One of the books that rocked my world as a young adult was Ursula K. Le Guin‘s Left Hand of Darkness. The reason this book struck me with such force in young adulthood is that it emphasized different aspects of the typical science-fiction journey.
I read many books about journeys to other planets, other races, other places, future destinations and odd entanglements (most of which ended up in laser gun fire with alien warships of one stripe or another). I read a lot of Heinlein, I must admit, and quite a bit of Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov. Later, I read more John Bruner and Octavia Butler, which contained more ambiguous ideas about alien and advanced human cultures and the implications of space exploration and alien encounters.
But the first book to open my eyes to the possibilities of human evolution, especially on a real personal level, was Le Guin‘s Left Hand of Darkness. This book deals with questions of gender, sexuality, identity, and companionship in harsh terrain. At a time in my life when my own sense of gender was still evolving, the book had a powerful impact, and demonstrated to me what speculative fiction was capable of doing in the hands of a thoughtful writer.
I suspect the founders of McMenamin’s group of hotels felt much the same way. Because they choose the books and the whimsical ideas that decorate their unique establishments — each of their themed rooms are specifically devoted to an idea or a writer who was important to the Mcmenamin’s founders. I was immensely gratified to find a room named after the book Left Hand of Darkness.
I am a regular and frequent guest at McMenamin’s Grand Lodge in Forest Grove, Oregon. My commute has taken me variously all over the Northwest. In fact, the Seattle Times published an article about my capacity for super-commuting a few years ago. In any case, I stay at McMenimin’s almost every week, and this week, I chose to stay in the Left Hand of Darkness room!
The room was even better than I’d first imagined. Instead of merely having a name on the door, and a copy of the book in the room, the Left Hand of Darkness room has small murals on the bedframes that reflect the central story of the book, of an arduous — nearly mythically hard — companionship in icy terrain on an alien planet that turns into a love affair for two gender-shifting companions.
It was wonderful to stay in the Left Hand of Darkness room, and to read her work surrounded by such a great paean to her influence and writing. Thanks to McMenamin’s for the Ursula K. Le Guin experience.
I was very excited to see the actual handwritten manuscript for “The Wizard of Earthsea.” It was great to see that one of seminal books in modern fantasy was hand-created in a lined notebook. Seeing this gave me a lot of encouragement for my own novelistic process of handwriting most of my first drafts and then getting them into the computer. Once again, Ursula K. Le Guin is showing me the writer’s way!