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Ursula K. Le Guin

The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction


This is a beautiful essay by Le Guin. It’s a short read so I’m just going to share some of my favourite passages. You can read the full essay here.

To bear and not to own;
to act and not lay claim;
to do the work and let it go:
for just letting it go
is what makes it stay.      

    Sarah Shin and Ben Vickers
London, 18th September 2019 (Saturn station direct)



I would go as far as to say that the natural, proper, fitting shape of the novel might be that of a sack, a bag. A book holds words. Words hold things, they bear meaning. A novel is a medicine bundle, holding things in a particular, powerful relation to one another and us.

If, however, one avoids the linear, progressive, Time’s-(killing)-arrow mode of the Techno-Heroic, and redefines technology and science as primarily cultural carrier bag rather than weapon of domination, one pleasant side-effect is that science fiction can be seen as far less rigid, narrow field, not necessarily Promethean or apocalyptic at all, and in fact less a mythological genre than a realistic one.

If it is a human thing to do to put something you want, because it's useful, edible, or beautiful, into a bag, or a basket, or a bit of rolled bark or leaf, or a net woven of your own hair, or what have you, and then take it home with you, home being another, larger kind of pouch or bag, a container for people, and then later on you take it out and eat it or share it or store it up for winter in a solider container or put it in the medicine bundle or the shrine or the museum, the holy place, the area that contains what is sacred, and then next day you probably do much the same again. If to do that is human, if that's what it takes, then I am a human being after all. Fully, freely, gladly, for the first time.

There is time to gather plenty of wild oats and sow them too, and to sing to little Oom, and listen to Ool’s joke, and watch newts, and still the story isn’t over.

‘Still there are seeds to be gathered, and room in the bag of stars.’