.
In regards to rocks and sitting Walt Willis wrote in one installment of his Harp column about sitting down with Bob Shaw and James White to see if a plot could be found in the most basic situation they could think of. Which as it happened they decided was a man sitting on a rock. Apparently James White eventually came up with the idea of a planet where the inhabitants periodically tuned into rocks. According to Walt he wrote a story about this and sold it to Nebula. You’ve probably even read it at some point.