Lathe of Heaven is a 1971 science fiction novel by American writer
Ursula K. Le Guin. The plot revolves around a character whose dreams
alter past and present reality. The story was first serialized in the
American science fiction magazine Amazing Stories. The novel received
nominations for the 1972 Hugo and the 1971 Nebula Award, and won
Locus Award for Best Novel in 1972. Two television film
adaptations have been released: the
PBS production, The
Heaven (1980), and
Lathe of Heaven (2002), a remake produced by the
2 Plot summary
6 Publication history
7 See also
9 External links
The title is taken from the writings of Chuang Tzu — specifically a
passage from Book XXIII, paragraph 7, quoted as an epigraph to Chapter
3 of the novel:
To let understanding stop at what cannot be understood is a high
attainment. Those who cannot do it will be destroyed on the lathe of
Other epigraphs from Chuang Tzu appear throughout the novel. Le Guin
chose the title because she loved the quotation. However, it seems
that the quote is a mistranslation of Chuang Tzu's Chinese text. In an
Bill Moyers recorded for the 2000
DVD release of the
1980 adaptation, Le Guin clarified the issue:
...it's a terrible mistranslation apparently, I didn't know that at
the time. There were no lathes in China at the time that that was
Joseph Needham wrote me and said "It's a lovely translation, but
She has published her own rendition of the Tao Te Ching, The Book of
the Way and Its Virtue by Lao Tzu, the traditional founder of Taoism
(Daoism). In the notes at the end of this book, she further explains
this choice: "The language of some [versions of the Tao Te Ching] was
so obscure as to make me feel the book must be beyond Western
comprehension. (James Legge's version was one of these, though I did
find the title for a book of mine, The
Lathe of Heaven, in it. Years
later, Joseph Needham, the great scholar of Chinese science and
technology, wrote to tell me in the kindest, most unreproachful
fashion that Legge was a bit off on that one; when the book [Tao Te
Ching] was written the lathe hadn't been invented.)" 
Translated editions have titled the novel differently. The German and
first Portuguese edition titles, Die Geißel des Himmels and O Flagelo
dos Céus, mean literally "the scourge [or whip] of heaven". The
French, Swedish and second Portuguese edition titles, L'autre Côté
du Rêve, På Andra Sidan Drömmen and Do Outro Lado do Sonho,
translate as "the other side of the dream".
The book is set in Portland, Oregon, in the year 2002. Portland has
three million inhabitants and continuous rain. It is deprived enough
for the poorer inhabitants to have kwashiorkor, or protein
deprivation. The culture is much the same as the 1970s in the United
States, though impoverished. There is also a massive war in the Middle
Israel allied against Iran. Global warming has
wrought havoc upon the quality of life everywhere.
George Orr, a draftsman, has long been abusing drugs to prevent
himself from having "effective" dreams, which change reality. After
having one of these dreams, the new reality is the only reality for
everyone else, but George retains memory of the previous reality.
Under threat of being placed in an asylum, Orr is forced to undergo
"voluntary" psychiatric care for his drug abuse.
George begins attending therapy sessions with an ambitious
psychiatrist and sleep researcher named William Haber. Orr claims that
he has the power to dream "effectively" and Haber, gradually coming to
believe it, seeks to use George's power to change the world. His
experiments with a biofeedback/EEG machine, nicknamed the Augmentor,
enhance Orr's abilities and produce a series of increasingly
intolerable alternative worlds, based on an assortment of utopian (and
When Haber directs George to dream a world without racism, the skin of
everyone on the planet becomes a uniform light gray.
An attempt to solve the problem of overpopulation proves disastrous
when George dreams a devastating plague which wipes out much of
humanity and gives the current world a population of one billion
rather than seven billion.
George attempts to dream into existence "peace on Earth" – resulting
in an alien invasion of the Moon which unites all the nations of Earth
against the threat.
Each effective dream gives Haber more wealth and status, until he is
effectively ruler of the world. Orr's economic status also improves,
but he is unhappy with Haber's meddling and just wants to let things
be. Increasingly frightened by Haber's lust for power and delusions of
Godhood, Orr seeks out a lawyer named Heather Lelache to represent him
against Haber. Heather is present at one therapeutic session, and
comes to understand George's situation. He falls in love with Heather,
and even marries her in one reality; however, he is unsuccessful in
getting out of therapy.
George tells Heather that the "real world" had been destroyed in a
nuclear war in April 1998. George dreamed it back into existence as he
lay dying in the ruins. He doubts the reality of what now exists,
hence his fear of Haber's efforts to improve it.
Mount Hood play a central role in the setting of the
Heather has seen one change of reality and has a multiple memory –
remembering that her pilot husband either died early in the Middle
East War or else died just before the truce that ended the war in the
face of the alien threat. She tries to help George but also tries to
improve the world, saying that the aliens should no longer be on the
Moon. George dreams this, but the result is that they have invaded the
Earth instead. In the resultant fighting,
Mount Hood is bombed and the
dormant volcano starts to erupt again.
They go back to Haber, who has George dream another dream in which the
aliens are actually peaceful. For a time there is stability, but Haber
goes on changing things. His suggestion that George dream away racism
results in everyone becoming gray; Heather, whose parents were of
different races, never existed in this new reality. George manages to
dream up a gray version of her, married to him and with a less prickly
Mount Hood continues to erupt and he fears the world is
Orr has a conversation with one of the aliens, suddenly comes to
understand his situation, and thereby gains the courage to stand up to
Haber. Haber, frustrated with Orr's resistance, uses what he has
learned from studying George's brain during his sessions of hypnosis
and controlled dreaming, and decides to take on effective dreaming
himself. Haber's first effective dream represents a significant break
with the realities created by Orr, and threatens to destroy reality
altogether. Orr is able to shut off the Augmentor – even as coherent
existence is dissolving into undifferentiated chaos – reaching the
"off" switch through pure force of will. The world is saved, but
random bits of the various recent realities are now jumbled together.
Haber's mind is left broken. Heather, presumably her original self,
exists, though with only a slight memory of George.
Theodore Sturgeon, reviewing
Lathe for The New York Times, found it to
be "a very good book," praising Le Guin for "produc[ing] a rare and
powerful synthesis of poetry and science, reason and emotion."
Lester del Rey, however, faulted the novel for an arbitrary and
ineffective second half, saying "with wonder piled on wonder, the plot
simply loses credibility."
"One of the best novels, and most important to understanding of the
nature of our world, is Ursula Le Guin's The
Lathe of Heaven, in which
the dream universe is articulated in such a striking and compelling
way that I hesitate to add any further explanation to it; it requires
Philip K. Dick
Though technology plays a minor role, the novel is largely concerned
with philosophical questions about our desire to control our destiny,
with Haber's positivist approach pitted against a
The beginnings of the chapters also feature quotes from H. G. Wells,
Victor Hugo and
Taoist sages. Due to its portrayal of
psychologically-derived alternative realities, it has often been
described as Le Guin's tribute to Philip K. Dick. In his biography
of Dick, Lawrence Sutin described Le Guin as having "long been a
staunch public advocate of Phil's talent". According to Sutin, "The
Lathe of Heaven was, by her own acknowledgment, markedly influenced by
his [Dick's] sixties works."
The book is critical of behaviorism. Orr, a deceptively mild yet
very strong and honest man, is labeled sick because he is immensely
frightened by his ability to change reality. He is forced to undergo
therapy whether he wants to or not. His efforts to rid himself of
Haber are viewed as suspect because he is a psychiatric patient.
Haber, meanwhile, is very charming, extroverted, and confident, yet it
is he who eventually goes insane and almost destroys reality. He
dismisses Orr's qualms about meddling with reality with paternalistic
psychobabble, and is more concerned with his machine and Orr's powers
than with curing his patient.
The book is also critical of the philosophy of utilitarianism,
satirising the phrase "The Greatest Happiness for the Greatest
Number." It is highly critical of eugenics throughout and somewhat
conflates it with utilitarianism in suggesting that it would be a key
feature in a society which took the philosophy as its central
Le Guin may have named her protagonist "George Orr" as an homage to
British author George Orwell, as well as to draw comparisons between
the dystopic worlds she describes in Lathe, and the dystopia Orwell
envisioned in his novel 1984.
An adaptation titled The
Lathe of Heaven. produced by the public
television station WNET, and directed by
David Loxton and Fred Barzyk,
was released in 1980. It was the first direct-to-TV film production by
Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and was produced with a budget of
$250,000. Generally faithful to the novel, it stars
Bruce Davison as
George Orr, Kevin Conway as William Haber, and
Margaret Avery as
Heather Lelache. Le Guin was heavily involved in the production of the
1980 adaptation, and expressed her satisfaction with it several
PBS' rights to rebroadcast the film expired in 1988, and it became the
most-requested program in
PBS history. Fans were extremely critical of
WNET's supposed "warehousing" of the film, but the budgetary barriers
to rebroadcast were high: The station needed to pay for and clear
rights with all participants in the original program; negotiate a
special agreement with the composer of the film's score; and deal with
The Beatles recording excerpted in the original soundtrack, "With a
Help from My Friends", which is an integral plot point in both
the novel and the film. A cover version replaces the Beatles' own
recording in the home video release.
The home video release is remastered from a video tape of the original
broadcast; PBS, thinking the rights issues would dog the production
forever, did not save a copy of the production in their archives.
A second adaptation was released in 2002 and retitled
Lathe of Heaven.
Produced for the A&E Network and directed by Philip Haas, the film
starred James Caan, Lukas Haas, and Lisa Bonet. The 2002 adaptation
discards a significant portion of the plot and some of the characters.
Le Guin had no involvement in making the film.
A stage adaptation by Edward Einhorn, produced by Untitled Theater
Company #61, ran from June 6 to June 30, 2012, at the 3LD Art +
Technology Center in New York City.
Amazing Science Fiction Stories, March 1971 and May 1971.
Editions in English
1971, US, Charles Scribner's Sons, ISBN 0-684-12529-3, hardcover
1971, US, Avon Books, ISBN 0-380-43547-0, paperback
1972, UK, Victor Gollancz, ISBN 0-575-01385-0, hardcover
1984, US, Avon Books, ISBN 0-380-01320-7, paperback (reprinted
1984, UK, Granada Publishing, ISBN 0-586-03841-8, paperback
1997, US, Avon Books, ISBN 0-380-79185-4, trade paperback
2001, US, Millennium Books, ISBN 1-85798-951-1, paperback
2003, US, Perennial Classics, ISBN 0-06-051274-1, paperback
2008, US, Scribner, ISBN 1-4165-5696-6, paperback
2014, US, Diversion Books, ISBN 978-16268126-2-8, eBook
Audio recording in English
1999, US, Blackstone Audio Books, ISBN 0-7861-1471-1
1971, France: L'autre côté du rêve, Marabout; reprinted in 2002 by
Le Livre de Poche, ISBN 2-253-07243-5
1974, Germany, Die Geißel des Himmels, Heyne, München, 1974,
1975, Argentina, La rueda del cielo, Grupo Editor de Buenos Aires.
1979, Sweden: På Andra Sidan Drömmen, Kindbergs Förlag,
1983, Portugal: O Flagelo dos Céus, Publicações Europa-América
1987, Spain, La rueda celeste, Minotauro, Barcelona, 1987; reprinted
in 2017 ISBN 978-84-350-0784-9
1987, Serbia: Nebeski strug, Zoroaster
1991, Finland: Taivaan työkalu, Book Studio, ISBN 951-611-408-3
1991, Poland: Jesteśmy snem, Phantom Press, ISBN 83-7075-210-1
1991, Portugal: Do Outro Lado do Sonho, Edições 70,
1992, Hungary: Égi eszterga, Móra, ISBN 963-11-6867-0
1994, Czech Republic: Smrtonosné sny, Ivo Železný,
1997, Russia: Резец небесный
2004, Portugal: O Tormento dos Céus, Editorial Presença,
2005, Italy: La Falce dei cieli, Editrice Nord,
2010, Korea: 하늘의 물레.황금가지,
2011, Turkey: Rüyanın Öte Yakası, Metis Yayınları,
2013, Romania: Sfâșierea cerului, Editura Trei,
The Man in the High Castle
The Futurological Congress
The Tombs of Atuan
The Word for World Is Forest
Utopian and dystopian fiction
^ a b "1972 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End.
^ "1971 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved
^ a b Issued as bonus material on New Video's 2000 release of The
Lathe of Heaven, ISBN 0-7670-2696-9. The "lathe" discussion
appears at 8:07—9:05.
Lao Tzu Tao Te Ching, A book about the Way and the power of the Way,
Ursula Le Guin, p. 108 of the version edited by Shambhala
Publications, Inc., 9/97
^ "If . . .?", The New York Times, May 14, 1972.
^ "Reading Room", If, April 1972, p.121-22
^ Watson, Ian (Mar 1975). "Le Guin's
Lathe of Heaven and the Role of
Dick: The False Reality as Mediator". Science Fiction Studies. SF-TH
Inc. 2 (5): 67–75. See also: Ashley, Michael (2000). Gateways
to Forever: The Story of the Science-Fiction Magazines, 1970–1980
(2nd ed.). Liverpool University Press. pp. 75–77.
^ Sutin, Lawrence (2005) . Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K.
Dick. Carroll & Graf Publishers. p. 276.
^ Bucknall 1981, p.90
^ Wilcox, Clyde (1997). Political Science Fiction.
ISBN 978-1-57003-113-7. Retrieved 2010-10-23.
^ "Ursula K Le Guin.com: The
Lathe of Heaven". ursulakleguin.com.
^ "Ursula K. Le Guin: Note on the remake of
Lathe of Heaven".
Web.archive.org. Archived from the original on 2007-08-12. Retrieved
^ Untitled Theater Company #61
Barbour, Douglas (Nov 1973). "The
Lathe of Heaven:
Andrew I. Porter
Andrew I. Porter (21): 22–24.
Bernardo, Susan M.; Murphy, Graham J. (2006). Ursula K. Le Guin: A
Critical Companion (1st ed.). Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.
Bloom, Harold, ed. (1986). Ursula K. Le Guin. Modern Critical Views.
New York: Chelsea House Publishers. ISBN 0-87754-659-2.
Bucknall, Barbara J. (1981). Ursula K. Le Guin. Recognitions. New
York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co. ISBN 0-8044-2085-8.
Cadden, Mike (2005).
Ursula K. Le Guin
Ursula K. Le Guin Beyond Genre: Fiction for
Children and Adults (1st ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.
Cummins, Elizabeth (Jul 1990). "The Land-Lady's Homebirth: Revisiting
Ursula K. Le Guin's Worlds". Science Fiction Studies. SF-TH Inc. 17
Cummins, Elizabeth (1993). Understanding
Ursula K. Le Guin
Ursula K. Le Guin (2nd ed.).
University of South Carolina Press. ISBN 0-87249-869-7.
Franko, Carol S. (1996). "The I-We Dilemma and a "Utopian Unconscious"
in Well's When the Sleeper Wakes and Le Guin's The
Lathe of Heaven".
Political Science Fiction. University of South Carolina Press.
pp. 76–98. ISBN 1-57003-113-4.
Huang, Betsy (Winter 2008). "Premodern Orientalist Science Fictions".
MELUS. University of Connecticut. 33 (4): 23–43.
doi:10.1093/melus/33.4.23. ISSN 0163-755X.
Jameson, Fredric (Jul 1982). "Progress Versus Utopia; or, Can We
Imagine the Future?". Science Fiction Studies. SF-TH Inc. 9 (27):
Jameson, Fredric (2005). Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire
Utopia and Other Science Fictions. Verso.
Malmgren, Carl D. (1998). "Orr Else? The Protagonists of Le Guin's The
Lathe of Heaven". Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts. Idaho State
University: International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts. 9
(4): 59–69. ISSN 0897-0521.
Lathe of Heaven title listing at the Internet Speculative Fiction
Review by Science Fiction Weekly
Lathe of Heaven, reviewed by Ted Gioia (Conceptual Fiction)
Lathe of Heaven at Worlds Without End
Works by Ursula K. Le Guin
A Wizard of
The Tombs of Atuan
The Tombs of Atuan (1971)
The Farthest Shore
The Farthest Shore (1972)
The Other Wind
The Other Wind (2001)
"The Word of Unbinding" (1964)
"The Rule of Names" (1964)
"Darkrose and Diamond" (1999)
Earthsea (collection) (2001)
"The Daughter of Odren" (2014)
Earthsea (miniseries) (2004)
Earthsea (film) (2006)
Earthsea Revisioned (1993)
Rocannon's World (1966)
Planet of Exile
Planet of Exile (1966)
City of Illusions
City of Illusions (1967)
The Left Hand of Darkness
The Left Hand of Darkness (1969)
The Dispossessed (1974)
The Word for World Is Forest
The Word for World Is Forest (1976)
Four Ways to Forgiveness
Four Ways to Forgiveness (1995)
The Telling (2000)
"The Dowry of the Angyar" (1964)
"Winter's King" (1969)
"Vaster than Empires and More Slow" (1971)
"The Day Before the Revolution" (1974)
The Shobies' Story
The Shobies' Story (1990)
"The Matter of Seggri" (1994)
"A Man of the People"
"Coming of Age in Karhide" (1995)
"Mountain Ways" (1996)
"Old Music and the Slave Women" (1999)
Werel (Voe Deo)
Lathe of Heaven (1971)
The Eye of the Heron
The Eye of the Heron (1978)
The Beginning Place
The Beginning Place (1980)
Always Coming Home
Always Coming Home (1985)
Annals of the Western Shore (Gifts (2004)
"The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" (1973)
"The Wife's Story" (1982)
Paradises Lost (2002)
The Wind's Twelve Quarters (1975)
Orsinian Tales (1976)
The Compass Rose
The Compass Rose (1982)
Buffalo Gals and Other Animal Presences (1987)
A Fisherman of the Inland Sea
A Fisherman of the Inland Sea (1994)
Unlocking the Air and Other Stories
Unlocking the Air and Other Stories (1996)
The Birthday of the World
The Birthday of the World (2002)
Changing Planes (2003)
Catwings (series) (1988–1999)
The Language of the Night (1979)
Dancing at the Edge of the World
Dancing at the Edge of the World (1982)
Tao Te Ching
Tao Te Ching (1997)
Steering the Craft
Steering the Craft (1998)
Locus Award for Best Novel
Larry Niven (1971)
Lathe of Heaven by
Ursula K. Le Guin
Ursula K. Le Guin (1972)
The Gods Themselves
The Gods Themselves by
Isaac Asimov (1973)
Rendezvous with Rama
Rendezvous with Rama by
Arthur C. Clarke
Arthur C. Clarke (1974)
The Dispossessed by
Ursula K. Le Guin
Ursula K. Le Guin (1975)
The Forever War
The Forever War by
Joe Haldeman (1976)
Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang
Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang by
Kate Wilhelm (1977)
Frederik Pohl (1978)
Dreamsnake by Vonda McIntyre (1979)
Titan by John Varley (1980)
The Snow Queen by
Joan D. Vinge
Joan D. Vinge (1981)