“The Lathe of Heaven” (Post 2/2)


[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Post 1

[22] Le Guin is best when she speaks directly to us; no quotations, no Messages, just style:

At 2:10 P.M. on March 30, Heather Lelache was seen leaving Dave’s Fine Foods on Akeny Street and proceeding southward on Fourth Avenue, carrying a large black handbag with brass catch, wearing a red vinyl raincloak. Look out for this woman. She is dangerous.



[She] found the house, rang the bell: one of six infinitely thumbed bell pushes in a grubby little row on the peeling frame of the cut-glass-paneled door of a house that had been somebody’s pride and joy in 1905 or 1892, and that had come on hard times since but was proceeding toward ruin with composure and a certain dirty magnificence.



Heather left him leaning morose against the peeling frame of the front door, he and the old house lending each other mutual support.


[25] Vocabulary:

She had a sneaky, sly, squamous personality.



adjective – covered with or characterized by scales.

[26] Reference:

Like Moscow in 1812, acts of God, or vandalism (…) they burned.



The 1812 Fire of Moscow broke out in September 1812 when Napoleon’s vanguard troops entered the city following the Battle of Borodino. The fire destroyed almost the entire city of Moscow. The majority of residents had left the city in August.

[27] Reference:

As dead as Karnak.



The Karnak Temple Complex, commonly known as Karnak, comprises a vast mix of decayed temples, chapels, pylons, and other buildings in Egypt. Construction began in the Middle Kingdom (2050 BC – 1800 BC) and continued through to Ptolemaic times (305 to 30 BC). Approximately thirty pharaohs contributed to the buildings.


The infinite possibility, the unlimited and unqualified wholeness of being of the uncommitted, the nonacting, the uncarved: the being who, being nothing but himself, is everything.


[29] Reference:

“You can get some sleep sitting up but you can’t really dream. You have to be lying down to get into dreaming sleep, so your big muscles can relax.”


I can’t find anything to confirm this assertion. Muscle relaxation is important for sleep and sleeping while sitting up is usually uncomfortable, but does that mean dreaming is impossible while sitting?

[30] Reference:

“Is that why he uses vagus-carotid induction?”



Each of the tenth pair of cranial nerves, supplying the heart, lungs, upper digestive tract, and other organs of the chest and abdomen.


She believed him, and denied her belief with fury.


[32] Reference:

The historic function of a senator from Oregon is to drive all the other Senators mad.


Looking through a list of Oregon Senators (up to 1971), here are some that may have driven the others mad (I’m guessing that looking through the Senators from any state would turn up some difficult ones):

John H. Mitchell (1835 – 1905) was a controversial American lawyer and politician, who served as a Republican United States Senator from Oregon on three occasions between 1873 and 1905. He was involved with the Oregon land fraud scandal, for which he was indicted and convicted while a sitting U.S. Senator, one of only twelve sitting U.S. Senators ever indicted, and one of five ever convicted.

Harry Lane (1855 – 1917) was an American politician. A physician by training, Lane served as the head of the Oregon State Insane Asylum before being forced out by political enemies. As mayor of Portland, he appointed the first female police officer in America (1908) and pushed the idea that Portland should host an annual Rose Festival. As a Senator, he was a leading advocate for women’s suffrage and a more benevolent relationship between the American government and the nation’s Native American population. He was one of a small handful of federal legislators to vote against American participation in World War I, an action which made him the prospective subject of a recall effort. This campaign was unnecessary when Lane died in office in May 1917.

Charles L. McNary (1874 – 1944) was an American Republican politician from Oregon. He served in the Senate from 1917 to 1944. After World War I, Wilson sought Senate approval of the Treaty of Versailles. Because the treaty included provisions for establishing and joining the League of Nations, Republicans opposed it. Going against much of his party, McNary was part of a group of senators known as “reservationists.”

Richard L. Neuberger (1912 – 1960) was an American journalist, author and politician. He was elected as a Democrat to one of Oregon’s U.S. Senate seats in 1954, the first Democrat to win a seat in the Senate from Oregon since 1914. In 1955, he introduced into the Congressional Record a call for the total abolition of all motor racing in the United States. He was known as a vigorous and outspoken liberal and had a difficult relationship with Wayne Morse, the senior senator from Oregon. Angry letters exchanged between them became public when leaked to the press. After his death, his wife Maurine Neuberger, was elected to fill his seat in the Senate.

Ultimately, I don’t know who Le Guin is referencing.


He was all alone, and nothing seemed to be real in solitude.



Haber had a vivid impression that it was not acting mechanically, but temporally repeating its previous actions in reverse, precisely like a film run backward.


[35] Vocabulary or typo?

Those who dream of feasting wake to lamendation.

-Chuang Tse: II


Typo. Should be “lamentation.”


There were by now so many different memories, so many skeins of life experience, jostling in his head, that he scarcely tried to remember anything. He took it as it came. He was living almost like a young child, among actualities only. He was surprised by nothing, and by everything.



[Orr] was a lump of clay, a block of uncarved wood.


[38] Vocabulary:

A fumarole had opened up recently near the tiny, old crater in Mount Taber Park.



noun – an opening in or near a volcano, through which hot sulfurous gases emerge.

[39] Reference:

Ain’t gonna… war no more… There had been a song. Once. An old song. Ain’t gonna… What was the verb? Not fight, it didn’t scan (…) Study. That’s it. Ain’t gonna study war no more….

(p.131 – 132)


“Down by the Riverside” (also known as “Ain’t Gonna Study War No More” and “Gonna lay down my burden”) is a Negro spiritual song. Its roots date back to before the American Civil War, though it was first published in 1918. Because of its pacifistic imagery, “Down by the Riverside” has also been used as an anti-war protest song, especially during the Vietnam War.

[40] Vocabulary:

He got onto the funicular at Fourth and Alder.



adjective – 1. (of a railroad, especially one on a mountainside) operating by cable with ascending and descending cars counterbalanced.

2. of or relating to a rope or its tension.

noun – a cable railroad, especially one on a mountainside, in which ascending and descending cars are counterbalanced.

[41] Reference:

“Creative/destructive, on the Ramirez scale – same thing.”


I can’t find any medical “Ramirez scale” or any Ramirez in the medical field who may have invented a behavioral test.


“The world is, no matter how we think it ought to be. You have to be with it. You have to let it be.”


[43] Reference:

Orr recognized his own name in this Barsoomian bisyllable.



Barsoomian is the constructed language of the fictional Barsoomians, the sapient humanoid inhabitants of Mars in the Barsoom series of novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs. The effect of the language is staccato. There are ten vowels, five long and five short.


He had straightened up and towered over Orr, who was still sitting down. He was gray, large, broad, curly bearded, deep-chested, frowning. Your God is a jealous God.


[45] Translate:

Il descend, reveille, l’autre cote de reve.

-Hugo, Contemplations



French: He goes down, wakes up, the other side of dream.

A better translation (from Andre Gide and the Second World War by Jocelyn Van Tuyl):

“Awakened, he descends the other slope of the dream.”


They washed up the dishes and went to bed. In bed, they made love. Love doesn’t just sit there, like a stone, it has to be made, like bread; re-made all the time, made new. When it was made, they lay in each other’s arms, holding love, asleep.



She wished he would really ignore her instead of pretending to talk to her. He seemed not to know the uses of silence.


[48] Reference:

There is a bird in a poem by T.S. Eliot who says that mankind cannot bear very much reality.


A line from Eliot’s poem “Burnt Norton” in the 1942 four-poem set “The Four Quartets” (full text here):

Go, go go, said the bird: human kind

Cannot bear very much reality.

Another poem in the set, “Little Gidding”, was referenced in The Magus (note [51]).

The Lathe of Heaven puts concept before content. The world and characters feel flat, especially our protagonist, George Orr. Part of Orr’s point is being completely average in every way; everything because he is nothing. The text tells me this again and again but Orr doesn’t convey it. The people observing him don’t convince me. He allows himself to be used as a tool because he fears imprisonment and/or death but I don’t believe the character would fear imprisonment or death if it meant protecting the world. He seems to have a plan going into his final session with Haber, but I never understand the plan and the world is nearly destroyed anyway.

My go-to complaint about a book is that its length doesn’t work for its content and I’ll use it again here: The Lathe of Heaven should be a novella or epic. As it stands, it’s a fable with only three characters and for that, Le Guin should be in and out in seventy pages. If she wants us to care about the world and the characters, we need immersion. We need more characters, more about the aliens, more about Orr’s motivations, plans, ideas, emotions. Orr suggests several times that there must be others out there like himself – show them to us. Have Doctor Haber track another down.

If you like Philip K. Dick (or modernistic Lovecraftian, multi-dimensional themes), you might enjoy Lathe of Heaven. But if you enjoy character over concept, skip this and try Le Guin’s Earthsea series instead.

We’re going to stick to one author for the month of March; Next week we’ll start a little something I’m going to call Beaumont(h).


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