Study Guide

The Lathe of Heaven Summary

By Ursula K. LeGuin

The Lathe of Heaven Summary

Our main character, George Orr, wakes up from a strange dream and finds himself accosted by medics. Turns out he was illegally taking extra medication and totally overdosed on it. Yeah, not a good start. So the medics make him go to therapy.

George's new therapist is Dr. William Haber, a sleep specialist. George tells the doc that he has been trying to avoid falling asleep—not because he's afraid of nightmares, but because of something way weirder: his dreams change reality.

Wait, what?

Dr. Haber thinks this guy is crazy (we don't blame him), so he decides to put George to the test. How, you ask? Well, Dr. Haber makes George dream about a horse—you know, just to see what happens. Welp… it works: George ends up changing the giant painting on Dr. Haber's wall. It seems like Dr. Haber still doesn't believe him, though, so George is kind of crushed.

At George's second appointment, Dr. Haber makes him dream about Mount Hood and replace his old painting. After that, he makes him dream about changing the weather. It all happens as George dreamed it would.

Things are going great. Maybe. Well, kind of. All right, actually, George's not so sure. His entire ride home is pretty sad, and he starts to question what must be going on during the sessions. After a while, he comes to a revelation that is both super exciting and a little disturbing.

Dr. Haber must believe that George can change reality with his dreams. Yay? Well, okay, but if that's so, then why won't Dr. Haber let George remember his dreams? Also, why did Dr. Haber make George dream about poop? Good questions. Who knows?

George feels that Dr. Haber's little dream sessions are an invasion of privacy, so he goes to a lawyer named Heather Lelache to get some advice. They seem like total opposites, but it's obvious from the beginning that they like each other. There's no time for that now, though, because these two have to figure out how to spy on Dr. Haber without letting him know they're doing it.

Eventually, they decide that Heather will sit in on one of George's sessions. That's easy enough, but then Dr. Haber gets George to end the overpopulation problem by killing billions of people. Yeah, it just got real.

Well, the experiment works, but Heather witnesses the whole thing, so we've got a problem—aside from the billions-of-people-dead problem. So Dr. Haber has some work to do: he tries to convince Heather that she didn't see anything happen, and he seems to be successful.

But George knows what's up. Sure, overpopulation is over, but he just killed six billion people. He's freaking out, but what's he gonna do? We'd say he should just stop his appointments, but George isn't that kind of guy.

It's time for another dream, and Haber makes George dream about world peace. The way he manages to achieve that is by putting hostile aliens on the moon. Yeah, we get it: that's the only way to get humanity to band together. Um, right?

After this appointment, George disappears. He had made a date to meet up with Heather Lelache, and she's ticked that he stood her up. She goes looking for him and finds out that he's been hiding in a cabin in the woods, where he hasn't slept for almost a week. PSA: if you do that, it can kill you.

Heather finally convinces George to eat and get some sleep. Turns out Heather's got a few tricks up her sleeve: she decides to hypnotize George and make him dream about a nicer Dr. Haber and no more aliens on the moon. Unfortunately, George does just that… and guess what? The aliens aren't on the moon anymore. They're on earth.

Imagine every alien invasion movie you've ever seen, because that's pretty much what goes down at this point.

George and Heather rush over to Dr. Haber's office, and he manages to get a dream out of George that ends the warfare just in the nick of time. It turns out the aliens were actually peaceful and just had a really hard time communicating with humans; they thought bombs were friendly. Yeah, okay, seriously folks, there are communication problems and then there are COMMUNICATION PROBLEMS.

Fast-forward a little: everyone is used to the aliens now, but the world has also changed in other ways. Everyone is gray, Heather Lelache doesn't exist, and Dr. Haber runs everything.

Yeah, doesn't sound so good, does it?

Now George is really starting to get worried about the way the doctor is using his powers. He's had enough. This time, when Dr. Haber tries to record his brain waves, George dreams about an alien giving him advice instead. And that changes things how? We're not sure yet.

Well, after the appointment, George heads over to an antique shop and gets a copy of "With a Little Help from My Friends." George falls asleep listening to it, and when he wakes up, Heather is back. Of course, she's all gray, and she's his wife, but basically it's the same Heather, and George will take what he can get.

After spending some time together as a loving couple, George and Heather go to Dr. Haber's office for George's last appointment. At the appointment, Dr. Haber gets the power to make anyone have effective dreams, just like George's.

Yeah, this should turn out well.

It doesn't take long before the world literally starts to melt: it's like Haber's dreams are turning reality into a Salvador Dalì painting. George decides he has to end it by turning off Dr. Haber's machine.

The world is kind of in tatters after all this goes down, but soon things to get back to normal. For example, George gets a new job creating products for one of the alien businesses that have been popping up. And guess who walks into the store one day? That's right: Heather Lelache. Looks like it's time for them to finally have that date.