31 pages 1 hour read

Ursula K. Le Guin

The Word for World is Forest

Fiction | Novella | Adult | Published in 1972

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Important Quotes

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“But men were here now to end the darkness, and turn the tree-jumble into clean-sawn planks, more prized on Earth than gold. Literally, because gold could be got from seawater and from under the Antarctic ice, but wood could not; wood came only from trees. And it was a really necessary luxury on Earth.” 

(Chapter 1, Page 7)

Davidson’s early thoughts set the tone for his view of both the forest world and his own role in the logging initiative. He does not see the Athsheans as men, but he sees men as liberators who will end what he calls the “darkness” of the planet, which simply refers to values that he does not share. This is similar to what Rudyard Kipling would call the “White Man’s Burden” when the British Empire was expanding into India and Africa.

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“In the dream the giants walked, heavy and dire. Their dry scaly limbs were swathed in cloths; their eyes were little and light, like tin beads. Behind them crawled huge moving things made of polished iron. The trees fell down in front of them.”

(Chapter 1, Page 28)

The Dreamers’ visions of the yumens are foreboding. The men are described as giants who walk ahead of metallic monsters that fell the trees. There is never anything positive in the dreams the natives have of the yumens. Their approach can therefore not be viewed with anything but unease, which is part of Selver’s decision to launch a preemptive strike on Smith Camp and Centralville.

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“‘Until the men make a fit place for the women? Well! they may have quite a wait,’ said Ebor Dendep. ‘They’re like the people in the Elm Dream who come at you rump-first, with their heads put on front to back. They make the forest into a dry beach’—her language had no word for ‘desert’—‘and call that making things ready for the women? They should have sent the women first.”

(Chapter 2, Page 43)

Selver’s sister laughs at the notion that the yumens are crafting a planet suitable for women. Rather, they are reducing the forests, leaving the landscape barren and inhospitable. She believes that if the women had arrived first, they would have been able to craft a better planet, which would have spared the forests.