The Left Hand of Darkness
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|The Left Hand of Darkness|
Front cover, first edition, art by the Dillons
|Author(s)||Ursula K. Le Guin|
|Cover artist||Leo and Diane Dillon (depicted); Alex Ebel (many from 1974)|
|Genre(s)||Science fiction novel|
|Publication date||March 1969|
|Media type||Print (paperback original; hardcover also 1969)|
|Pages||286 pp (first edition)|
|Preceded by||City of Illusions|
|Followed by||The Word for World Is Forest|
The Left Hand of Darkness is a 1969 science fiction novel by Ursula K. Le Guin. It is part of the Hainish Cycle, a series of books by Le Guin set in the fictional Hainish universe, which she inaugurated in 1966. It is considered by some to be one of the first major works of feminist science fiction.
Left Hand won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards as the year's "best novel" according to convention participants and science fiction writers respectively. In 1987, Locus: The magazine of the science fiction & fantasy field ranked it number two among "All-Time Best SF Novels", based on a poll of subscribers.[a] That same year, Harold Bloom edited a critical anthology about the book and said in the introduction that "Le Guin, more than Tolkien, has raised fantasy into high literature, for our time".
Setting and premise
The Left Hand of Darkness is set in the "Hainish" universe, which Le Guin introduced three years earlier in Rocannon's World, her first novel. The series describes the interplanetary expansion started by the first race of humanity on the planet Hain, leading to the formation of the League of All Worlds, and eventually expanding to the eighty-three world collective called the Ekumen.
This novel takes place many centuries in the future - no date is given, though the year 4870 has been suggested. An envoy, Genly Ai, is on a planet called Winter ("Gethen" in the language of its own people) to convince the citizens to join the Ekumen. Winter is, as its name indicates, a planet that is always cold, and its citizens are neither female nor male: they have gender identities and sexual urges only once a month. These conditions have affected the ways that civilizations on Winter have developed, with the most notable effect being that there has never been a war on the planet.
There are, however, arcane rules of politics and diplomacy that the envoy must learn in order to survive. His fortune changes quickly, according to what political faction is in power at the time in the country he is residing in: in one country, for instance, the Prime Minister arranges an audience with the king for him, but the next day the Prime Minister is exiled for treason; in another he has trouble determining which factions among the thirty-three Heads of Districts support him and which want to use him to gain political power. The struggle of Genly Ai as he tries to understand the ways of these people and survive on this hostile planet gives Le Guin the chance to explore what life would be like without the dualities, such as summer and winter or male and female, that form our way of thinking: the book's title comes from a Gethenian poem, which begins "Light is the left hand of darkness".
In Karhide: Chapters 1-5
Genly Ai, a native of the planet Terra (Earth), is an envoy from the Ekumen, an organization of more than eighty worlds, representing 3,000 countries, spanning one hundred light years from border to border, whose purpose is to develop commerce, communications, and, possibly, mystical unity. Ai's mission is to convince the country of Karhide on the distant planet called Gethen to join the Ekumen. His story of that mission consists mainly of his own observations with interpolated chapters of Karhide tales and myths, Ekumen data, sayings from Orgoreyn (Karhide's neighbor), and excerpts from the diary of Therem Harth rem ir Estraven, prime minister of Karhide to mad King Argaven XV.
The planet Gethen is called Winter by the Ekumen because it is in the grip of an Ice Age. Ai is constantly challenged by the unrelenting cold, by the Karhide custom of shifgrethor (a nuanced system of dignity-preserving conversational tactics), and by the androgynous nature of all the people who populate Winter.
Estraven's androgynous nature further obscures him to Ai. Although all of Winter's androgynes in the text are referred to as "he," the fact is they are neither "he" nor "she" until they enter kemmer, a state of estrus lasting a few days a month, analogous to a menstrual cycle but with an unreasoning urge to mate. Then, depending on the chemistry between partners, one will develop as a male, the other as a female. The same person can be a child-bearing mother to some children and a father to others. Le Guin later reminisced in the revised form of her article "Is Gender Necessary? Redux" that using the masculine pronoun was a mistake, because it furthered the appearance of Estraven and other Gethenians as men. Just as Ai struggles to comprehend the sexlessness of the Gethen, the Gethen regard Ai's fixed gender, and his claims of an entire civilization divided into male and female, as anomalous and disturbing; indeed, Ai is considered a "pervert" (a creature always in kemmer). Their androgynous biology, which eliminates male dominance, female dependency or childrearing, and sexual tension, is the underpinning for the culture and politics on Winter, a planet that has no word for war and no experience of it. Yet the two countries of Karhide and Orgoreyn seem to be on the brink of war over disputed territory.
In Orgoreyn: Chapters 6-14
Estraven is exiled as a traitor when he is outmaneuvered by a more bellicose faction, and given three days to leave Karhide under pain of death. He flees to Orgoreyn, a Soviet-like bureaucracy where his lack of proper papers condemns him to the life of a factory worker. Finally he is discovered by some Commensals, politicians of high status somewhat like senators, and introduced into the socialist politics of Orgoreyn. Ai also travels to Orgoreyn. Since the King of Karhide has rejected his proposal to join the Ekumen, he thinks perhaps the neighboring country will be interested. Orgoreyn is considerably different from Karhide, a bureaucracy compared to a monarchy; Orgoreyn's Yomesh religion denies the dark yet is an offspring of Karhide's Handdara which espouses both light and dark for "[l]ight is The Left Hand of Darkness "; Orgoreyn's people are supposedly more progressive and yet they live under a corrupt political system with the darkness of secret police and concentration camp prisons and, on the whole, have less humane values than the people of Karhide. Although Estraven tries to warn Ai of the shifting politics, again Ai doesn't understand. He ends up being betrayed by a politician with ties to the secret police and is taken away in a truck with other unfortunates to a prison, cynically called a Voluntary Farm. All poorly clothed, freezing, and hungry. Once imprisoned, Ai has little to look forward to until he is rescued through the daring of Estraven. Unfortunately, the road back to Karhide is over the Gobrin Ice.
The Gobrin Ice and Back to Karhide: Chapters 15-20
Ai and Estraven battle the snow and ice, glacier and crevasse, wind and night. Through co-operation, for Ai is physically superior to Estraven while Estraven has superior survival skills, the two become closer. Ai realizes that while Estraven is a forced exile, he himself has chosen to exile himself from his family, friends, and, in fact, several generations by being a space traveler. Ai was born on Earth 127 years ago, but because of timejumping is not quite 30.
Ai teaches Estraven telepathy, or mindspeech. Estraven hears Ai's voice as that of his dead sibling Arek to whom he swore kemmering. Although incest between siblings is not taboo, they are forbidden to swear allegiance for life. Ai begins to understand Estraven better. When Estraven goes into kemmer, although both avoid a sexual relationship, Ai sees the full womanly side of Estraven and finally understands his friend as a complete person, and, by extension, understands the androgynous people of Gethen.
When the two return to Karhide, the exiled Estraven is discovered, and as he skis to the Orgoreyn border, he skis straight into the guards who shoot him, a seeming suicide. This too is a Karhide taboo. Estraven dies in Ai's arms, mindspeaking the name of his dead sibling. Ai is successful in convincing the King to join the Ekumen, but when the crew from the spaceship alight, Ai is repulsed by their overt sexuality. In the final chapter he visits Estraven's family who are distraught because Estraven is still considered a traitor. Ai had not cleared his name as he promised, because he didn't want to jeopardize his mission, Gethen's entry into the Ekumen, a mission for which Estraven gave his life. However, Estraven's child Sorve by his now-dead sibling shows the same kind of curiosity as his parent, the kind which characterizes human progress: he asks Ai to tell his about other worlds and other lives he has seen.
Algis Budrys praised the novel as "a narrative so fully realized, so compellingly told, so masterfully executed." He found the book "a novel written by a magnificent writer, a totally compelling tale of human peril and striving under circumstances in which human love, and a number of other human qualities, can be depicted in a fresh context."
There was no introduction to the original 1969 version of the book, but Ursula Le Guin wrote one which was copyrighted in 1976 after she had had a chance to reflect on her own work. In her introduction, she defines the nature and purpose of science-fiction writing, and also describes her intent in writing the novel. She insists that science-fiction writing is not "extrapolative," but rather, it is describing an overarching truth that the author reveals in an often complex and ambiguous way. In addition, she generalizes the purpose of novels by saying that good novels are meant to change the reader in an indescribable way after they have completed reading the book. She then progresses to broadly state that the entire fictional genre is a metaphor, but narrows her emphasis by stating that the future especially (in fictional writing) cannot be described in any other way than metaphorical terms.
Ai is the main character of the story, often called "Genry" by the Karhiders, who have trouble pronouncing the letter "L" in their language. At the start of the book, he has been on Gethen for a year, trying to become accustomed to the ways of the planet's inhabitants and to get them accustomed to the idea of him. He arrived with basic information about the language and culture because a team of investigators from the Ekumen had come before him and lived among the Gethenians without revealing their identities or their mission. Still, Ai's obstacles are many. For one thing, he knows that it will not be easy to explain to people who have never even thought of air flight that men can arrive from space. In Karhide, the king is reluctant to acknowledge him or discuss his diplomatic mission because admitting the existence of beings who have mastered travel and communications would diminish the king's importance. The new Prime Minister is bound to oppose Ai because the old Prime Minister, who is being forced out of power, supported him. Moving to another country, Orgoreyn, Ai is accepted more easily by the political leaders and believes that they will help him to accomplish his mission; it turns out, though, that their political system is more complex and subtle than Karhide's, and, while he is trying to sort out which factions are sincere about offering help and which have a hidden agenda, Ai is arrested, stripped of his clothes, drugged and sent to a work camp to die of exhaustion. He is rescued by Estraven, the deposed Prime Minister of Karhide, and he realizes that cultural differences had kept him from understanding their relationship previously: he had not understood advice when it was given because Estraven had not stated it directly, thinking that doing so would offend him. During their eighty-one day journey across the frozen land to return to Karhide, where people would cooperate with him now (if only to embarrass Orgoreyn), Ai gets to know and love Estraven and he sees how he has looked to the people of this planet. One day while Estraven is in his sexual cycle, and is being distant so that they will not become involved, Ai realizes how he had misread the situation. "And I saw then, and for good, what I had always been afraid to see, and had pretended not to see in him: that he was a woman as well as a man." He realizes that this fact has made him unable to give his trust and friendship to Estraven because of this dual personality, and that this has been his fatal flaw.
In the beginning of the book, Genly Ai is indebted to Estraven for having arranged an audience with the king, but he is also frustrated because he sees Estraven as being cold and aloof, and he is angry because he feels that, as Prime Minister, she should have done more to make the audience go more smoothly. What Ai does not realize at the time is that Estraven is out of favor with the government, and in fact will be sent into exile the next morning. Several of the book's chapters are written as excerpts from Estraven's diaries, so readers are able to develop a sense of what she is trying to accomplish and what she feels her limitations are, which is an understanding that Ai is incapable of. Estraven accepts her exile almost passively: he takes a menial job in Orgoreyn, and when the Commensal rescues her and she is taken to be a dependent of Commensal Yegey, she does not use the opportunity to sell out the government that banished her. Throughout the story, Estraven works diplomatically to help Ai achieve his goal, but her maneuvering is so diplomatic that Ai does not recognize its implications, and counts her as untrustworthy, if not actually a foe. When she risks her life to save Ai from the prison farm in Pulefen, there can be no doubt that her loyalty is to Ai's cause. On the trip across the Ice to safety, Ai learns that Estraven, far from being a self-serving politician, is actually a spiritual person whose actions were hard to understand, in part, because she was not acting for the good of his country (as a politician should) but for the good of the whole world. It is Estraven's planning that makes it possible for them to cross back into Karhide, and even though Ai promises to have her exile called off when the treaty between planets is put into place, she still charges into armed guards, knowing that they would have orders from Tibe to kill him, after an old friend has betrayed her trust.
In the first chapter, Estraven, trying to imply that Orgoreyn might be a better place for Ai to look for acceptance, tells him, "the Commensals of Orgoreyn are mostly sane men, if unintelligent, while the king of Karhide is not only insane but rather stupid." Chapter 3, in which Ai finally is granted an audience with Argaven after half a year's wait, is titled "The Mad King." The book is never clear, however, whether the king is mad or stupid, or if he is just working from a different set of assumptions than everyone else. In being protective of his people, he appears to Ai to be small-minded and frightened: while Ai can see no reason for him to turn down an alliance with the Ekumen, the king sees great reason to be suspicious of the strange alien who makes promises, especially with hostilities against the neighboring country of Orgoreyn increasing and the great chance that Ai's story is just a trick to humiliate him. Added to his natural suspicions is the advice of his Prime Minister, Tibe, who recently ascended to his position precisely because she encouraged the king's fears. At the end of the story, when Argaven agrees to host a landing party of Ai's comrades, he is disappointed that Ai called them before asking permission, but other than that he seems to believe that all that has happened was according to his plan: "You've served me well," he tells Ai. Again, it is not clear whether he is delusional or cunning.
Faxe is the leader of the Handdarata, a religious sect living in the area known as Ariskostor Fastness. A Fastness is a religious place like a monastery, where people can retreat from the world, spending "the night or a lifetime." Faxe is the Weaver of the Foretellers of the Handdarata, which means that she is at the center of the spiritual ceremony they use to foretell what will happen in the future. She is the one to weave the power of the other participants—the Zanies, the Pervert, the Celibates, etc.—into an answer for the question asked. She is also the one to explain, later, that knowing the future is generally useless: the reason the Handdarata developed Foretelling, she says, was "to exhibit the perfect uselessness of knowing the answer to the wrong question." In the end, when Ai has called his ship to come to Gethen, Faxe shows up as a council member from the Indwellers of Handdarata Fastness, a sign that she was worried about what Tibe had been doing to the government.
One of the thirty-three Commensals in Orgoreyn, she is cheerful, amused at seeing Estraven in his exile. She recalls the old times that they had together when Estraven was Prime Minister, but the pattern to her seemingly innocent questions implies that she is most interested in finding out information about the situation in Karhide.
At the very end of their journey back into Karhide, when they are out of supplies, Ai and Estraven run into Thessicher. When she was Prime Minister, Estraven helped Thessicher buy her farm, so Thessicher repays her by allowing them to stay the night, even though she could be in serious trouble for harboring an exile. Her kindness turns out to be treachery, though, when Estraven overhears him on the radio alerting Tibe's troops that Estraven is there.
The cousin of King Argaven, who is made Prime Minister by having Estraven exiled. Although there has never been a war on the planet Winter, it seems that one could erupt at any moment: Tibe works to incite hostilities and border disputes between her country and Orgoreyn. At one point, Estraven points out that Tibe's political style is like that of the Orgota in its "new-style" deception and efficiency. In the end, when the king wants to take credit for the aliens landing and bringing new wonders to the world, Tibe is exiled for having opposed the idea.
Throughout the novel, 'native' myths and legends are interspersed, illuminating the beliefs and psychology of the Gethenians and Estraven's unspoken past. One story discusses the place inside the storm, a quiet haven within a blizzard. Another discusses the roots of the Yomeshta cult (the 'official', organised religion of Orgoreyn, much younger than, but ultimately derived from, the immensely ancient Handdara philosophy/religion). One is an ancient Orgota creation myth. A fourth discusses what a traitor is (the story concerns an ancestor of Estraven).
The inhabitants of Gethen are sequentially hermaphroditic humans; for twenty-four days (somer) of each twenty-six day lunar cycle, they are sexually latent androgynes; and for the remaining two days (kemmer), they are male or female, as determined by pheromonal negotiation with an interested sex partner. Thus each individual can both sire and bear children. Throughout the novel Gethenians are described as 'he,' whatever their role in kemmer. This was also the case in Le Guin's pre-Left hand of Darkness short story Winter's King when it was originally published; but in the interests of equity, when it was republished it in the collection The Wind's Twelve Quarters, it was rewritten so that all Gethenians are referred to as 'she'.
Physically, the Gethenians are mostly brown-skinned, but within a wide compass of variations. They do not have beards, but their breasts are only a little larger than those of human males. The Envoy from Earth is darker-skinned (and taller) than most Gethenians, but can pass for a native while wearing indigenous clothing: the same was true of earlier observers who hid their identity. Genly's beard has been depilated, but in fact some Gethenians do have face- and body-hair.
It is suggested that the Gethenians were genetically engineered for hermaphroditism long ago by the original Hainish civilization, who planted colonies on many worlds, including Earth. That culture collapsed, and the Ekumen has only limited knowledge of the actions and motivations of their predecessors and their former colonies. The Gethenians might have been engineered to maximize reproductive success on the harsh glaciated world of Gethen, in an attempt to eliminate war, or as a social experiment.
Le Guin developed this idea out of a desire to explore what remained basic to human nature when biological gender was no longer a factor. The Left Hand of Darkness is a significant milestone in the increasing sophistication of the treatment of sex in science fiction that developed in the late 1960s and 1970s.
Shifgrethor is a fictional concept in Le Guin's Hainish Cycle universe, first introduced in The Left Hand of Darkness. It comes from an old Gethenian word for shadow. The concept is used by Karhidians only. They, being portrayed as the darker nation or Yin (in the idea of Chinese Tao) use this concept as a way of showing respect while on Orgoreyn they do not use shifgrethor but instead act in a direct manner with a falseness beneath it (they, seen as the lighter nation, or Yang).
According to Carrie B. McWhorter, shifgrethor can be defined simply as "a sense of honor and respect that provides the Gethenians with a way to save face in a time of crisis."  However, a deeper analysis of the book presents shifgrethor as a mighty tool, used by Gethenians to manipulate those who lack it. When used properly, it provides a peaceful way to iron out differences. When used incorrectly it can wrongfully instill fear and hatred.
At first, a large part of the novel seems to be an exploration of a neuter society—a society in which sexual difference plays no role, although love and jealousy remain. The world of Gethen has no history of war, but Le Guin has Genly Ai's narration state that the exact reason for this is unresolved. It could be due to the Gethenians' unique biology (the absence of a deep sense of duality implied by strong gender divisions may cause the Gethenians to lack a necessary component of nationalism), or it could simply be a side effect of the planet's harsh climate, limiting warfare to small skirmishes by simple economics.
Also related is the far slower pace of technological development. The Gethenians are mentioned as having gone through a very slow-paced and gradual industrialization, with many semi-feudal social institutions left intact, rather than the breakneck industrial revolution which Earth experienced since the 18th Century. In one episode, it is specifically mentioned that a particular type of truck has been in use for centuries, almost unchanged, and that Gethenians feel no special need to improve on it and develop a more advanced model. Like the above, this may be related to the absence of a sharp male/female dichotomy, or may simply be a side-effect of Gethen's meager natural resources, which are deficient not only in pure raw materials, but also in certain forms of inspiration (Genly Ai speculates at one point that the Gethenians' failure to invent the airplane may be due to the planet's lack of any airborne animals).
Gethenians in Karhide do possess an elaborate system of social prestige called shifgrethor, in which individuals jockey for position by subtle maneuvering—exactly the social conflict seen in homogeneous groups (compare office politics). The demonization of others is artificial and temporary; alliances shift easily, and prevailing cultural norms are determined and protected by the next clearest division between groups - geography.
Nations exist, and different places have different societies, but they blend at the edges. Low level raiding of indeterminate value preserves a sense of hostility and division that is useful for internal political purposes, but there is little real desire to actually conquer another nation. Indeed, the concept of full-scale war is unknown to Gethenian societies, but it seems possible that Gethen is now drifting towards a war between Karhide and Orgoreyn.
The book features two major religions: the Handdara, an informal system reminiscent of Taoism and Buddhism, and the Yomeshta or Meshe's cult, a close-to-monotheistic religion based on the idea of absolute knowledge of the entirety of time attained in one visionary instant by Meshe, originally a Foreteller of the Handdara, when attempting to answer the question: 'What is the meaning of life?'. The Handdara is the more ancient, and dominant in Karhide, while Yomesh is the official religion in Orgoreyn. The differences between them underlie political distinctions between the countries and cultural distinctions between their inhabitants. Estraven is revealed to be an adept of the Handdara.
Both Genly and Estraven face continuous difficulties when ties of loyalty contradict. Both are ready to sacrifice much to see Gethen join the Ekumen: comfort, freedom, ties to loved ones, and even, if needed, their lives.
Communication and Understanding
Genly is on Gethen to communicate the desire of the Ekumen to invite Gethen to join it. The invitation is because the Ekumen wants to communicate with Gethen—exchange information, achieve some understanding. Gethen is seventeen light years from the nearest planet of the Ekumen, so most trade would be impractical. The envoy has trouble communicating with the Gethenians, partly because he doesn't understand shifgrethor, nor what their sexual system means, but also because most of the Gethenians don't believe what he says about his mission. He can communicate in real time with the Ekumen, using his ansible. In an attempt to prove that he is, indeed, an envoy from other civilizations, King Argaven asks him to ask his off-planet correspondents what makes a person a traitor. Although the message is received, and well answered, Argaven is not satisfied with the answer.
During Foretelling, a ritual of answering questions about the future, the Foretellers communicate in a deep and mystical way. Genly tries, with Faxe, the Weaver of the Foretellers, and later with Estraven, to engage in mindspeak, in part because he misses doing so, and in part because it is not possible to lie in mindspeak. He has some success with Estraven. Indeed, when Estraven finally hears Genly's mindspeak for the first time, he is shocked and puzzled that Genly's mindspeak voice is the voice of Estraven's dead sibling. This phenomenon is never explained. In the end, Genly gets what he wants: Gethen will join the Ekumen. The Foretellers were correct as always. However, we are left with the suspicion that Genly got the right answer to the wrong question. Perhaps Genly should have been more concerned about his relationship with Estraven than with the political concerns of the Ekumen.
The structure of this novel is a cluster of information from various sources. The main one, in terms of quantity and prominence, is the report of Genly Ai to the Stabile on Ollul, which, as he explains as the first chapter starts, is presented in the form of a first-person narrative, "because I was taught as a child on my homeworld that Truth is a matter of the imagination." Alternating with these chapters are chapters taken from the journals kept by Estraven. The journals are also written in the first person, but since they were not created for public consumption they offer a more candid impression of Estraven than Ai gives from his observations. Juxtaposing the two against each other gives a rounded view of the self/other conflict that is at the heart of the story. Also interwoven between the chapters dominated by these two characters are fragments of civilization on Gethen/Winter: ethnological reports, accounts of native myths and legends, and descriptions of religious ceremonies. These fragments allow the culture that Genly Ai encounters to speak for itself, so that readers are not forced to know it only from his limited experiences and biased perspective. The relevance of these fragments to the overall story is sometimes easy to guess—for instance, the chapter titled, "Estraven the Traitor," an ancient East Karhidish tale, clearly reflects the support that Estraven in the novel gives Ai. Others, such as the story of Meshe in Chapter 11, are less directly related to the action, and are therefore more open to the interpretation of the reader, just like ancient myths and legends in our own world are.
Point of View
The central consciousness of this novel is Genly Ai: he is the one who is strange to the ways of the people of Winter, and readers experience the planet through his eyes. Since he is from Earth, he can report his experiences in relation to how they affect a body that his reader can understand. A temperature of negative ten degrees, for instance, might be uncomfortable to a Karhidian or to the Hainish, but to Earthlings it is dangerous. This Earthly perspective makes it difficult, at first, for readers to tell the truth of the situation that is being presented. "If this is the Royal Music," he says in Chapter 1, "no wonder the kings of Karhide are all mad," little expecting that the last half of the book will be a desperate three-month race through sub-Arctic conditions to the safety of the "mad" king. In the same chapter he notes, "I don't trust Estraven, whose motives are forever obscure; I don't like him; yet I feel and respond to his authority as surely as I do the warmth of the sun." The people that he does like and trust, such as Commensals Obsle and Yegey in Orgoreyn, arrange for him to disappear from society and be sentenced to death. If this book had been written in a more objective point of view, the turns in the plot would not come as surprises to readers, and the point of how difficult it is for a person to enter into another world would be lost.
During the chapters that take place in urban settings, the extreme cold that prevails over this planet is not very relevant. Housing accommodations in Erhenrang, the capital of Karhide, and in the Orgoreyn capital of Mishnory are slightly different than Earth's, more collective in order to conserve heat, but in general social life is not much different than it would be in a cold city like Minneapolis or Buffalo. The coldness of Winter may have affected the way that civilizations on the planet developed, but it is not an important consideration until Ai is taken away to the Pulefen Commensality Third Voluntary Farm and Resettlement Community. Patterned on Siberia, the frozen province of northeast Russia where political dissidents were sent, Pulefen has an isolation that would never be possible in an area that was habitable; also, an escaped prisoner in a more reasonable climate would be hunted down and caught, rather than being left to die. It is the struggle against the brutal elements that brings Ai and Estraven to finally form a bond of trust, as they have to depend on each other's strengths and accommodate each other's weaknesses. The physical details of their trek across the ice evokes a solid sense of reality that is different from that felt in the earlier chapters, which is appropriate, for the physical world is more real to the characters, too, in these chapters.
Phobos Entertainment (Sandra Schulberg) acquired media rights in December 2004 and announced plans for a feature film and video game based on the book.
- Bulgarian: "Лявата ръка на мрака", Galaktika, 1980, Bard, 2006.
- Catalan: "La Mà Esquerra de la Foscor", 1985, 1997.
- Chinese (Simplified): "黑暗的左手", 2009.
- Chinese (Traditional): "黑暗的左手", 2004.
- Croatian: "Lijeva ruka tame", 2004 (ISBN 953-203-182-0).
- Czech: "Levá ruka tmy".
- Danish: "Mørkets venstre hånd".
- Dutch: "Duisters linkerhand" (first printing), "De Linkerhand Van Het Duister" (second printing).
- Estonian: "Pimeduse pahem käsi".
- Finnish: Pimeyden vasen käsi
- French: "La Main gauche de la nuit".
- German: "Die linke Hand der Dunkelheit", also known as Winterplanet (Heyne-Verlag paperback edition, translated by Gisela Stege).
- Greek: "Το αριστερό χέρι του Σκότους".
- Hebrew: "מעבר לעלטה" and later as "צד שמאל של החושך".
- Hungarian: "A sötétség balkeze", 1979 (ISBN 963 211 337 3).
- Italian: "La mano sinistra delle tenebre"
- Japanese: "闇の左手" (ISBN 978-4150102524)
- Korean: "어둠의 왼손" 1995, 2002.
- Latvian: "Tumsas kreisā roka", 2012 (ISBN 978-9934-0-2779-6)
- Polish: "Lewa ręka ciemności".
- Portuguese: "A Mão Esquerda das Trevas".
- Romanian: "Mâna stângă a întunericului".
- Russian: "Левая рука Тьмы", 1991, 1992, 1993, 1999, 2006.
- Serbian: "Leva ruka tame".
- Spanish: "La Mano Izquierda de la Oscuridad".
- Swedish: "Mörkrets vänstra hand"
- Turkish: "Karanlığın Sol Eli"
- Gethen - a description of the planet including a linked map
- "Winter's King", a loosely connected short story about Gethenians.
- The Birthday of the World - another short story collection including "Coming of Age in Karhide", an unconnected story about Gethenians.
- Le Guin's Left Hand ranked second to Frank Herbert's Dune (1965). In the 1975 rendition covering "novels" it had ranked third behind Dune and Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End (1963).
(The title "Locus Poll Best All-time Novel Results" alternately displays the standings generated by three different subscriber polls.)
- The Left Hand of Darkness title listing at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database. Retrieved 2012-04-12.
- Hainish series listing at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (ISFDB). Retrieved 2012-04-12. Select a title to see its linked publication history and general information. Select a particular edition (title) for more data at that level, such as a front cover image or linked contents.
- "Ursula K. Le Guin". The Locus Index to SF Awards: Index of Literary Nominees. Retrieved 2012-04-12.
- "Locus Poll Best All-time Novel Results: 1987, sf novels". Locus. Retrieved 2012-04-12. Originally published in the monthly Locus, August 1987.
- Modern Critical Interpretations: Ursula Le guin's "The Left Hand of Darkness", ed. Harold Bloom, 1987. Introduction by the editor, p. 10.
- "Le Guin's Lathe of Heaven and the Role of Dick: The False Reality as Mediator". Ian Watson. Science Fiction Studies #5 2.1 (March 1975).
- "Galaxy Bookshelf", Galaxy Science Fiction, February 1970, pp. 144–45, 158.
- "The Western Canon by Harold Bloom", Robert Treeter, 2002. List of works transcribed from Harold Bloom, The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages, New York: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1994, Appendixes.
- McWhorter, Carrie B. "Brandishing Shifgrethor: LeGuin's The Left Hand of Darkness". Notes on Contemporary Literature. January, 1998: 28 (1).
- "Phobos will embrace 'Darkness': Shingle planning pic, vidgame based on Le Guin tome". Dana Harris. Videogames News. December 12, 2004. Variety. Retrieved 2007-11-27.
- Bernardo, Susan M.; Murphy, Graham J. (2006). Ursula K. Le Guin: A Critical Companion (1st ed.). Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-313-33225-8.
- Cadden, Mike (2005). Ursula K. Le Guin Beyond Genre: Fiction for Children and Adults (1st ed.). New York, NY: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-99527-2.
- Le Guin, Ursula K. (May 1992). The Language of the Night (revised ed.). HarperCollins. ISBN 978-0-06-016835-3.
- Spivack, Charlotte (1984). Ursula K. Le Guin (1st ed.). Boston, MA: Twayne Publishers. ISBN 0-8057-7393-2.
- Ursula K. Le Guin at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database
- Author's introduction to The Left Hand of Darkness
- Audio review and discussion of The Left Hand of Darkness at The Science Fiction Book Review Podcast
- Analysis of Ursula K. LeGuin's The Left Hand Of Darkness
- Review of the novel in The Future Fire
- The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin, reviewed by Ted Gioia (Conceptual Fiction)
- Scifi.com's review of the novel
- The Left Hand of Darkness at Worlds Without End