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This morning’s Writers Almanac celebrates the birthday of Ursula LeGuin, whose writing I have cherished ever since I first discovered her books in the library as a teenager. I return to her books over and over again to experience her clarity of language and vision. Her stories have a strong moral backbone, but even in those tinged with darkness there is always evident a gentle humor, a warm humanity, and a sense of wonder.

It was during a three week writing workshop on fantasy and science fiction that Ursula gently suggested that I focus on my strong points, medieval history and culture, rather than fantasy. I will always appreciate that she couched her criticism in encouragement–“this is where your writing comes alive.”

It’s impossible for me to choose from among her works one that is my favorite–my answer changes with the seasons of the year and the seasons of my life. But the story that watches over my shoulder as I write is in the collection, Orsinian Tales, “The Lady of Moge.” The tale of a princess, a princess of blood, bone, and courage, not a fantasy princess, and the man who betrays her by denying her a courageous death. “For heroes do not make history–that is the historians’ job–but, passive, let themselves be borne along, swept up to the crest of the tide of change, of chance, of war,” she writes in the beginning. And she ends with this: “Passive, heroic, he had given himself wholly to his life; but the gift he had owed her, the soldier’s one gift, was death; and he had withheld it. He had refused her. And now, at sixty, after all the days, wars, years, countrysides of his life, now he had to turn back and see that he had lost it all, had fought for nothing, that there was no princess in the castle.”

Orsinian Tales

That story is always with me. Thank you, Ursula. Happy Birthday!

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