Arrogance or naivety? Or both?

Enchantress from the Stars - Sylvia Engdahl, Lois Lowry

This sci-fi book is simultaneously incredibly naïve and incredibly arrogant. It describes a clash of three cultures, each in a different stage of social and scientific development.

The Federation is a highly evolved, space-faring civilization. They’re so evolved, they are telepathic. They don’t wage war or conquer the less-developed societies. Instead, they travel among the populated worlds and study them. The protagonist, a student Elana, belongs to this society of peaceful explorers. Their mandate dictates that they can’t interfere in the others’ progress, to the point of rather dying than disclosing information.

The second on the scale of techno-development is the Empire. They are just starting to explore the stars and they are quite military, set on colonization of as many planets as possible. Everyone less developed than they are is considered sub-human. One of the characters, Jarel, is a young medical officer with the Empire expedition, launched onto the planet of Andrecia. He is the doubting type – he isn’t sure species less developed should be considered sub-human but he isn’t openly rebellious either. He is just brooding most of the pages dedicated to him  

And then there is Andrecia. Its society is feudal, with no technology. For them, the machines the Empire employs to clear the land for their colony are dragons, driven by evil. Perhaps their point of view is not too far off. Some Earth citizens think so too. One of the protagonists, Georyn, belongs to this civilization. He resolves to perform a heroic deed – kill the ‘dragon’ – and Elana and her crew  are set on helping him to drive the dragon (aka the Empire colonists) off Andrecia – for the good of Andrecia, I presume.

But what methods could they use without revealing themselves? They decide to utilize Georyn’s belief in magic to outwit the Empire, to hoax the new colonists into leaving this particular planet. The Federation explorers are also pretty willing to sacrifice anyone, from their own society or from any other, to achieve their goals. Lives are worthless to them compared to their lofty principles.

They pull Georyn’s strings like experienced puppeteers, and even Elana, who is falling in love with the young man, obeys her captain’s decrees and plays the role of an ‘enchantress from the stars’, granting Georyn some ‘magical’ wishes and assigning him pretty harrying tasks. He is a pawn to her commands, but the poor schmuck believes in her magic anyway.

There are no ‘nice’ persons in this story, except maybe Georyn, although he is described as a pretty dense yokel who accepts as absolute dictum anything his beloved enchantress tells him. He doesn’t question her pronouncements. He doesn’t try to discover the truth. His side of the story resembles an original fairy tale – the youngest son of a poor woodcutter, Disney style. The enchantress says ‘jump’ – he jumps.

Elana does have doubts, kudos to her, but they are more growing pangs than a serious disagreement with her elders. Deep inside, she’s convinced that her Federation is the only one that’s right and good. She is ready to die for her society doctrines. I’m not sure I agree with the Federation and their haughty, idealistic views of the lesser civilizations. That’s why I don’t think I like Elana much. I think she is a silly girl, ready to become a martyr for silly reasons.   

The Empire representatives also act surprisingly silly, almost senseless. Why would they believe the Federation’s childish trickery, played by Georyn? It’s unexplainable to me. They shouldn’t have, and they wouldn’t in reality. Their behavior is illogical from start to end, playing to the author’s ideology instead of the realistic worldview.

I know the book was written in 1970, but its year of publication doesn’t excuse its primitive political ideas or the simplicity of its characters. The writing is good though, beautiful. And the story is probably okay, if its readers are 13 or about. But for me, a jaded reader, it feels slightly out of whack.