The Word for World is Forest

Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Word for World is Forest drew me in, not least for the intriguing title

Here’s the blurb;

Centuries in the future, Terrans have established a logging colony & military base named “New Tahiti” on a tree-covered planet whose small, green-furred, big-eyed inhabitants have a culture centered on lucid dreaming. Terran greed spirals around native innocence & wisdom, overturning the ancient society.

Terran colonists take over the planet locals call Athshe, meaning “forest,” rather than “dirt,” like their home planet Terra. They follow the 19th century model of colonization: felling trees, planting farms, digging mines & enslaving indigenous peoples. The natives are unequipped to comprehend this. They’re a subsistence race who rely on the forests & have no cultural precedent for tyranny, slavery or war. The invaders take their land without resistance until one fatal act sets rebellion in motion & changes the people of both worlds forever.

Rebellion, cultural chaos and greed reign in The Word for World is Forest, a famous sci fi / fantasy novel

I read this at a strong recommendation from my dad. He usually prefers heavy sci-fi so I was wary, but found the story to be in no way complicated or over-the-top scientific.

The storyline is a tried and tested formula

In fact, the story itself was the basic Pocahontas story that has been told time and time again throughout the ages. I found myself disenchanted with it on that basis alone, a kind of ‘been there, done that’ mentality. It’s odd, because I really enjoyed Avatar (the movie) which obviously operates on exactly the same storyline, but I didn’t find that the visuals were painted for the reader at all. Instead, the world itself is almost vague, leaving the reader to occupy the various viewpoints of the protagonists – the sympathiser, the extremist and the victim.

Did the story get any further than other incarnations of the plot?

The actual story was well-told, with viewpoints from essentially the two extreme characters and the ‘alien’ stuck in the middle. The culture of an innocent race clashes when faced with the greed of humanity in a colonial-style ‘destroy and enslave’ mentality. The consequences are the loss of the alien race’s naiveté and the humbling (maybe) and retreat of humanity. So really, not a good ending – instead, highly likely, extremely disappointing and leaving you with a bitter taste for those in control.

Do you like mixing sci-fi with fantasy? Have you any other colonisation stories to add to the list of similar plots? Do you enjoy books without closure? Let me know in the comments.


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