Spirituality and Resistance

Ursula Le Guin’s The Word for World is Forest and the Film Avatar


  • David Barnhill University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh




Avatar, Film Studies, Environmental Studies


Avatar shares key narrative features with Ursula Le Guin’s 1972 novel The Word for World is Forest, including a depleted earth, exploitive resource extraction on another planet, and a successful revolt by the natives. Natives live in harmony with a natural world that is considered sacred and has both animistic and Gaian properties. Both works present a radical critique of modern Western society. There also are fundamental differences: The Word for World is Forest does not portray a Terran leading the revolt or joining the indigenous society, there is no romance between a Terran and a native, and the violence by the natives is unheroic and culturally damaging. While The Word for World is Forest is a dystopian novel, Avatar is apocalyptic. Both also have utopian elements, though Avatar is more optimistic than The Word for World is Forest, with its more nuanced view of our political situation.


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How to Cite

Barnhill, D. (2011). Spirituality and Resistance: Ursula Le Guin’s The Word for World is Forest and the Film Avatar. Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture, 4(4), 478-498. https://doi.org/10.1558/jsrnc.v4i4.478