Monday, June 14, 2010

Ursula K Le Guin's "The Word For World is Forest" (novella): Natives throw out ruthless & evil colonists

Cover image of the novella The Word For World is Forest by Ursula K Le Guin
I'll put it among the essential reads of science fiction on colonialism.

In some sense, this is yet another precursor to Hollywood movie "Avatar". While Alan Dean Foster's "Midworld", often cited as the prototype after which Avatar is modeled, focuses more on world building, Le Guin's version has a more strongly demarcated conflict: human colonists ("yumens" to natives) are far more evil, natives (derisively called "creechies" by colonists) are able to repel them by themselves - making the reader root more strongly for the natives.

Story summary.

Colonists from earth want wood from the forest world of Athshe ("New Tahiti" to colonists). So they set about razing the local forests, destroying native cities & villages inside the
forest. There is general genocide of natives, taking some as slaves, routine rapes of their

Natives finally wake up via the hero, Selver. He & his wife were taken slave, his wife
raped & killed by Captain Don Davidson - official villain & personification of the ultimate evil. From this point on, the days of humans on this world are numbered, with Selver organizing & leading the local military raids against colonist camps.

Another individual that is sketched in some detail is colonists' anthropologist, Captain Raj Lyubov - the "good" human.


  1. "The world is always new, however old its roots."
  2. "For four years they've behaved to us as they do to one another. Despite the physical differences, they recognized us as members of their species, as men. However, we have not responded as members of their species should respond... We have killed, raped, dispersed, & enslaved the native humans, destroyed their communities, and & down their forests. It wouldn't be surprising if they'd decided that we are not human."

    "And therefore can be killed, like animals".
  3. "The Athshean word for world is also the word for forest."
    "Athshe, which meant the Forest, & the World."

    This is where the title comes from.

Fact sheet.

First published: Harlan Ellison (ed)'s "Again, Dangerous Visions" (anthology, 1972).
Rating: A.
Winner of Hugo award 1973 in novella category.
Nominated for Nebula Award 1972 in novella category.
Related: Stories of Ursula K Le Guin.