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A Guide to Athshe
This is the guide to Atshse, the world in Ursula K Le Guin's The Word for World is Forest.
The planet Athshe is also referred to as "world 41" and as "New Tahiti". The entire planet consists mainly of two types of nature: water, and forest. This is why the terrans came there, to get the wood and transfer it back to Earth. There are five continents on the planet, and a number of smaller islands. It is located 27 light years from Terra. The wildlife on Athshe is very similar to the terran. You'll find plants and animals familiar from Terra: pine, oak, walnut, chestnut, deer, birds, cats, mice.
There is also a humanoid, highly intelligent life form. The Athshean hilfs are small, roughly a meter in height, and covered in a greenish fur. They are essentially peaceful; the do not kill each other. Sometimes they fight, but they do not kill. They have a sort of ritual singing, a non-lethal way of solving their conflicts. They live of what the forest brings them, both vegetables and wild game.
In standard english, and many languages, the word "earth" refers both to the planet and to the soil. In the athshean tongue, the word for world is Athshe, meaning Forest. The atsheans have some sort of division in casts, named after trees. For instance, Selver belongs to the Ash, and his marital clans are the birch, the holly, and the apple.
They are possibly the greatest dreamers in the galaxy: the control their dreams, and gently slip from dream time to world time, each time being equally important. They pity the terrans, who do dream, but only as children dream; without learning, without understanding.
About the story in The Word for World is Forest (spoiler!)
One of the main characters in The Word for World is Forest is Selver of the Ash. He is an atshean hilf, a small, furry and gentle character. He and his wife, Thele, are captured by the invading terrans and used as labour in their camp. Thele is raped by one of the terran men, captain Don Davidsson. Davidsson is a terran, aggressive and narrow-minded, on the brink of paranoia. As a character, Davidsson is a stereotype, yet all too familiar from real life. He upholds the myth of the Strong Man and detests weakness. He will not listen when his superior officers tell im to lay down his weapons, but think they are traitors working with the enemy, and he cares little about saving the environment and the wildlife; so what if his men kill a few deer, let them have their fun. And who the hell misses the gorillas anyway?
After being raped, Thele dies, either of the act itself or because she simply decides to end her life. Either way, Selver blames the terran captain and, in spite of the usually nonagressive behavior of the atsheans, he attacks him violently. Davidsson fights back and Selver is nearly killed. The only terran who tries to help Selver - and who saves his life - is Raj Ljubov. Ljubov is genuinely interested in the atshean way of life, and tries to understand them. He tries to see the hilfs as more than small, furry creatures, to avoid the "teddy bear syndrome". He gains the respect of the athshans, and becamomes a friend of Selver.
After recovering, Selver becomes the one who orchestrates the attack on the terran camp, the massacre of Camp Smith, in which 207 terrans were killed by some 900 atsheans. This attack is an event which will forever change the world of Athshe. The athsheans are a peaceful people. They are hunters, but they do not kill other humans. The one who can think of such a thing must be a God, and the athsheans simply accept that: Selver is a God, a new God who walks the Forest.
In the end, the locals follow Selver, and strikes at the very center of the terran invasion: the attack on Central City, where every terran female on the planet was killed. Unfortunately, Ljubov's friendship with the hilfs didn't stop him from being killed in the attack on Central City. However, in the Dream time of the hilfs, he will always remain present.
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