The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas by Ursula K. Le Guin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I came to this story thanks to Ruthanna Emrys, an author whose fine deconstruction and reformulation of Lovecraft in her Innsmouth Legacy series has underscored the struggle for hope in the marginalized. Emrys recently discussed hopepunk, a term coined by author Alexandra Rowland (A Conspiracy of Truths), on her Patreon, which you can find here. Rowland stated in 2017 that "The opposite of grimdark is hopepunk" (source) and Emrys, in referring to The Ones Who Walk Away from the Omelas, says Rowland has further stated "hopepunk is about the ones who walk away from Omelas and come back with lockpicks and axes." Emrys has links this idea to the Talmudic concept of "whoever saves a life saves the world" and by that same token, whoever destroys a life, such as that of the poor child, locked in a filth-overflowing closet in this story, has destroyed their world, whether they realize it yet or not. Emrys feels hopepunk is not idle hope but a call to action. And this story, written almost fifty years ago, feels almost prescient.
We live in times in which America leadership has told us that in order to be safe and happy, we must lock immigrant children in cages. No one knows how many children still remain in that "closet" because no one is releasing numbers. There's a direct connection to stories like The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas and the philosophical and moral questions they pose. If ever there was a time to read this story, that time is now. I hope readers contemplate this powerful Le Guin statement and take to heart Ruthanna Emrys' idea of hopepunk being a call to moral action. There's a phrase in the Judaic tradition called tikkun olam- it means "repairing the world." The ones who walk away hopefully will come back with the tools to make the world right.
The edition of this story that I have reviewed here is a standalone story rereleased in 2016 with additional commentary by Le Guin. Her additional thoughts and the origins of this story make that rerelease well worth your time.
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