Escaping from Omelas

By Hampus Eckerman: There are many stories that we read that we will always remember. Often because we read them at the right time, during our own golden age of Science Fiction and Fantasy. For some stories it is the love of the world, we do not want to leave it. For others, it is how we identify with the characters. And for some it is how they make us think.

But what of those stories that we do not remember fondly, but still will not leave us? That will always be there? Always. I am not talking of those that we think of once in a while when nostalgia hits us, but the ones that presses on you, is there in some way in every waking moment.

For me, that story is The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas by late (how it hurts to write this) Ursula K. LeGuin.

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We are told fantasy is escapist stories, stories we read to escape the harsh reality around us. But what about the stories you can’t escape? That keep on following you through life, whispering harsh words into your ears, makes you think about your life choices without those sweet illusions we hope to hide our own actions behind.

When I booked my airplane tickets for this years vacation, I was thinking what I did to that poor child in Omelas. I saw my country’s new immigration laws and these men talk about their necessity. The speakers were mature, intelligent, passionate adults. But somewhere in a cellar, there lies a suffering child and we have all agreed not to speak about it. Should we have thrown away all goodness and grace of Omelas to save the child? Was it even necessary to throw away all prosperity and beauty and delight?

Omelas keeps on intruding on my mind when I see beggars on the streets, when I read about how my home country has the highest increasing inequality in Europe, when my politicians try – and fail – to hide the number of people dying in cancer because this year is an election year.

Ursula, you have left us now and with that a dream crushed to at least once have seen you in reality. You have meant so much to me since I was a kid. You have not only given me wonderful worlds to dream about, characters to care about. You have made me think. I’m not sure if it is something I should thank or curse you for, but grateful I am nevertheless. I hope you are somewhere better, at last leaving that joyful city and its suffering child behind.

And I’m still stuck in Omelas.

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11 thoughts on “Escaping from Omelas

  1. For what it’s worth, many of my students absolutely hate that story. They refuse to accept the premise. They say, “No. It isn’t like that. People wouldn’t do something like that.” And when someone (me, or sometimes a fellow student) points out, as you do here, the ways in which we are already doing just that . . . they get angry, and often refuse to talk about the story any more. I think that’s one of the things that makes “Omelas” one of those stories, as you describe it–thank you.

  2. This is great, thank you, Hampus.
    Paradoxically, I think it was Le Guin who turned me on to Rilke, when she is the artist whose work, more than any other’s told me, “You must change your life”.

  3. Awesome piece, Hampus.

    I was blogging about that story yesterday and I compared it to the slivers of magic mirror from the evil witch in the fairy tale, that work their way into your heart so that you can still feel them decades later.

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