Study Guide

The Lathe of Heaven

By Ursula K. LeGuin

The Lathe of Heaven Introduction

Imagine you could change reality with your dreams. Sounds sweet, right? You'd make the world a better place, end suffering, and get a little bit of the good life for yourself while you're at it. So far, so good.

But now imagine that you can't control it: your dreams never quite turn out the way you want them to, and sometimes you even end up killing people.

Well, now you understand why it sucks to be George Orr.

The Lathe of Heaven appeared 1971, and in it Ursula K. Le Guin explores just what would happen if someone who can change the world with his dreams—like George Orr—fell into the hands of someone as power-hungry as Dr. Haber. George's dreams end up changing reality more times than we can count; they even indirectly lead to the end of the world.

Not exactly the awesome free pass you expected, huh?

The plot of the novel was probably influenced by its historical context. It comes out of an era defined by civil-rights issues, Vietnam War protests, and a generation of hippies. Some of the big issues in this book—race, warfare, Eastern religions—are pretty familiar to anyone who knows a little bit about the Sixties.

Even though Lathe of Heaven is not as popular as Le Guin's Earthsea or Hanish Cycle, it's probably her most famous work outside of those series. It was nominated for the 1972 Hugo Award and the 1971 Nebula award, and it won the Locus Award for Best Novel in 1972. Its popularity was so lasting that it was adapted into a film not once (1980) but twice (2002). And that's despite the fact that Le Guin thought it was an unfilmable book.

Now if we could only dream of a sequel…

What is The Lathe of Heaven About and Why Should I Care?

"If I ran the world, things would be awesome."

Okay, so how many times have you thought that? Hey, we've thought all about it, too, and it's probably something that's sneaked into almost everyone's minds. We see people with great power and we wonder how they manage to mess things up over and over again. It seems impossible to be that bad at your job, right?

Seeing how Dr. Haber can't fix the world no matter how hard he tries in The Lathe of Heaven might make you rethink the idea that you could make the world perfect if you just had the power to do it. Maybe it's really hard, even when you're trying your best, to make things perfect. Maybe it's even impossible.

Still want all that power? Read on and make sure.

The Lathe of Heaven Resources


See into Her World
Ursula Le Guin's official website has basically everything you could ever want to know about the author and her books.


A Sci-Fi Classic
This adaptation of The Lathe of Heaven is so beloved that it has received praise from Ursula Le Guin herself. That's high praise, folks.

A Sci-Fi Flop
This adaptation, however, didn't do so well. It changed the plot, characters, and basically the entire concept. But at least it's shiny?


Dissing Star Trek: Voyager
In this interview based on fan questions, Le Guin disses Star Trek: Voyager and expresses her undying love for the Fourth Doctor.

Even awesome and soon-to-be famous authors get rejected by publishers. So if you've been struggling with your latest manuscript, cheer up.


Inner Space versus Outer Space
In case you've never heard the term inner space before, this video lays it all out for you.

Hanging Out with Bill Moyers
Find out why Ursula Le Guin thought that it was impossible to make a film adaptation of The Lathe of Heaven.


Isn't Everything Really Sci-Fi?
We were under the impression that sci-fi was just regular fiction plus aliens, but Ursula Le Guin sets us straight.

Changing Planes
This sci-fi Grand Master sits down to talk about her book, Changing Planes, which makes your trip to the airport look pretty boring in comparison.


Heather' s Button
This is the image that Heather was trying to remember when she met George for the first time.