While We Read a Novel, We Are Insane—Bonkers

Ursula K. Le Guin? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Apparently the acclaimed science fiction author Ursula K. Le Guin stated that the people who read her books were insane or bonkers. This is an odd thing to say. Did Le Guin really say this?

Quote Investigator: In 1969 Ursula K. Le Guin published the popular prize-winning novel “The Left Hand of Darkness”. In 1976 she penned a new introduction to the oft reprinted book which discussed the remarkable mental state required of fiction readers. Boldface added excerpts by QI: 1

In fact, while we read a novel, we are insane—bonkers. We believe in the existence of people who aren’t there, we hear their voices, we watch the battle of Borodino with them, we may even become Napoleon. Sanity returns (in most cases) when the book is closed.

Is it any wonder that no truly respectable society has ever trusted its artists?

Le Guin was making an observation about the temporary frame of mind of fiction readers. She was not commenting specifically about her readers. To immerse oneself in an artificially constructed universe the suspension of disbelief is necessary.

Le Guin did not consider herself a seer or forecaster. She continued the excerpt above with the following statement:

But our society, being troubled and bewildered, seeking guidance, sometimes puts an entirely mistaken trust in its artists, using them as prophets and futurologists.

In conclusion, Ursula K. Le Guin deserves credit for the words she wrote in her 1976 introduction to “The Left Hand of Darkness”.

Notes:

  1. 1977 (1969 Copyright), The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin, Introduction (1976 Copyright), Unnumbered Page; (Third Page of Introduction), Ace Books: Grosset & Dunlap Company, New York. (Verified with scans)