Sylvia Engdahl

Enchantress from the Stars

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Enchantress from the Stars Summary

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Written in 1970 by Sylvia Louise Engdahl, Enchantress from the Stars is a young adult science fiction novel about Elana, a teenage girl from an advanced civilization, who faces conflicts between her heart and her duty when she poses as a magical sorceress in order to aid a young civilization against an invading empire. Engdahl’s narrative raises many philosophical issues about the nature of sacrifice, the responsibility of power, and the need to respect all levels of human development. In a 2001 interview with the Trumpet Book Club, Engdahl expressed the hope that readers of Enchantress from the Stars would gain an understanding that “perceptions of reality that don’t match one’s own are worthy of respect.”

Enchantress from the Stars has three distinct narrative perspectives, corresponding to the “three peoples of different levels of advancement,” that feature in the novel. In the book’s Preface, Engdahl asserts that whether any of the three differing peoples “are our ancestors or our descendants is not really very important,” leaving readers to speculate which culture is closest to that of mankind.

Elana is a member of the Federation, the most advanced and enlightened society in the novel. She narrates her story in the first person, within a letter to her cousin. Elana is a First Phase student at the Federation’s Service Academy, studying to be a field agent in the Anthropological Service like her parents. The mission of the Service is to research Youngling, or still-developing, civilizations. The Federation has a policy of not interfering with the evolution of other peoples. Members of the Service take an Oath, under pain of death, never to disclose their advanced technology or psychic powers to any Younglings. The only time the Service would intervene is to save a Youngling civilization from slavery or extinction.

Georyn is a woodcutter’s son living in a medieval-like society on the planet Andrecia. Georyn’s culture believes in magic and superstition. His story is told from a third person perspective in the stylized language of a traditional fairy tale.

The Andrecian culture is threatened by the arrival of the Imperial Exploration Corps, another Youngling civilization, but one more technologically advanced. The Imperials view the Andrecian natives as savages, mere “humanoid animals,” who have no rights to the planet. The Imperials believe this gives them license to raze the land to establish their colony. Engdahl portrays the Imperials as almost “comic-book style spacemen” in a conventional sci-fi style. Jarel, a medic with the Imperials, is disenchanted with their oppressive culture. Jarel’s story is narrated from a third-person omniscient perspective.

Elana is onboard a starship with her father, a senior agent in the Service, and his team. Their mission on Andrecia is to make the Imperials leave by convincing them that the Andrecians have powerful and dangerous psychic abilities. Elana’s father insists she remains on the ship. Elana, however, hides away aboard the landing craft. Elana has never been off her home world before, and is excited to see a “new, unspoiled planet.” Unlike Elana, Evrek, her arranged fiancé, has completed his training and is a part of the away team. When she reveals herself, Elana’s father allows her to stay with the group.

Service agent Ilura is assigned to carry out this mission. Ilura, however, is killed by an Imperial while creating a distraction to keep Imperials from noticing the team’s landing craft. Elana takes Ilura’s place, posing as an enchantress to teach Georyn and his brother, Terwyn, how to use telepathy to drive off the Imperials.

Georyn and Terwyn live in a village on the edge of the Enchanted Forest. On the other side of the forest, the Imperials have started stripping the land using a machine called a rockchewer. It makes a terrible noise, shoots out cold flames, and resembles a “prehistoric beast.” Georyn’s culture believes that it is a dragon. To the Andrecians, the Imperials in their space suits and helmets look like monsters without faces, and their stun guns are magic wands, able to freeze people into stone. The King of the Andrecians offers a reward to anyone who can slay the dragon, because everyone who has tried has disappeared. From Jarel’s perspective, the reader knows that the Andrecians are being held prisoner until the Imperials decide to establish a treaty and contain them on a reservation.

Elana is aided by her father who appears to Georyn and Terwyn as the Starwatcher, a great magician. The Starwatcher gives the brothers three tasks to prove their worth and ability. They must retrieve three objects, a disk, a piece of the sun, and a magic levitating cup, all of which are common objects to the Federation: a communicator, a lamp, and a cup that Elana causes to float in the air with her psychic powers. Evrek acts as a “demon” to spur the brothers on in these contests.

Although Elana knows that she is supposed to remain emotionally detached in her interactions with the Andrecians, she falls in love with Georyn. She gives him a river stone, telling him it is magic, so he can focus his belief in her magic and in his abilities.

Terwyn is killed battling the dragon. Georyn and Elana go to the Imperial camp, but Elana is captured. She meets Jarel and tells him about the Federation. Elana knows that the Imperials have mind-reading devices, and she understands that she must die rather than remain in captivity and reveal more information. Elana’s father sends Evrek to either save Elana or kill her. Jarel releases Elana, who runs towards the rockchewer in an attempt to commit suicide. Georyn uses his psychic powers to prevent the rocks from crushing Elana. Georyn’s display succeeds in driving the Imperials from the planet. Elana parts painfully from Georyn, knowing they can never be together because of their disparate cultures.

Enchantress from the Stars was a Newbery Honor book in 1970. Engdahl also wrote a companion novel, The Far Side of Evil, featuring the character Elana.