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ENG 240: The Modern Novel - Kehoe

The Lathe of Heaven, by Ursula K. Le Guin (1971)

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  Ursula K. Le Guin

  • literary period and historical background: the Cold War, the 1960s and 1970s
    • fear of the possibility of a nuclear war between the United States and the USSR
    • critiques of militarism, protests against the Vietnam War, growing popularity of pacifism and counterculture
    • interest in Eastern philosophies and religions (Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism)
  • about Ursula K. Le Guin (1929-2018) (via RCC Library); The Lathe of Heaven published in 1971
  • critical approaches, literary terms, and references:
    • science fiction and speculative fiction (see: handout posted under RESOURCES)
    • utopia and dystopia
    • Taoism (yin and yang), the concept of lucid dreaming, and the philosophy of the novel’s protagonist (what kind of protagonist is George Orr?)
  • sources of epigraphs to the chapters in The Lathe of Heaven:
    Chuang Tse, Lao Tzu (Taoist thinkers), Lafcadio Hearn (19th-century Greek-Japanese writer, introduced Western readers to East Asian philosophies), H. G. Wells (19th-century British writer known for his science-fiction works, Le Guin quotes from his A Modern Utopia), Victor Hugo (19th-century French writer, Le Guin quotes from his lesser known work on dreams)
  • the title of the novel comes from a mistranslation of a phrase from Chuang Tse: “the lathe of heaven” (see epigraph to chapter 3) -- Le Guin liked the phrase and the image it conjured, but some years after the publication of the novel she learned that the lathe had not yet been invented in Chuang Tse’s time (the Wikipedia article about the novel mentions the interview Le Guin did for the DVD release of the movie adaptation, in which she explains the problem with the title)



Franko, Carol S. "The I-We Dilemma and a ‘Utopian Unconscious’ in Wells’s When the Sleeper Wakes and Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven." Children's Literature Review, edited by Lawrence J. Trudeau, vol. 200, Gale, 2015. Gale Literature Resource Center, Originally published in Political Science Fiction, edited by Donald M. Hassler and Clyde Wilcox, U of South Carolina P, 1997, pp. 76-98.

Johnston, Laura. "'Orr' and 'Orwell': Le Guin's The Lathe of Heaven and Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four." Extrapolation, vol. 40, no. 4, winter 1999, p. 351. Gale Literature Resource Center,

Le Guin, Ursula K. Lao Tzu: Tao Te Ching. Shambhala, 2019.

Le Guin, Ursula K. “Utopiyin, Utopiyang.” No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017, pp. 85-87.

Roemer, Kenneth M. "utopia." Continuum Encyclopedia of American Literature, edited by Steven Serafin, and Alfred Bendixen, Continuum, 1st edition, 2005. Credo Reference,

"Taoism." Chambers Dictionary of the Unexplained, edited by Una McGovern, Chambers Harrap, 1st edition, 2007. Credo Reference,

Walker, Charlotte Zoe. "Ursula K. Le Guin." Contemporary Literary Criticism, edited by Jennifer Stock, vol. 457, Gale, 2020. Gale Literature Resource Center,