Ursula & Iris

My friend and favorite author died today.

“Your books shaped my brain,” I told her. We were in her kitchen at the time, drinking tea.

“That’s terrifying,” she said. Then she put a splash of bourbon in the tea.

Ursula found it significant that I first read A Wizard of Earthsea at eleven years old. “It’s a prime,” she said via email. “I am slightly mystical about primes… Also slightly mystical, I guess, about kids of eleven. It’s a hinge age–They’re still absolutely children but their world is widening out in all ways, their awareness enlarging with it, their self is defining itself… There’s way too much hokum about the wisdom of the child, blah blah–but I do often find kids of about eleven awesome in their mixture of innocence, patience, readiness, wariness, openness… They sometimes have a wonderful poise, which they’ll lose when their hormones really start knocking them around.”

Ursula died at the age of eighty-eight–a multiple of eleven. I wish she could have waited for ninety-nine instead.

She collaborated a few times with my youngest daughter Iris. Together they told stories about monkeys and cats.

Iris sent her a very short story two years ago: “There once was a human who wanted a wolf for a pet. Then the wolf ate the human.” Ursula turned it into a nursery rhyme:

“I don’t want that puppy-dog,”
Willful William said.
“I don’t want a dog at all.
I want a wolf instead!”

“Oh William,” said his father,
“That is an unwise choice.
For wolves are wild as wild can be,
And they eat little boys.”

But Willful William wailed
And roared to raise the roof
And stamped his foot and shouted

And so his parents bought a wolf,
A large and handsome pup.
And as soon as it saw William

“I’m sorry that the protagonist is named William,” she told me. “Please don’t take it personally. He had to be William, because he was Willful. Willard, Wilson, etc. just didn’t sound right.”

Iris is five years old now.

I told her that Ursula died today.

“I’m going to go invent a machine that makes dead people alive again,” she announced, and then went into the playroom to get started. She’s still there, right now, reinventing the very first science fiction novel.

I like to think that Ursula would be proud of her.