First Impressions: The Word for World Is Forest

These are my first impressions after reading The Word for World Is Forest by Ursula K. Le Guin (1972) in February 2011.

51bwBCenQsL._SX333_BO1,204,203,200_This short novel is a retelling of the story of the Fall of Man from Eden, but set in Le Guin’s Hainish universe and written in her very readable style. The Eden is a forested planet 27 light years from Earth called Athshe, and the innocents are ape-like, green-furred cousins to humankind. They live in a utopia under the forest canopy, in harmony with nature and one another. Violence is unknown to this society.

Then people arrive from a severely resource-depleted Earth, and as we are wont to do, we immediately set out to destroy paradise. We cut down the forest and enslave, rape and murder the natives. From us, the Creechies (as they are derogatorily called by the colonists) learn how to fight and kill, and then they fight back.

But this isn’t just a black-and-white tale of evil humans and innocent aliens. In learning how to be violent, the Creechies are changed. Not only do they now know how to fight humans, but they have also learned how to fight one another. And once knowledge is acquired, it cannot be forgotten. So by fighting us, the Creechies become more like the humans they seek to defeat.

Le Guin’s take on this very old story is thoughtful and fresh (even though it was first published 35 years ago). I really enjoyed this quick read, as I enjoy pretty much everything I have read by her. I’m glad it was reissued in a really beautifully designed paperback edition.


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