12.17.2004

Ursula Le Guin washes her hands of it

Ursula K. Le Guin's famous Legend of Earthsea has been adapted to a miniseries for the SciFi channel, and she thinks it's not very good. Besides the cheap "McMagic" look of the series, she's angry that the Entertainment industry interpreted the multi-ethnic characters of her books via an all-white cast.

Most of the characters in my fantasy and far-future science fiction books are not white. They're mixed; they're rainbow. In my first big science fiction novel, The Left Hand of Darkness, the only person from Earth is a black man, and everybody else in the book is Inuit (or Tibetan) brown. In the two fantasy novels the miniseries is "based on," everybody is brown or copper-red or black, except the Kargish people in the East and their descendants in the Archipelago, who are white, with fair or dark hair. The central character Tenar, a Karg, is a white brunette. Ged, an Archipelagan, is red-brown. His friend, Vetch, is black. In the miniseries, Tenar is played by Smallville's Kristin Kreuk, the only person in the miniseries who looks at all Asian. Ged and Vetch are white.

My color scheme was conscious and deliberate from the start. I didn't see why everybody in science fiction had to be a honky named Bob or Joe or Bill. I didn't see why everybody in heroic fantasy had to be white (and why all the leading women had "violet eyes"). It didn't even make sense. Whites are a minority on Earth now—why wouldn't they still be either a minority, or just swallowed up in the larger colored gene pool, in the future?

I'm certainly not complaining about her choices here -- I remember these books quite fondly (though as a 5th grader, I don't think I even noticed the ethnic markers she was using...).

But isn't the way she's talking about race here a little heavy-handed? It's one thing to have your characters look different, but is it just about looks? What about cultural differences, language, differences in attitude?