Elana belongs to a peaceful, technologically advanced, space-faring civilization called the “Federation”, which monitors worlds which are still “maturing”, allowing them to grow without any sort of contact or intervention. Elana stows away on a ship in order to accompany her father on a mission to a planet where intervention has been deemed necessary because a technologically advanced empire has invaded the planet in order to take advantage of its resources. In order to lead a young woodcutter (a native of that planet) against them (without exposing him to the truth about either alien civilization) Elana takes on the role of an enchantress. She gives him various tools, leading him to believe that they are magical.
Engdahl wrote parts of this book in the 1950s, before so many of the technological changes we live with today, and before Star Trek (there similar ideas in the series), but that just shows that good ideas and a forward-thinking author can create a classic story with meaning for many generations. I feel Engdahl did exactly that in creating the character of Elana, and with the story of Elana’s growing experiences on the planet she was striving to save. I loved the story, the writing, the characters, and the ideas in this book. She received the Newbery Honor Award in 1971 for it, and it was well-deserved. I’d like to read more by Sylvia Engdahl!
It is by now a well known fact that the human people of the universe have similar histories — not that the specific details are similar, but the same patterns emerge on every home world. Each must pass through three stages: first childhood, when all is full of wonder, when man admits that much is unknown to him, calling it “supernatural”, yet believing. Then adolescence, when man discards superstition and reveres science, feeling that he has charted its realms and has only to conquer them — never dreaming that certain “supernatural” wonders should not be set aside, but understood. And at last maturity, when the discovery is made that what was termed “supernatural” has been perfectly natural all along, and is in reality a part of the very science that sought to reject it.