Atiliusregulus of War Fantastic comments on “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas”:
I read The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas in 1988 as part of a Governor’s school advance discussion and philosophy class. i was appalled by the story. Sure Le Guin’s wordsmithing is masterful. Let’s give credit where it is due on her craftsmanship, but her philosophy pushed forward in most of her stories, especially this one was that of inaction and indifference. Oh, I know the story is suppose to be about this vast higher attitude toward rejecting materialism, and artificial happiness because it is based upon the suffering of one child. Well take the story exactly at face value, just as it is presented. She wanted the story to be vague in details to inspire some type of nebulous epiphany, instead i would say it is vapid sophistry. Those who chose to walk away are as evil as those who ignore the suffering. It is a story glorifying apathy to suffering. Rejecting the artificial happiness bought upon another’s suffering sounds noble, but is only a first step.
I found the Earthsea two trilogies to be an interesting world building exercise, and always respected her writing abilities, but the morals of her stories throw the baby out with the bath water.
First off, I’m glad for this comment as I think this particular story deserves more attention and discussion. People that are shocked at how fast the Star Wars franchise was subverted generally have no idea how aggressive the hard left culture warring within science fiction and fantasy was during the seventies. This tale is a case in point.
But I am going to nitpick a little. I simply can’t take it for granted that Le Guin’s “wordsmithing” is masterful. I may be going out on a limb here, but I think the idea of a supposed masterful stylist utilizing the word “bleh” in a short story is absurd. It would take a lot of gall to pretend that this tale is some kind of significant literary achievement. It’s cheap. It’s tacky. It’s facile in the same way that the smarmiest college-level literary magazine stories are. The only tradition it builds on is the one that would culminate into “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love”.
And it gets worse. It turns out that Le Guin was writing about something she had first hand experience of. Because the science fiction and fantasy scene of the seventies was a party to precisely the sort of gross child abuse she depicts in her tale. Some people did walk away from it, yes. Others, like dirty old man Robert A. Heinlein used his influence to circle the wagons and encourage people to cover for the perpetrators.
Most people who knew about this had the sense to be ashamed of this or to at least be as discreet about it as possible. But there was one who, rather than call it out, went with the exact opposite tack and leveraged these goings on to gain accolades, a prestigious Hugo award, and a reputation for bringing incredibly deep philosophical ideas to a field that was predicated on wonder and astonishment.
The best that she could imagine was people walking away. The idea of someone intervening on behalf of the abused children was not just off the table for her cohort, it’s something that would have been sneered at as being naive and juvenile. But thing is… she really did hitch her wagon to just this sort of abomination.
And that’s a godawful thing.