Ursula K. Le Guin, who died earlier this year, was known for her award-winning fantasy novels and short stories. Two paperbacks reissued by Tor Books this month, The Beginning Place and The Eye of the Heron, are prime examples of Le Guin’s authority in magical realism for both children and adults. Her characters face persecution that is still as prevalent today as it was in the late 1970s, when these two short novels were written ... it’s no coincidence that her heroines, Luz and Irene, flee abuse of power from men. Le Guin famously wove feminist issues into her science fiction stories, and pushed for equality with her characters. She builds fantasies as representations of human dreams, utopias that never quite materialize.
The Beginning Place and The Eye of the Heron are... two of her lesser-known works; published in 1980 and 1978 respectively, and each clocking in at around 200 pages, it’s not surprising that they’d be so easily lost in an oeuvre of 22 novels and countless shorter pieces, including seminal pieces like The Dispossessed and The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas. The novels are 'lesser' in other ways as well, which is not a thing that pleases me to say, since this is also the first review of her work that I’ve written since January ... It is hard for me to say I liked or disliked these novels...Even Le Guin’s worst books move me, and in recent years, they have been a necessary antidote to the cynicism that inevitably creeps into criticism and dissent. The Beginning Place and The Eye of the Heron are not great, and I’d never recommend them to a first-time reader—but to those that miss Le Guin’s prose, and who want above all to be moved to a kind of hope in the dark, I’d recommend them.
This short novel, which could probably be read with equal pleasure by any intelligent person between the ages of 14 and 90, is a paradox of sorts: a fantasy about the limitations of fantasy ... In a mode light-years away from the recent Malafrena or most of her previous fantasy or science fiction, Le Guin achieves miracles of tact and lucidity; the allegorical implications of the story are touched on with an understated sweetness that can only be described as masterly. An impeccable parable--and some of the best work ever by a humane, high-minded, underappreciated novelist.