In my continuing search for Lost Genre classics, I came across a review of Zenna Henderson’s work and decided this was worth a look. A few weeks later, a very large book-shaped package arrived at my door. For a long time it stared at me from the shelf, this imposing tome with the lizard on the cover. Usually I don’t like reading books in bits, but rather all at once, so I wanted to wait until I had a lot of time. Yet this one was different, and when I was finally drawn into its pages, I discovered a whole world and a myriad of fictional biographies encased in short stories. Again and again I returned to it and read one story or two, then laid it aside again. That’s the way it works.
The stories of the People are piled together, somewhat haphazardly at first. The frequent appearance of teachers and schools lead me to an early conclusion about the author’s day job. One by one, the lights go on, and we view the history of the People and their extraordinary origins. People who can fly, and sort confused souls, and feel the pain of others. People who came from another world, who ended up in the bleakly romantic Arizona canyons, who fought to survive and preserve their legacy. People who face wicked prejudices, who let outsiders in on their secrets now and then, and who use their Gifts to heal the world they live in, as they touch it.
The words are simple, the tales straightforward, of big and small happenings. The emotions run deep, the troubles are everyday human ones, even if their cause is sometimes unexpected. I am left with the feeling that I’d like to meet some People like this, because they are – well, just so nice. As one of the blurbs says, the People are us, at our best, as we’d like to be. Their trust in the Power who gives them their Gifts is just one of the things that makes them different from other people. Sort of like Christians are different in the world, too.
This allegory aspect is well-developed and provides much of the fascination as I ponder again and again: I’m different too. I, too, trust in a Giver of gifts, and can touch the world with them if I so choose. Yes, this is science fiction. You’ll find plenty of space travel and mind-blowing possibilities. But they are not the centre. Zenna Henderson has written about the People, their struggles with humanness, their love for the Home they came from and for the Earth they live on. Their teamwork, their combining of gifts to do what is necessary. Their searches for fulfillment, their hopes and longings, and their ever-optimistic view of life.
I think I’d be more optimistic, too, if I could fly…
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