Enchantress from the Stars
A Newbery Honor Book ~ Winner of the 1990 Phoenix Award, given by the Children's Literature Association "from the perspective of time" ~ Finalist for the 2002 Book Sense Book of the Year Award in the Rediscovery category.
First hardcover edition, Atheneum, 1970. New hardcover edition, Walker, 2001, with jacket and interior vignettes by the award-winning artists Leo and Diane Dillon and a new introduction by Newbery medalist Lois Lowry.
Review of Enchantress from the Stars at InfinityPlus
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Frequently Asked Questions
Do you really believe that civilizations exist elsewhere in the universe?
Yes. For that reason among others, I don't consider my fiction fantasy or even half fantasy, as some people in the children's literature field (but not people in the science fiction field) have interpreted Enchantress from the Stars. Parts of it are told in the style of fantasy, but that does not mean there is any fantasy in the story. Of course, the details are fantastic--I don't believe other intelligent species are as much alike physically as they're shown to be in my fiction.
Why do you portray them that way, then?
For the same reason I write their dialogue in English--so that readers will understand them. Also, I deliberately leave out the details of their appearance so that readers can imagine them as they prefer (for instance, I have always hoped that black readers would picture Elana as black). This is one of the disagreements between my view and that of many writers in the SF genre. In my opinion, emphasizing physical differences between intelligent species detracts from reader identification. And it's not "realism" to do it, because we don't know what they really look like in any case. They certainly don't look like the actors in Star Trek!
Of course, in Enchantress from the Stars there was another reason for making all the characters essentially human in appearance, yet not providing any details: the book deliberately leaves open the question of which of the three civilizations is our own. Incidentally, though the story makes clear that Elana does not resemble the natives of Andrecia closely enough to be mistaken for one of them, the covers of the Collier, Troll, and British editions show her as racially identical! (Authors do not choose a book's art work and often don't even see it prior to its publication--although I did get an advance look at the beautiful cover of the new Walker edition.)
How old is Elana supposed to be? The books don't say.
I couldn't state her age in terms of our years, since it's not said whether she's descended from people of Earth. I have seen comments about Enchantress in which different people referred to her as "a 14-year-old girl" and "a young woman of 20" and I don't know where they got either of those assumptions! Actually, since she is a beginning student at the Service Academy, which is like college, I picture her as about 17. In The Far Side of Evil she has just graduated, which would make her 21 or 22 in our years.
How do you pronounce the name Georyn?
It starts out just like George--JOR-IN, with the accent on the first syllable. (In my earliest draft of the story I used different spellings of it for the three different viewpoints, but I decided that was too confusing.)
Do you believe other cultures are as much like ours as you show them to be?
No, this too is literary license. After all, we don't know what their cultures are like any more than we know their real physical appearance. SF that portrays radically different cultures usually aims to make points relevant to our society, not to say anything about the actual universe. This is a worthwhile aim, but mine happens to be something different. I believe that some underlying truths are constant throughout the universe and that if we're going to meet other species someday--as I'm sure we are--it's important to expect something in common with them. There's already too much suspicion of "aliens" among us. To be sure, it can be argued that showing manifestly alien beings and alien cultures as "good guys" helps, and I think that may be true in the case of TV and movies; but there, the personality of the actors comes through and it is inescapably human, so that viewers naturally sympathize. In written fiction, except the kind intended for sophisticated SF readers with a lot of background, I think it's better to focus on similarities.
Why did you portray the invaders in Enchantress from the Stars in such a stereotyped way?
They're shown as comic-book style spacemen with ray guns for the same reason that the fairy tale portion of the story is told in a traditional, stylized form. It astonished me that some reviewers who recognized one as a literary device thought the other was accidental!
Actually, I don't think a real spacefaring civilization would behave as the Empire in the story does, any more than real medieval woodcutters went around killing dragons. The story is based on a conventional science fiction premise which at the time of its first publication was still viewed as likely; perhaps that was why many readers thought it was meant to be a realistic portrayal. Since, it has become more apparent that even now--and certainly in the future when we have starships--our culture as a whole wouldn't approve of colonizing inhabited planets.
Is Enchantress from the Stars meant to be an allegory about relationships between cultures of our own world?
I've rephrased this in the form of a question. People don't ask it--they just assume that's the case. It is not, except in the sense of advocating respect for all humans (and of course, of opposing the takeover of land that belongs to indigenous inhabitants). There are, to be sure, several levels in the story, some of which may be viewed as allegory; but this particular analogy is false, since the three cultures in Enchantress are of different species at different levels of evolution, whereas members of the human race on our own planet are all of the same species. None of us are more advanced, in an evolutionary sense, than people of Earth's other cultures who are as much Homo sapiens as we are. However, there may be species in the universe who have existed longer than ours, and someday we may visit even younger species. Enchantress is about our hypothetical relationships with them, not between ourselves.
What harm does it do for readers to assume that what's shown about the relationship of the Federation to the Younglings applies to intercultural relations on our world, as fantasy often does?
If the story is interpreted that way, it implies that some cultures presently existing on Earth are inherently more "advanced" than others, an idea once common that is frowned upon today. Technological capability is a factor in the evolution of a species as a whole; it doesn't define the "level" of particular cultures of the same species, any more than technical training defines the evolutionary status of individuals. I have been dismayed when readers got the impression that the Service in my books takes an attitude toward Younglings similar to the patronizing way 19th-century anthropologists viewed "primitive" cultures, which modern scientists recognize as mistaken. (The book has been criticized on these grounds by people with background in anthropology, and since I myself took many graduate courses in anthropology, I find this misinterpretation expecially troubling.) Also, I don't want it thought that I'm saying we shouldn't help the people of pre-industrial cultures obtain technology, a view that involves an additional false analogy because the cultures of a single world, unlike those of different worlds, are aware of each other's existence.
In this respect, portraying the three species in the story as looking so much alike proved to cause confusion. A species that has existed for eons longer than our own, whatever its outward appearance, would have capabilities far in advance of ours in addition to advanced technology. The difference would be much deeper than a mere cultural difference. The psychic powers of Elana's people, which in Younglings were merely latent, were meant to suggest this; I could not show it in any more detail and still make her a character with whom readers could identify. But it is to be assumed that there is a wide gulf of time, not just environment, between inhabitants of different worlds.
What gives the Federation the right to decide that Younglings aren't mature enough to join, or even to visit Federation worlds as individuals? Isn't this rather high-handed?
It's not an arbitrary judgment. My fictional premise is that a species is accepted into the Federation when it has reached the stage where psychic abilities such as telepathy and psychokinesis are commonly and safely used by a majority of its members, who can therefore mingle freely with other such species without posing a threat to anyone or finding themselves at a disadvantage. Of course, I don't pretend to know whether this is what happens in the real universe, although I suspect it is somewhere near the truth. Psychic powers as they are depicted in the stories are symbols of advanced abilities we can't yet even imagine.
Do you really believe in the existence of ESP and other paranormal powers?
Yes. I made up a lot of what I said about them in Enchantress from the Stars and The Far Side of Evil and then, years later, I read of research confirming many of the concepts I'd presented. To be sure, they're extrapolated in the stories beyond anything we now know. And their impact on Elana's civilization is largely ignored. A culture in which people could control such powers consciously--and did not have to hide them as my characters do when visiting on Youngling worlds--would be very different from any that has ever existed on Earth.
I should make clear, though, that when I say I believe in the paranormal, I don't mean in ghosts or in contact with departed spirits! I have found that to many people that's what "paranormal" implies, but it is a completely separate issue from the existence of such capabilities as extrasensory perception and psychokinesis.
For more comments about these capabilities and a list of nonfiction books on ESP and psychokinesis written by scientific researchers and other respected scholars, see ESP and and Other Psi Powers Are Real at this website.
Have you ever had paranormal experiences yourself?
No, I wish I had! But I am too analytical, too "left-brained," to have that kind of experience. What's unusual about my case is that despite this--and unlike most other science-oriented people--I have never doubted that some individuals have them and that more will be learned about them eventually. (For some of my views on paranormal capabilites and evolution, see The Evolutionary Significance of the Metanormal at this website.)
Was Star Trek one of your inspirations for the Elana books?
I got the basic ideas for both Enchantress and The Far Side of Evil, including the advanced civilization's strict policy of not intervening in the affairs of younger worlds, in the late 1950s, long before Star Trek existed. But by the time I came to write the novels, I had seen a few Star Trek episodes (though I didn't watch it regularly until much later, when it was rerun). And its casual treatment of the "Prime Directive"--which Captain Kirk regularly violated--was indeed one of the things that influenced me in creating a Service whose members took their Oath seriously.
Is the Federation in your stories supposed to be the same Federation as the one in Star Trek? If not, why did you use that term?
I chose it when I first wrote parts of the stories in the 1950s, so it certainly wasn't derived from Star Trek! "Federation" is a generic term in science fiction even apart from its use as a common English word. As a matter of fact, it's sometimes used by astronomers who write scientific papers about the possibilty of contacting extraterrestrial civilizations. It's a term no more unique to the Star Trek universe than "starship."
Why do you make such a point of saying that The Far Side of Evil is not suitable for as young an audience as Enchantress from the Stars? Some children have liked it at 10 or 11.
Some children even like adult science fiction at 10 or 11. Young readers unusually mature for their age are not turned away by statements that they are too young for a book. However, Enchantress is often given to average 5th and 6th graders, who enjoy the story even when they don't understand as much of it as older readers do. These children (and teachers who haven't read Far Side) are apt to assume that the second novel about Elana will have similar appeal, when it is actually a very different kind of book that only very exceptional readers below high school age find enjoyable. Children may find its subject matter--torture, imminent nuclear war--disturbing, or they may feel the discussions it contains are too complex to be interesting. No author wants a book to be called "not as good as the first one" simply because it was given to readers not apt to like it as well as its predecessor.
Especially when other readers may think it's better! Many older teens and adults, especially those not attracted to fantasy, prefer The Far Side of Evil to Enchantress. So the other reason I keep saying it's for older readers is that teenagers often avoid books that are thought suitable for younger kids. Not nearly as many teens read the original edition as might have done so if it hadn't been called a sequel.
Why did you make the second book ahout Elana so different from the first?
I'd had the story in mind for many years, so I started writing it as soon as I finished Enchantress, and since it required interstellar explorers with the same policy as the Service, it couldn't be about a separate organization. I have since been sorry that I used the same heroine; another agent of the Service could just as easily have been the protagonist.
If you only want to read about Enchantress from the Stars you can skip the rest of the comments about The Far Side of Evil (although there aren't any significant spoilers here). There's more about Enchantress below!
Why didn't you let the characters in The Far Side of Evil find the key to the Critical Stage, the factor that causes some civilizations to destroy their worlds instead of expanding into space?
I've been asked this since friends first read the book before it was published, and my answer has always been the same: If I knew the key, I'd tell the President of the United States instead of putting it in a novel!
Does that mean you think the Critical Stage is real?
Why does anyone doubt it? I first developed the theory of the Critical Stage in 1956, before the people of planet Earth had any space programs. Then, as throughout most of the years since, the threat of nuclear war was of great concern. It seemed to me that if we didn't turn our attention to space soon, we would very likely destroy ourselves. One of the most encouraging events I've ever witnessed took place just a year later, when Sputnik was launched into orbit, making it impossible for the setting of my story to be Earth. This does not mean, however, that the planet in the story is simply our world under another name, because I believe what I wrote, that the Critical Stage is a natural one that all inhabited worlds go through.
The Far Side of Evil was first published in 1971, during the era of the Apollo moon landings. At that time, I believed Earth was safely out of the Critical Stage. It didn't occur to me that a planetary civilization might cut back its thrust into space once it had gotten started. But that, unfortunately, has been the case with ours. The delays and cutbacks in Earth's space programs are very alarming to me. (For more of what I think about the Critical Stage, see Space and Human Survival and other essays at this website.)
In the early 70s, when many people wore Peace Symbols as pendants, I went around wearing this Moon Landing medallion (one of many in a collection I then had) because I truly believed that putting humanity's energy into exploration and settlement of new worlds in space was the only way to bring about lasting world peace. I still believe this! I still believe that "We came in peace for all mankind" meant more than just having peaceful intentions toward our competitors in the Space Race of the 60s. Although our world today is no longer so much like the world in the story, there is peril as long as many nations, and many kinds of troublemakers, are competing for the resources of one small planet.
Yet we still have wars even though we have space travel; doesn't that invalidate the premise of the story?
No, because our civilization hasn't made a lasting commitment to a major space effort. We are not established in space in any significant sense--we have simply made some brief trips there and performed some scientific investigation, and then failed to pursue more than a fraction of the space undertakings of which our technology is capable. We've abandoned the moon. We've built no orbiting colonies or even large-scale industrial facilities in space. We've turned our backs on human exploration of Mars. As a species, despite the dedication and enthusiasm of an all-too-small minority of individuals, we are no more committed to expansion into space than we were before we had launched a single spaceship. And so there's as yet no evidence one way or the other as to whether the story's premise is true or not.
Isn't the novel more about Earth's political conflicts than about space?
Absolutely not. Some readers thought I used space fiction as a vehicle for political commentary, whereas in fact I used political melodrama to dramatize ideas about the importance of space. Beyond the obvious and uncontroversial premise that dictatorship is a bad thing and totalitarian rulers are motivated by desire for power, the story's main reference to Earth's affairs concerned the youth activism of the late 60s--some of which struck me as comparable to Randil's well-meant but disastrous attempt to change the world overnight. This, however, was a side issue compared to my conviction that expansion into space is the only way of eliminating war on Earth.
Then are you sorry you portrayed a political situation that makes some people consider the book outdated?
That's not what dated the original edition. After all, the planet in the story is comparable to Earth of the 50s, not the 70s; at the time of its publication it wasn't meant to be a current portrayal of specific conflicts. But the Critical Stage has turned out to last longer than the book suggested; my assumption that the invention of space technology will cause a civilization to immediately put its energy into a space effort has indeed proved to be an outdated one.
Furthermore, the Critical Stage has proved to be much more complex than I imagined when I assumed it was merely a brief stage in our planet's history. We now see that nuclear war is not the only danger; we face other threats such as terrorism, biological weapons, destruction of the environment, and depletion of our natural resources--to name only a few of the problems that will eventually confront any civilization confined to a single world. Some people think these disasters can be avoided by effort on our part. I do not. I believe they are the natural consequences of our species being ready to expand into a new and larger ecological niche. In my opinion, the only way we can save Earth is to take up that challenge.
Isn't this too unconventional an opinion to be taken seriously?
Though I can't deny that it's a minority opinion, I am far from alone in holding it. On my Space Quotes to Ponder page I have posted quotations from dozens of people, including some very well-known people, who believe expansion into space is essential to the survival and/or future welfare of our species.
Why do you now tell people not to read the original edition of The Far Side of Evil?
Because the 2003 edition contains revisions to the story's statements about the Critical Stage that have a major impact on their timeliness. If you haven't already read the old edition, I urge you not to read an old copy, because recent history has invalidated some of the wording I used 30 years ago. I don't want the book to be less convincing than it would be if read in its updated form, which makes plain that it's the ongoing colonization of space, not merely the invention of space travel, that's crucial to survival.
But in Enchantress from the Stars, colonization is shown as wrong.
Only because the Empire in that story colonized inhabited planets, which as I've said above, I don't believe would really happen. That's one of the reasons I regret having connected the two books--Enchantress is based on both traditional and recent mythology, whereas The Far Side of Evil is meant to be taken more literally. (When Elana discusses colonization in the revised edition, I wish she could say that civilizations advanced enough to build starships never colonize inhabited planets; but she can't because of her involvement in a story where it happened.)
Did you change anything in the new edition besides the discussion of the Critical Stage?
The action of the story hasn't been changed in any way. I removed non-inclusive (sexist) language, and made many other improvements to wording--some I'd long wanted to make and others suggested by my new editor. It is now a better book as well as a more timely one for today's readers.
For more information about the updating, read the Afterword to the 2003 Edition.
Why isn't the new edition labeled "revised" on the book itself or in catalogs?
The Library of Congress doesn't consider an edition "revised" unless 20% of it has been altered. I didn't change that much! In my opinion, the wording changes, though minor in terms of length, are of major enough significance to announce, so that people who have read the old edition, or consider buying used copies, will realize that the new one is worth getting. But Walker chose not to say anything about updating in their publicity, so it's mentioned only in the new Afterword and on the jacket flap.
What age range did you have in mind when you wrote The Far Side of Evil?
I intended it for high school age. In the era in which it was first published there was no such thing as a Young Adult category; everything not published as adult fiction was issued as a "children's book." Unfortunately, to my great dismay the publisher labeled it "age 10-14" on the jacket because that was the age range that sold best, and because Enchantress from the Stars, which was popular, was suitable for that age (though it too was originally meant for teenagers). I have always regretted connecting The Far Side of Evil so specifically to Enchantress -- it could have had a different heroine. But when I wrote it, Enchantress hadn't yet been published and I didn't foresee that my books would be given to children as young as 10 or 11. I don't believe The Far Side of Evil is appropriate for those under 14.
What do you think the changes in our world since September 11 mean in terms of our own Critical Stage?
Several people have written to ask me this. I'm sorry to say I think the growing problem of international terrorism is exactly what can be expected in a Critical Stage civilization: one that has outgrown its home world but has not yet directed its energies into moving beyond, and in which the evil actions of a few individuals can affect the entire planet. Yet in one way this is a hopeful view; it reflects my belief that the threats we face are not signs of something having gone wrong with our species' evolution, but natural ones against which we must develop defenses, as we must against other natural disasters. I believe we will win the war against organized terrorist networks, just as we got through the crises of the second half of the 20th century--all of which I remember personally. I don't think the world is in any greater immediate danger than it has been for the past 50 years, although the American public now has a new awareness of peril. But time is running out (again, see my Space and Human Survival page). To let the current situation distract us from developing space technology would, in my opinion, be self-defeating.
Added November 2, 2006: Recently, my view of this issue has changed somewhat. I now feel that the world will soon be in greater danger from terrorists than in the past because they will have access to emerging new technologies such as biotechnology and nanotechnology, with which they could do great harm. These technologies offer many benefits to humankind and I am certainly not opposed to them, but they could be used destructively by small numbers of people. Therefore, it's important that defenses against them be developed before they are made available, and it's more imperative than ever that a space colony be established as insurance against disaster. For more of my thoughts on this topic, please read the new page I've just posted at this site, Achieving Human Commitment to Space Colonization .
Do you believe ETs are really observing our world?
I don't know. I do believe, as my novels say, that advanced ones wouldn't reveal themselves because they'd know it would harm us by interfering with our evolution. At the time I wrote the novels, and even when I wrote my nonfiction book The Planet-Girded Suns, I could not find any other writer who seriously proposed this as a reason why we haven't been contacted. Since then, there have been several.
Why do you emphasize it so much in your fiction?
Because I don't think it's good for young people to think of ETs as Gods from Outer Space who will solve our problems for us. I believe we'll need to make the effort to explore the universe on our own. Also, I consider it very harmful for young people (or for anyone) to view Earth's problems as evidence that there's something wrong with us as a species--that advanced aliens would consider us inferior instead of just immature. That all-too-prevalent idea leads to defeatism instead of to achievement, and besides, I don't think it's true.
Are you going to write another book about Elana?
I'd like to, but I don't have any ideas for key events that would make a story compatible with the premises I've established about the Service--though I have plenty for themes and settings. (Unlike the writers of Star Trek, I'm unwilling to have my characters violate their basic non-intervention policy merely for plot convenience, and this severely limits their involvement in the affairs of hypothetical worlds.) I feel sad about this when people write and ask me to write another, as if I could simply choose to do so! Stories must arise in an author's mind before they can be put into words; it takes more than writing ability to create fiction, and more than speculation about the universe. In any case, Elana is already a college graduate in The Far Side of Evil and in a third novel she would have to be even older, so she could not be the main character in another teen book.
My Interview with the Trumpet Book Club
(This interview took place in the fall of 2001. Since it is no longer at Trumpet's Web site, I am posting it here.)
TRUMPET: Enchantress from the Stars is told in a three-person narrative. Did you enjoy writing from the various perspectives? Did it help you tell your story or make it harder to tell?
I never imagined it being in another form--the three perspectives and three styles of narrative were part of my original conception of the story, and I couldn't have told it any other way.
TRUMPET: Enchantress from the Stars is, at times, very philosophical. It does not talk down to its readers at all! What impression do you hope young readers will walk away with? What is your favorite part of the book?
On one level, I hope they will take it literally in the sense of not thinking that sooner or later extraterrestrial civilizations will help solve our planet's problems for us (which some radio astronomers actually hope may happen)--and, most importantly, of not thinking that those problems mean we're an inherently bad species with which something has "gone wrong" (an idea often promoted by science fiction, as well as by all too much nonfiction). I hope they will view the future optimistically, believing that our civilization will progress as it continues to mature. On another and more fundamental level, I hope they will come away with the knowledge that truth can be expressed in many forms, and that perceptions of reality that don't match one's own are worthy of respect.
TRUMPET: What was the inspiration behind Enchantress from the Stars? How did the story come about? Did you have the characters, the setting, or the plot first in your mind?
I first got the idea for the story back in 1957, long before I wrote more than a few pages of it. What occurred to me then was the concept of the three peoples seeing the colonists' activity in different ways, and the strategy the advanced anthropologists would use to prevent the planet from being taken over. I had the main characters in mind, but they were older; I imagined it as adult science fiction rather than as a book for children.
TRUMPET: The love story between Georyn and the Enchantress from the Stars is so beautifully told. Was there any part of you that wished they could be together in the end? What inspiration did you draw upon for the love story aspect of the book?
The idea I started with involved no love story; when I began to write the book and develop the characters as young people, it just happened! Of course, the plot depends on it--but to begin with, I didn't have a whole plot. I didn't know the means whereby Georyn could succeed in his quest until I was well along in the writing. Yes, certainly a part of me wished Georyn and the Enchantress could stay together, but I was too absorbed in the viewpoint of her civilization to think that could be a happy ending for either of them.
TRUMPET: When you first wrote Enchantress from the Stars, did you have any idea that it might be so warmly received or win the Newbery?
When I wrote it in 1968, I didn't think there was much chance of its being published at all! I had just completed my first novel for young people (Journey Between Worlds, a more conventional love story) and I began work on Enchantress from the Stars simply for fun while waiting for Journey to find a publisher. Enchantress from the Stars obviously didn't fit the adult science fiction market, yet I thought it was too long and complicated to be published as a children's book. But I got wrapped up in it and couldn't bear not to show it to anyone after I finished it, so I submitted it to Atheneum (which later took Journey also) because they had published the longest children's book I could find in the library. I was surprised when it was accepted, and completely astonished when it received the Newbery Honor.
TRUMPET: The great thing about Enchantress from the Stars is that it has a mass appeal that goes beyond strict sci-fi fans. What would you say to kids who do not gravitate towards the science fiction/fantasy genre? What are they missing out on?
My desire to write about other worlds arises from my belief that humanity's future lies in space and that therefore, how people view the universe beyond Earth is extremely important. So I've always aimed to reach a wider audience than fans of a particular genre. This was one reason I chose to write for young people, where my books would be edited and reviewed by non-specialists, rather than for the SF market. I think there are too few science fiction novels that appeal to people outside that genre (the reason there aren't more is that most fans with a lot of background don't like books that readers without such background can understand). To readers of any age who don't gravitate toward SF, I can only say: not all books set in future or hypothetical worlds are as "far out" as those rated highest by specialists; some provide a lot for people concerned about real life to think about--and these are most apt to be found among Young Adult books or adult novels placed on YA shelves by librarians.