word for world is forest

The Word for World Is Forest – 1972 – by ursula le guin via kindle version from anarchist library [https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/ursula-k-le-guin-the-word-for-world-is-forest-1]



intro by ken macleod


Ursula Le Guin may be the SF writer most respected by the literary mainstream, the most studied academically, her work set texts in countless courses. She remains subversive, and her work dangerous reading, because it changes the reader and makes them look at the real world in a different light. This novel’s continuing relevance is a rebuke to our complacency’..t

– Ken MacLeod


author’s intro

The pursuit of art, then, by artist or audience, is the pursuit of liberty. If you accept that, you see at once why truly serious people reject and mistrust the arts, labeling them as “escapism.”..t The captured soldier tunneling out of prison, the runaway slave, and Solzhenitsyn in exile are escapists. Aren’t they? The definition also helps explain why all healthy children can sing, dance, paint, and play with words; why art is an increasingly important element in psychotherapy;.. t why Winston Churchill painted, why mothers sing cradle-songs, and what is wrong with Plato’s Republic..

art – being human


Emily did not give a damn about other people’s morals. But many artists, particularly artists of the word, whose ideas must actually he spoken in their work, succumb to the temptation. They begin to see that they can do good to other people. They forget about liberty, then, and instead of legislating in divine arrogance, like God or Shelley, they begin to preach..t

In this tale, The Word for World Is Forest, which began as a pure pursuit of freedom and the dream, I succumbed, in part, to the lure of the pulpit. It is a very strong lure to a science fiction writer, who deals more directly than most novelists with ideas, whose metaphors are shaped by or embody ideas, and who therefore is always in danger of inextricably confusing ideas with opinions.

I wrote The Little Green Men (its first editor, Harlan Ellison, retitled it, with my rather morose permission) in the winter of 1968, during a year’s stay in London. All through the sixties, in my home city in the States, I had been helping organize and participating in nonviolent demonstrations, first against atomic bomb testing, then against the pursuance of the war in Viet Nam. I don’t know how many times I walked down Alder Street in the rain, feeling useless, foolish, and obstinate, along with ten or twenty or a hundred other foolish and obstinate souls..t There was always somebody taking pictures of us—not the press—odd-looking people with cheap cameras: John Birchers? FBI? CIA? Crackpots? No telling. I used to grin at them, or stick out my tongue. One of my fiercer friends brought a camera once and took pictures of the picture-takers. Anyhow, there was a peace movement, and I was in it, and so had a channel of action and expression for my ethical and political opinions totally separate from my writing..t

In England that year, a guest and a foreigner, I had no such outlet. And 1968 was a bitter year for those who opposed the war. The lies and hypocrisies redoubled: so did the killing..t Moreover, it was becoming clear that the ethic which approved the defoliation of forests and grainlands and the murder of noncombatants in the name of “peace” was only a corollary of the ethic which permits the despoliation of natural resources for private profit or the GNP, and the murder of the creatures of the Earth in the name of “man.” The victory of the ethic of exploitation, in all societies, seemed as inevitable as it was disastrous.

It was from such pressures, internalized, that this story resulted: forced out, in a sense, against my conscious resistance. I have said elsewhere that I never wrote a story more easily, fluently, surely— and with less pleasure..t

I knew, because of the compulsive quality of the composition, that it was likely to become a preachment, and I struggled against this. Say not the struggle naught availeth. Neither Lyubov nor Seiver is mere Virtue Triumphant; moral and psychological complexity was salvaged, at least, in those characters. But Davidson is, though not uncomplex, pure; he is purely evil—and I don’t, consciously, believe purely evil people exist. But my unconscious has other opinions. It looked into itself and produced, from itself, Captain Davidson. I do not disclaim him.

American involvement in Viet Nam is now past; the immediately intolerable pressures have shifted to other areas; and so the moralizing aspects of the story are now plainly visible. These I regret, but I do not disclaim them either. The work must stand or fall on whatever elements it preserved of the yearning that underlies all specific outrage and protest, whatever tentative outreaching it made, amidst anger and despair, toward justice, or wit. or grace, or liberty.


2. Synchronicity Can Happen at Almost Any Time

A few years ago, a few years after the first publication in America of The Word for World Is Forest. I had the great pleasure of meeting Dr. Charles Tart, a psychologist well known for his researches into and his book on Altered States of Consciousness. He asked me if I had modeled the Athsheans of the story upon the Senoi people of Malaysia. The who? said I, so he told me about them. The Senoi are, or were, a people whose culture includes and is indeed substantially based upon a deliberate training in and use of the dream. .t Dr. Tart’s book includes a brief article on them by Kilton Stewart.

Breakfast in the Senoi house is like a dream clinic, with the father and older brothers listening to and analysing the dreams of all the children

When the Senoi child reports a falling dream, the adult answers with enthusiasm, “That is a wonderful dream, one of the best dreams a man can have. Where did you fall to, and what did you discover?”.. t

The Senoi dream is meaningful, active, and creative. Adults deliberately go into their dreams to solve problems of interpersonal and intercultural conflict. They come out of their dreams with a new song, tool, dance, idea. The waking and the dreaming states are equally valid, each acting upon the other in complementary fashion..t

The article implies, by omission rather than by direct statement, that the men are the “great dreamers” among the Senoi; whether this means that the women are socially inferior, or that their role (as among the Athsheans) is equal and compensatory, is not clear. Nor is there any mention of the Senoi conception of divinity, the numinous, etc.; it is merely stated that they do not practice magic, though they are perfectly willing to let neighboring peoples think they do, as this discourages invasion.

They have built a system of inter-personal relations which, in the field of psychology, is perhaps on a level with our attainments in such areas as television and nuclear physics.

It appears that the Senoi have not had a war, or a murder, for several hundred years..t

imagine if we listened to the itch-in-8b-souls 1st thing everyday & used that data to connect us (tech as it could be.. ai as augmenting interconnectedness)

There they are, twelve thousand of them, farming, hunting, fishing, and dreaming, in the rain forests of the mountains of Malaysia. Or there they were, in 1935— perhaps. Kilton Stewart’s report on them has had no professional sequels that I know of. Were they ever there, and if so, are they still there? In the waking time, I mean, in what we so fantastically call ‘the real world.’ In the dream time, of course, they are there, and here. I thought I was inventing my own lot of imaginary aliens, and I was only describing the Senoi. It is not only the Captain Davidsons who can be found in the unconscious, if one looks. The quiet people who do not kill each other are there, too. It seems that a great deal is there, the things we most fear (and therefore deny), the things we most need (and therefore deny). I wonder, couldn’t we start listening to our dreams, and our children’s dreams?..t

Where did you fall to, and what did you discover?’

huge to bachelard oikos lawoikos (the economy our souls crave).. ‘i should say: the house shelters day-dreaming, the house protects the dreamer, the house allows one to dream in peace.’ – gaston bachelard, the poetics of space


ch 1


ch 2


“As children do, in sleep.”

“They have no training?”

“No. Sometimes they talk of their dreams, the healers try to use them in healing, but none of them are trained, or have any skill in dreaming. Lyubov, who taught me, understood me when I showed him how to dream, and yet even so he called the world-time ‘real’ and the dream-time ‘unreal,’ as if that were the difference between them.”


The headwoman listened to Coro Mena’s reports and prophecies, and acted. She put the town of Cadast on alert, making sure that each family was ready to move out, with some food packed, and litters ready for the old and ill. She sent young women scouting south and east for news of the yumens. She kept one armed hunting-group always around town, though the others went out as usual every night. And when Selver grew stronger she insisted that he come out of the Lodge and tell his story: how the yumens killed and enslaved people in Sornol, and cut down the forests; how the people of Kelme Deva had killed the yumens. She forced women and undreaming men who did not understand these things to listen again, until they understood, and were frightened. For Ebor Dendep was a practical woman. When a Great Dreamer, her brother, told her that Selver was a god, a changer, a bridge between realities, she believed and acted. It was the Dreamer’s responsibility to be careful, to be certain that his judgment was true. Her responsibility was then to take that judgment and act upon it. He saw what must be done; she saw that it was done.

They were not all one people on the Forty Lands of the world. There were more languages than lands, and each with a different dialect for every town that spoke it; there were infinite ramifications of manners, morals, customs, crafts; physical types differed on each of the five Great Lands.

idiosyncratic jargon ness and discrimination as equity ness


They should have sent the women first. Maybe with them the women do the Great Dreaming, who knows? They are backward, Selver. They are insane.”

“A people can’t be insane.”

“But they only dream in sleep, you said; if they want to dream waking they take poisons so that the dreams go out of control, you said! How can people be any madder? They don’t know the dream-time from the world-time, any more than a baby does. Maybe when they kill a tree they think it will come alive again!”

 “No, they understand death very well…Certainly they don’t see as we do, but they know more and understand more about certain things than we do. Lyubov mostly understood what I told him. Much of what he told me, I couldn’t understand. It wasn’t the language that kept me from understanding; I know his tongue, and he learned ours; we made a writing of the two languages together. Yet there were things he said I could never understand. He said the yumens are from outside the forest. That’s quite clear. He said they want the forest: the trees for wood, the land to plant grass on.” Selver’s voice, though still soft, had taken on resonance; the people among the silver trees listened. “That too is clear, to those of us who’ve seen them cutting down the world. He said the yumens are men like us, that we’re indeed related, as close kin maybe as the Red Deer to the Greybuck. He said that they come from another place which is not the forest; the trees there are all cut down; it has a sun, not our sun, which is a star. All this, as you see, wasn’t clear to me. I say his words but don’t know what they mean. It does not matter much. It is clear that they want our forest for themselves. .. They kill men and women; they do not spare those who ask life. ..They cannot sing in contest. They have left their roots behind them, perhaps, in this other forest from which they came, this forest with no trees. So they take poison to let loose the dreams in them, but it only makes them drunk or sick. No one can say certainly whether they’re men or not men, whether they’re sane or insane, but that does not matter. They must be made to leave the forest, because they are dangerous.

hari present in society law et al


If they will not go they must be burned out of the Lands, as nests of stinging-ants must be burned out of the groves of cities. .. If the yumens are men, they are men unfit or untaught to dream and to act as men. Therefore they go about in torment killing and destroying, driven by the gods within, whom they will not set free but try to uproot and deny.

..implicated in crowd and act, he would have little time for the slow and deep running of the great dreams.

“Yes, I’m sure, Selver…I was well taught in dreaming, and then I’m old. I dream very little for myself any more. Why should I? Little is new to me. And what I wanted from my life, I have had, and more. I have had my whole life. Days like the leaves of the forest. I’m an old hollow tree, only the roots live. And so I dream only what all men dream. I have no visions and no wishes. I see what is. I see the fruit ripening on the branch. Four years it has been ripening, that fruit of the deep-planted tree. ..We are all afraid. Children wake from sleep crying of giants; women will not go far on their trading-journeys; men in the Lodges cannot sing. The fruit of fear is ripening. And I see you gather it. You are the harvester. All that we fear to know, you have seen, you have known: exile, shame, pain, the roof and walls of the world fallen, the mother dead in misery, the children untaught, uncherished…This is a new time for the world: a bad time. And you have suffered it all. You have gone farthest. And at the farthest, at the end of the black path, there grows the Tree; there the fruit ripens; now you reach up, Selver, now you gather it. And the world changes wholly, when a man holds in his hand the fruit of that tree, whose roots are deeper than the forest. Men will know it. They will know you, as we did. It doesn’t take an old man or a Great Dreamer to recognize a god! Where you go, fire burns; only the blind cannot see it. But listen, Selver, this is what I see that perhaps others do not, this is why I have loved you: I dreamed of you before we met here. You were walking on a path, and behind you the young trees grew up, oak and birch, willow and holly, fir and pine, alder, elm, white-flowering ash, all the roof and walls of the world, forever renewed. Now farewell, dear god and son, go safely.”


ch 3


Block. No go. Lyubov was about to shrug and give it up when the Cetian said, “Why, Mr. Lyubov?” The most winning characteristic of the rather harsh Cetian temperament was curiosity, inopportune and inexhaustible curiosity; Cetians died eagerly, curious as to what came next.

curiosity over decision making.. and thurman interconnectedness law et al

“You see,” Lyubov said, “the Athsheans use a kind of ritualised singing to replace physical combat. Again it’s a universal social phenomenon that might have a physiological foundation, though it’s very hard to establish anything as ‘innate’ in human beings. However the higher primates here all go in for vocal competing between two males, a lot of howling and whistling; the dominant male may finally give the other a cuff, but usually they just spend an hour or so trying to outbellow each other. The Athsheans themselves see the similarity to their singing-matches, which are also only between males; but as they observe, theirs are not only aggression-releases, but an art-form. The better artist wins. I wondered if Selver sang over Captain Davidson, and if so, whether he did because he could not kill, or because he preferred the bloodless victory. These questions have suddenly become rather urgent.”


“Dr. Lyubov,” said Lepennon, “how effective are these aggression-channeling devices? Are they universal?”

“Among adults, yes. So my informants state, and all my observation supported them, until day before yesterday. Rape, violent assault, and murder virtually don’t exist among them. There are accidents, of course. And there are psychotics. Not many of the latter.”

“What do they do with dangerous psychotics?”

Isolate them. Literally. On small islands.

rather.. gershenfeld something else law et al.. but also to isolation ness.. bachelard oikos law t al


ch 4


ch 5


Many Athsheans, especially Dreamers from the Lodges, could not change their polycyclic sleep-pattern to fit the Terran one. If they caught up with their normal sleep at night, that prevented them from catching up with the REM or paradoxical sleep, whose 120-minute cycle ruled their life both day and night, and could not be fitted in to the Terran workday. Once you have learned to do your dreaming wide awake, to balance your sanity not on the razor’s edge of reason but on the double support, the fine balance, of reason and dream; once you have learned that, you cannot unlearn it any more than you can unlearn to think. So many of the men became groggy, confused, withdrawn, even catatonic. Woman, bewildered and abased, behaved with the sullen listlessness of the newly enslaved. Male non-adepts and some of the younger Dreamers did best; they adapted, working hard in the logging camps or becoming clever servants. Sam had been one of these, an efficient, characterless bodyservant, cook, laundry-boy, butler, back soaper, and scapegoat for his three masters. He had learned how to be invisible. Lyubov borrowed him as an ethnological informant, and had, by some affinity of mind and nature, won Sam’s trust at once. He found Sam the ideal informant, trained in his people’s customs, perceptive of their significances, and quick to translate them, to make them intelligible to Lyubov, bridging the gap between two languages, two cultures, two species of the genus Man.


For two years Lyubov had been traveling, studying, interviewing, observing, and had failed to get at the key that would let him into the Athshean mind. He didn’t even know where the lock was. He had studied the Athsheans’ sleeping-habits and found that they apparently had no sleeping-habits. He had wired countless electrodes onto countless furry green skulls, and failed to make any sense at all out of the familiar patterns, the spindles and jags, the alphas and deltas and thetas, that appeared on the graph. It was Selver who had made him understand, at last, the Athshean significance of the word ‘dream,’ which was also the word for ‘root,’ and so hand him the key of the kingdom of the forest people. It was with Selver as EEG subject that he had first seen with comprehension the extraordinary impulse-patterns of a brain entering a dream-state neither sleeping nor awake: a condition which related to Terran dreaming-sleep as the Parthenon to a mud hut: the same thing basically, but with the addition of complexity, quality, and control.


“I can’t see why any hilfer voluntarily ties himself up to an Open Colony. You know the people you’re studying are going to get plowed under, and probably wiped out. It’s the way things are. It’s human nature, and you must know you can’t change that. Then why come and watch the process? Masochism?”

I don’t know what ‘human nature’ is. Maybe leaving descriptions of what we wipe out is part of human nature.—Is it much pleasanter for an ecologist, really?


Gosse ignored this. “All right then, write up your descriptions. But keep out of the carnage. A biologist studying a rat colony doesn’t start reaching in and rescuing pet rats of his that get attacked, you know.”

At this Lyubov had blown loose. He had taken too much. “No, of course not,” he said. “A rat can be a pet, but not a friend. Selver is my friend. In fact he’s the only man on this world whom I consider to be a friend.” That had hurt poor old Gosse, who wanted to be a father-figure to Lyubov, and it had done nobody any good. Yet it had been true. And the truth shall make you free…I like Selver, respect him; saved him; suffered with him; fear him. Selver is my friend.

Selver is a god.

A link: one who could speak aloud the perceptions of the subconscious. To ‘speak’ that tongue is to act. To do a new thing. To change or to be changed, radically, from the root. For the root is the dream.

itch-in-the-soul ness


He turned in a brief report that next day. It said that Tuntar was going about its business as usual, and that he had not been turned away or threatened. It was a soothing report, and the most inaccurate one Lyubov ever wrote. It omitted everything of significance: the headwoman’s non-appearance, Tubab’s refusal to greet Lyubov, the large number of strangers in town, the young huntress’ expression, Selver’s presence…Of course that last was an intentional omission, but otherwise the report was quite factual, he thought; he had merely omitted subjective impressions, as a scientist should. He had a severe migraine while writing the report, and a worse one after submitting it.

m of care – apr 13 and art of not being governed and dawn of everything (book).. et al


ch 6


He had not slept for four days and had not been still to dream for longer than that —he did not know how long. He had acted, spoken, traveled, planned, night and day, ever since he left Broter with his followers from Cadast. He had gone from city to city speaking to the people of the forest, telling them the new thing, waking them from the dream into the world, arranging the thing done this night, talking, always talking and hearing others talk, never in silence and never alone. They had listened, they had heard and had come to follow him, to follow the new path. They had taken up the fire they feared into their own hands: taken up the mastery over the evil dream: and loosed the death they feared upon their enemy. All had been done as he said it should be done. All had gone as he said it would go. .. Kneeling there in the mud among the dead he thought, This is the dream now, the evil dream. I thought to drive it, but it drives me.


It was not a promise made to us.”

“How can we make any sort of agreement or treaty with a people who have no government, no central authority?”

“I don’t know. I’m not sure you know what a promise is. This one was soon broken.”


They were more protective of their machines than of their bodies.

“What’s the difference, Benton,” the old Colonel said at last, furious and shaky, “can’t you see that we can’t use the damned weapons? There’s three million of these aliens all scattered out all over every damned island, all covered with trees and undergrowth, no cities, no vital network, no centralized control. You can’t disable a guerrilla type structure with bombs, it’s been proved, in fact my own part of the world where I was born proved it for about thirty years fighting off major super-powers one after the other in the twentieth century. And we’re not in a position until a ship comes to prove our superiority. Let the big stuff go, if we can hold on to the sidearms for hunting and self-defense!”

art of not being governed and zomia ness et al


“I told them that they were ill. But then, they’ve been defeated, and hurt, and locked in that stone cage. After that anyone might be ill and need healing.”

fall of us ill (missing pieces).. hari rat park law et al.. need global detox/re\set

art (by day/light) and sleep (by night/dark) as global re\set.. to fittingness (undisturbed ecosystem)


ch 7


ch 8


“Sometimes a god comes,” Selver said. “He brings a new way to do a thing, or a new thing to be done. A new kind of singing, or a new kind of death. He brings this across the bridge between the dream-time and the world-time. When he has done this, it is done. *You cannot take things that exist in the world and try to drive them back into the dream, to hold them inside the dream with walls and pretenses. That is insanity. What is, is. **There is no use pretending, now, that we do not know how to kill one another.”..t

*but in my interp of this.. and to me.. you can get out of that world.. and go back to dream/imagine/art ness.. ie: hari rat park law et al.. (in fact to me..we have to.. part\ial ness is killing us)

for (blank)’s sake

**true.. but to me.. there is a means for detox.. for a global re\set..where we don’t have to wear the label.. killer/murderer et al

Lepennon laid his long hand on Selver’s hand, so quickly and gently that Selver accepted the touch as if the hand were not a stranger’s. The green-gold shadows of the ash leaves flickered over them.

But you must not pretend to have reasons to kill one another. Murder has no reason,” Lepennon said, his face as anxious and sad as Lyubov’s face. “We shall go. Within

*yeah that.. hurman interconnectedness lawwhen you understand interconnectedness it makes you more afraid of hating than of dying – Robert Thurman