The Word for World is Forest is a short novel by Ursula Le Guinn. It deals with themes of colonialism, dehumanising the other, toxic masculinity and the cost of fighting oppression. It’s a beautifully written, deeply engaging, entirely heartbreaking sort of book. When you have to take up arms to protect a peaceful culture, you have already lost a part of what you wanted to protect. There’s no way round that.
Sometimes the only choice is between fighting and dying. Sometimes only forceful resistance will deal with violent abuses. History is full of examples. The current world is full of examples. How do you fight back without becoming a version of that which you fight against?
I think it’s good, in face of such questions to be uneasy and uncomfortable. That is perhaps the only line of defence against being gung-ho. In times of conflict we turn to ideas about heroism, fighting the good fight, and celebrating the winners. One of the things I like about The Word for World is Forest is that victory is full of grief and uncertainty. There is no sense of triumph. The person who might have been a hero is not a hero, only a damaged consequence of the violence.
This is a story about doing what is necessary. This is a story about what happens when what is necessary is abhorrent. It is a story that suggests that afterwards, there is a high price to be paid for doing what has to be done. I am inclined to feel that in the current climate, this is very much the sort of story we need.