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Opinion – Darwin and God: With Ursula K. Le Guin, fantasy frees itself from its Eurocentric roots


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If you are still new to the fantasy novels of the Earthsea series by American writer Ursula K. Le Guin (1929-2018), I strongly recommend you give the books a chance. As I told in this reportthe series is being relaunched in Brazil in its entirety (there are six books in total), with new translations and jaw-dropping illustrations.

The fantasy world of Le Guin is an archipelago planet where magic and dragons are real and the “barbarian” peoples are the only ones with a European appearance. Check out the full interview with me below. Victor Gomespublisher of Morro Branco publishing house, responsible for the new Brazilian versions of the books.

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Although Le Guin’s science fiction work has gained many readers in Brazil recently, the impression one gets is that Terramar has not managed to reach a wide audience here until now. to which mr. attribute this difficulty and, more importantly, what is the strategy to change it?

I believe we have a macro problem and a more specific one. First, I believe that there is a certain prejudice against the literature of the fantastic genre, commonly seen as inferior or restricted to a specific niche, but it is precisely one of Morro Branco’s main philosophies to show how we can use the almost infinite elements of Science Fiction and Fantasy to explore issues such as racism, prejudice, sexuality and gender. With the words of authors such as Octavia Butler, Ursula Le Guin, NK Jemisin and others, we actively seek to show the general public how it is possible to use the fantastic structures of the genre as a subterfuge to discuss the main issues that afflict our daily lives. contemporary society.

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Now speaking specifically of Terramar, we have a question of positioning. It is one of the main fantasy series of all time, with influences that can be seen from Harry Potter to Patrick Rothfuss’s “The Name of the Wind”, being a constant presence in the lists of the greatest fantasy books, such as the recently published by Time Magazine and Esquire, placing “The Wizard of Earthsea” in the top 3, alongside Jemisin’s “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Fifth Station”. When we started to bring Octavia Butler’s works to Brazil, starting in 2016 with Kindred, we focused our efforts on positioning her as the Grande Dame of Science Fiction that she has always been around the world, and today I believe that the public understands a little better. the importance of your words. With the eternal Ursula, we intend to follow the same line and make every effort to position her not as another author, but as someone who revolutionized the genre, being influential both in the world of Science Fiction and Fantasy.

And this recognition of the importance of the author and the Terramar cycle begins with the editions that we are going to publish. Instead of restarting the publication of works with simpler versions, we chose to bring to the public definitive editions, all in hardcover, with illustrations by the incomparable Charles Vess and several extra texts that help to expand this unique universe created by Ursula. Thus, we give gifts to long-time fans who were thirsty for this series to be published in its entirety, but we also give all possible elements so that new readers can delve deeper into this universe and all it has to offer.

The way the cycle’s narratives reverse the pattern of fantasy worlds, with European-looking ethnicities initially “barbarian” and darker-skinned peoples as the heroes is one of the most important elements of the imaginary world of Earthsea. Is it too simplistic to classify the books as the first anti-racist fantasy? How to deal with this issue considering the considerable force of racist ideas in the public that is the most faithful reader of the genre?

This is actually a very serious problem that afflicts this genre, including much of the prejudice of readers of other literary genres comes from this bubble that its more purist authors and readers decided to put around them, but which in practice simply reflect many of the prejudices that plagued the society for so long and that continue to this day. Women, blacks and immigrants have long had their voices muffled, so the genre ended up hijacked and limited to daydreams about intergalactic travel to meet “wild females with 2 or 3 pairs of breasts”.

Our authors Samuel Delany and Octavia Butler, for example, had an extremely arduous path to make their mark on the genre, but even when white authors tried to bring in a little diversity it was frowned upon or “subtly” silenced. In Ursula’s case, this caused her problems even in the production of her covers, with publishers claiming that “white readers of 1967 were not prepared to accept a non-white protagonist”, it was controversial enough for her to bring this diversity into the books. , but having the audacity to put this directly on the covers? The saddest thing is that even 40 years after its release, when the renowned studio Ghibli carried out an adaptation of the works, all the characters magically turned white, and whoever had the first contact with this universe through this film, simply lost a lot of what the work has to offer and which we hope to rectify now.

Even though it uses elements of a more traditional fantasy in the construction of its universe, Terramar is considered a pioneering series in breaking the traditional racial dynamics of the genre and presenting diverse characters and outside the Eurocentric standards of the time.

I believe that the best way to deal with the issue is precisely to act as a vehicle so that diverse and relevant voices can echo stronger and reach new audiences, showing all the potential that the genre has to offer. NK Jemisin’s victory at the Hugo Awards (top award in the category) 3 times in a row with all the books in the “The Broken Land” trilogy was a great response to the movements that tried to interfere with the awards and prevent books with greater diversity from having any role. By offering different points of view to our readers, we present realities different from their own and create greater empathy with others. It’s the only way to change this status quo.

In English, the bound and illustrated edition with all the books in the cycle always has final texts, which include a geographical and historical description of Terramar, some short stories that do not fit the main chronology and an essay by the author. How will this material fit into the separate editions of each book?

Undoubtedly, as mentioned above, this is part of the project we are looking to implement and this will only be possible by bringing all the nuances and experiences that Ursula and Terramar have to offer. We are even starting from a base similar to the bound and illustrated edition you are referring to, but split into six books, all with the same visual identity and comments by Ursula herself, illustrations by Charles Vess and extra texts. We concentrated most of the extra stories in books 5 and 6, but we will have several surprises along this journey. What I can guarantee you is that at the end of it we will have absolutely all the texts about this incredible Earthsea universe published, although I’m sure people will be eager for more.

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