The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

Left Hand of Darkness cover

“The future, in fiction, is a metaphor… If I could have said it non-metaphorically, I would not have written all these words,“ Ursula K. Le Guin, Introduction, Left Hand of Darkness

The Left Hand of Darkness takes place on the planet Gethen/Winter, following Genly Ai, an ethnographer from the planet Terra, as he struggles to comprehend and integrate into Gethenian politics and society.

Much can be said of Le Guin’s exploration of gender and how it impacts society. Or of how the Gethenians relate to time (“It is always Year One here”). For this course, we will use this text to learn about ice ages (“I was dressed for the Ice Age and not for the sunshine,” p. 6), and think a little bit about weather (rain shows up on p. 2, snow, p. 10) and climate.


Read chapters 16-18. As Genly and Estraven cross the ice sheet, the ice itself becomes a character.

  • Identify 2-3 descriptions that are also character traits. For each, write one paragraph about their physical bases – e.g. crevassing – and one about how these physical features are used by LeGuin to build the ice into its own entity.
  • Glaciers that no longer flow are often referred to as “dead glaciers”. So - consider - what stance is LeGuin taking by emphasizing that this ice sheet is alive? Investigate using the resources we’ve covered or other scientific papers in 500 words (or as a comic, a derivation, a video). What are the various physical definitions (size, etc) for a glacier to be considered “alive”? Cite at least four sources.

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In case you ever feel lost, or want to jump, here’s a map.

Notes mentioning this note

Here are all the notes in this garden, along with their links, visualized as a graph.