Saturday, August 15, 2009

Tao Books: A Book about the Way and the Power of the Way

I have to be honest: Until I checked out a copy of Tao Te Ching: A Book about the Way & the Power of the Way from my local library, I had never heard of Ursula K. LeGuin. But doing some research for this post, I discovered that she is quite the accomplished novelist, poet and writer. As the short bibliography on her website illustrates, this incredible woman has written over 50 books!

Most of her work has not been explicitly about Taoism, but Taoist themes run through many of her stories. In fact, I found the following excerpt from an interview in 2000.
The moral core has been strengthened by Taoism, which besides feminism is the other major influence on her work. Le Guin says her first memory of Taoism was of watching her father read a book with Chinese characters all over the cover -- "and I knew he didn't know Chinese." The book was Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching.

Thus, it's hardly surprising that Le Guin's new novel, The Telling, should be inspired by Mao Tse-tung's attempt to destroy Taoism in China. Mao pretty much succeeded in his own country, eradicating three thousand years of spiritual tradition in the name of communism. This fact inspired Le Guin to write a story in which a time-honored religion is obliterated just as quickly and brutally.

Next to feminism, Taoism has been the system of thought that most influenced her work. It is most evident in the many stories in which her characters' strength lies not in their action but in their inaction. The principle of yin and yang operates in her work, and the traditional Western dichotomies -- black and white, good and evil -- become much more complicated and intertwined.
I can't tell you a thing about any of her books except this one about Lao Tzu's 81 verses. While it is NOT a translation, it is the most poetic rendition I have found yet. Her notes typically add even more flavor to her lyric renderings. I would certainly recommend it to the person who is first exploring Taoism because it makes many of the concepts a bit more accessible to the western mind.

Here are some reviews listed on the product page at
"Reading [Le Guin's] translations is like taking a shared walk down a familiar trail where we discover rocks and water that we somehow missed before. . . . undeniably refreshing, capturing a language that is casual and clear, reflective and pointed, full of the wise humor of the Way."Parabola

"A student of the Tao for several decades, Le Guin has created an English text that will speak to modern readers in a fresh and lively way, while conveying the humor, insight and beauty of the original."Shambhala Sun

"Ursula K. Le Guin's translation of the Tao Te Ching is a personal and poetic meditation. Through her own careful study of these ancient teachings, she brings the Way into contemporary life. Each day, I open this book at random and receive a contemplative gift. These words are akin to water in the desert."Terry Tempest Williams, author of Refuge

"Among the many translations of Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching , Ursula K. Le Guin's new version is a special treasure—a delight. There is something startlingly fresh and creatively alive here, brought forth by Ms. Le Guin's intuitive and personal ingenuity. Her rendering has moved me to return to the original Chinese text with rejuvenated fervor, rejoicing in the ineffable sageness that lies in and between Lao Tzu's lines."Chuangliang Al Huang, founder of the Living Tao Foundation, coauthor (with Alan Watts) of Tao: The Watercourse Way

1 comment:

  1. i love her "earthsea" trilogy... and yes you can definitely see the taoist influence in those books. :) i'd recommend them to any lover of fantasy.


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