Young People Read Old SFF

The Rule of Names

Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursula K. Le Guin is one of the great figures in science fiction. Over the course of the last six decades, she has won multiple Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy Awards, as well as the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters , the PEN/Malamud Award ,the Margaret Edwards Award and many others. In 1975, she was awarded the sixth Gandalf Award Grand Master of fantasy and in 2003 she became the second woman ever to receive the Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award.

Of the authors thus far, Le Guin was the one I thought it most likely the Young People might have encountered before. In particular, her Earthsea young adult trilogy has had broad appeal decades (and of course there’s a chance the Young People might have encountered the animated feature loosely based on the title of the series ). 1964’s “The Rule of Names” could serve as an introduction to both Earthsea and Le Guin’s work as whole.

“The Rule of Names” is included in the collection The Winds Twelve Quarters, which is available here.


1: We do not speak of that other adaptation.


While I read the extremely random assortment of Le Guin’s work available at my village’s library when I was a kid, I don’t really remember much about them. I feel like if I had remembered them, I might have enjoyed this story more.

This story feels like it’s supposed to be a part of a larger world, and I suspect it’s part of the Earthsea series. While I expect that it helps fill in more information about the world, or maybe further develop a character, I don’t think it works very well as a standalone. It’s fine, it just doesn’t seem to have much of a point.

I’m happy to finally get a fantasy story, but perhaps because I read a lot of fantasy stories, none of the worldbuilding in this story felt particularly unique. As soon as the dragon was mentioned it was obvious that it was going to be Mr. Underhill. It felt like the point of the story wasn’t the plot so much as it was showing off how life is for ordinary people in the world, and how magic impacts everyday lives. We see their school, and learn what the magic is used for in daily life, but there isn’t really any reason for any of that within the story.

With there being so little plot, and where there was of it obvious, this feels more like a story best come to when the reader is already invested in the world and wants to read more stories set in it, rather than something to hook a new reader or work as a standalone. As a standalone, I found it rather boring.


—Mikayla

I read A Wizard of Earthsea in grade five. I can still remember the whole thing vividly despite not having reread it in many years. Ursula K. Le Guin's writing is just that good. I hadn't read “The Rule of Names” before, but it holds up favourably to the other stories I've read in the Earthsea world.

I was suspicious of Underhill from early on, he was clearly hiding something. What exactly he was hiding I didn't figure out until the twist. I liked that. As fun as it usually is to figure out the twist before it happens, sometimes its nice to get a genuine surprise when reading.

Kind of a down ending, yet it somehow didn't seem as horrific as in science fiction stories where everyone ends up dead in the end. Even with an ending like that, the story was just so much less depressing than all the science fiction stories we've read so far in this project. It seems like a genre divide that fantasy stories are just by default more upbeat than science fiction stories. Even gritty dark fantasy has to try pretty hard to be more depressing and bloody than a lot of science fiction.

This story didn't have the vulgar sexism of some of the previous stories, but the women were still kind of just along for the ride. There's no real reason beyond the age that the story was written that one or all of the main characters couldn't have been female. Reading the reviews by the other reviewers has sharpened my eye for this kind of thing where before I just accepted it without reflection.

This story was just fun to read. I've never read a story by Le Guin that I didn't like. That goes double for Earthsea stories. I even liked the Studio Ghibli Earthsea adaptation, though I hear a lot of people including Le Guin herself didn't.





—Jamie

I thought this story was fine. It was a pretty good introduction to the world, leaving me curious about how things work, but without making me feel like I was missing any big important pieces of information. As an introduction to the world, the story talks about how people live, mentions the “rule of names” and how the rule is important to society. It gives a simple example of how (not) to use someone's name, and it does so in a pleasant enough way. My biggest complaint about the story is that I don't have enough of an opinion about it to write much more than 100 words.

—Lisa

I have read Ursula K Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea series before for a class in university. I remember not exactly liking her writing style as too vague on visual details, meaning that my mind’s eye was always fuzzy, leaving me unsatisfied. I was also introduced to her as a fantasy writer, so I was curious to see if this story would be different from the books I have read.

Upon starting this story, it seemed like the same world that the Earthsea stories are set in. This story is a good primer into fundamental rules of this world.

I liked this story better than the books. It was more focused and straightforward, with one mystery and a clear ending. It’s basically the essence of the first book A Wizard of Earthsea.

Overall, I liked it more than I expected which was probably helped by the fact that the story is only 4000 words long.

Le Guin’s writing is like an allegorical simile of the essence of a plot. Which means it reminds of any other story but none in particular – well, except for naming the first character Mr. Underhill (Lord of the Rings, anyone?). It’s like eating plain oatmeal – it sustains a plot, but for me it’s just no fun.

—Mel

Comments