All this talk of virtual farming has kept me from reflecting on a steadily rising stack of books, both academic and popular, that have fed my brain for the past few months. Among them, thanks to the climate/ecology/environment sections in Orca Books in Olympia, Washington, are Bill McKibben’s classic The End of Nature, Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Word for World is Forest, The Plants, by Kenneth McKenney, and Rebecca Solnit’s Savage Dreams.
I have to admit, I was most amused by The Plants, mainly because it was published in the year that I was born and seems to be a prototype of what one could call climate-change or atmospheric horror. Billed as “a superbly crafted novel of horror and high suspense,” the book also offers the following analogy: “What Alfred Hitchcock did in The Birds… What Peter Benchley did in Jaws… Kenneth McKenney does in the newest, most exciting excursion into plausible terror yet”! Note the common thread in these examples, namely nature’s wrath, or what William Cronon has called “nature as avenging angel.” The Plants takes place primarily in a small rural town in England, during an unusually warm summer that leads to a profusion of plant life with a malevolent bent… a little old lady is attacked by her roses after she threatens to prune them, a man who hacks apart his giant, potentially prize-winning squash gets stalked and murdered by sinister vines, and every time something suspicious is about to occur, residents hear the strangely overwhelming sound of foliage rustling all around them.
Sounds great, doesn’t it?
The more I read Ursula K. Le Guin, the more I’m pleasantly surprised at how well her work dovetails with my own research on environmental representation. I had only hazy memories of A Wizard of Earthsea before reading The Lathe of Heaven and The Word for World is Forest, so in my mind I had Le Guin pegged as a children’s fantasy writer. Oops.
No long plot description here, but I will say that if you are a person who either openly or secretly swooned over James Cameron’s Avatar and the Na’vi culture portrayed therein, you should read Le Guin’s The Word for World is Forest. The correspondences are almost shocking.