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Creator / Zenna Henderson

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"Sometimes it's best to take the hand of a child—a Seeing child—and let them do the leading."
Zenna Chlarson Henderson (November 1, 1917 – May 11, 1983) was a Hugo-nominated American author of speculative fiction celebrated as an early pioneer of female writers in the golden age of sci-fi, publishing her first story in 1926 and the majority of her work in the 1950s and 1960s. She is best-known for her short stories of "The People": a refugee race of gentle, humanoid aliens who barely manage to escape their doomed planet and crash-land on Earth, where some of their numbers are scattered and lost. A number of her stories involve one of the lost People eventually being discovered by a larger group and their joyous reunion. The People possess various Psychic Powers such as Flight, Healing Hands, Psychic Surgery, and a degree of Genetic Memory that can be passed down to their offspring to remember the Home, their beautiful planet of origin.

Outside of these stories, Henderson also wrote a number of stories revolving around psychic or magical children, often from the perspective of an understanding teacher trying to unravel the mystery. Henderson herself was an elementary school teacher for over forty years and had a deep love and appreciation for children and their imaginations.

Not all of her fare is so gentle. A good number of her short stories verge on outright horror, including one story, "Hush!", later developed into an episode of Tales from the Darkside. Others deal with dark subject matter, such as domestic abuse, child abuse and neglect, genocide, and suicide.

Many of her stories, in particular the People stories, are notable for their overtly spiritual themes. Henderson herself was raised Mormon but fell away from the church after a divorce. Under normal circumstances, her religion wouldn't bear mentioning, but you really can't not notice the allusions, with many stories including or titled after Biblical quotes. Fortunately, the stories stand beautifully on their own and Henderson's notion of spirituality is one of inclusion, welcome, and homecoming.


  • Pilgrimage: The Book of the People (1961)
  • The Anything Box (1965)
  • The People: No Different Flesh (1967)
  • Holding Wonder (1971)
  • The People Collection (1991)
  • Ingathering: The Complete People Stories (1995)
  • Believing: The Other Stories of Zenna Henderson (2020)

Works by Zenna Henderson with their own trope page include:

Other works of Zenna Henderson provide examples of the following tropes:

  • Because You Were Nice to Me: Occurs a great deal in human/alien encounters, exemplified with "Food For All Flesh," in which an alien discovers the only Earth food her newborns can consume is human flesh. Out of gratitude, the alien spares her human rescuer and instead takes her children elsewhere.
  • Bizarre Alien Biology:
    • The Coveti accept a gift of ordinary water from the human astronauts. It impacts their alien biology like a drug, and several of them drink too much and drop dead.
    • In "Subcommittee," all humanity is stumped by the mystery of why the alien invaders, now in negotiations for peace, demand complete access to all the world's oceans. Only when they're asked to confirm that, they say no, it's not the oceans. Both sides are getting frustrated. The story's human heroine inadvertently discovers that the aliens are dying out: they are down to their last infant because their reproductive cycle requires saltwater.
  • Came Back Wrong: In "Hush!", Dubby is said to have come close to death one too many times as a very young child, and now seems to have strange powers and uncanny perception (even though Dubby himself is ordinary and not at all sinister).
  • Child Hater: Characters who dislikes children quickly regret their opinion. Sometimes their punishment is out of all proportion, as in "The Last Step," where a teacher who scoffs at a child's "game" finds herself left behind when the planet is evacuated during an alien invasion, as a direct consequence of her scoffing or "Come On, Wagon!" where the narrator's father is killed due to the narrator's dislike of his nephew, as the nephew's telekinetic power is the only thing that could have saved him. This is just for disliking children, mind; anyone who actually harms one won't even be given a chance for regret. (A surprising number of Henderson's stories start with the declaration "I don't like children" and are narrated by adults suspicious of children's innocence that puts them in touch with powers and dimensions adults can't access.)
  • Children Are Innocent: There are rarely any truly bad children.
  • Corporal Punishment: Often recommended as a "cure" for a strange, magical child, but always roundly condemned by the narrative. As with Child Hater above, any character who suggests smacking or spanking a child, even in passing, is portrayed as both wrong and a terrible person.
  • Eldritch Abomination: Often subverted. Henderson's aliens (barring the People) tend to be very alien, while turning out to be surprisingly relatable.
  • Eldritch Starship:
    • The sleek, needlelike warships in "Subcommittee," which are so black that to look at them is like going blind.
    • The invading insectile alien species in "The Last Step."
  • From the Mouths of Babes: A lot of conflict in many stories could be resolved if only adults had understood exactly what the children were telling them.
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters: Played with a lot.
    • In "The Coveti," human astronauts are completely unaware that the carbon monoxide they exhale is poisonous to the native alien species and inadvertently kill and blind several of them while seeking to establish friendly contact.
    • Reading between the lines in many of Henderson's outwardly gentle teacher/child stories (notably "You Know What, Teacher?") reveals a horrifying parade of abuse, poverty, domestic violence, criminality, murder...or even the mundane sorrow of lazy, disinterested parents who prefer to smack their children into compliance rather than try to understand them. This all-too-human cruelty is always presented as far worse than any supernatural or alien aspect of the plot. The theme occurs often enough that one suspects Henderson, an elementary school teacher herself, was far too aware of the kinds of homes to which some of her pupils returned each day.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: "Food for All Flesh."
  • The Magic Goes Away: Many of Henderson's special children lose their magical abilities as they grow older. This is always treated as a tragedy.
    • In "Turn the Page," an entire kindergarten class grows into adults whose lives are destroyed, in one way or another, as a result of growing out of the enchantment revealed by their magical teacher.
  • The Masquerade: Played from both sides, what with aliens maintaining secrecy among humans and humans who find themselves attempting to shelter and protect the strange creature they've stumbled over.
  • Not-So-Imaginary Friend: Appears quite often. In "The Anything Box," Sue-Lynn's presumed imaginary box that allows her to see anything her heart desires turns out to be very real, as does Splinter's imaginary friend Doobie in "Subcommittee" and the terrifying make-believe invention in "Hush!"
  • Really 700 Years Old: Aunt Daid in "Walking Aunt Daid" appears to be an impossibly elderly woman...and it turns out she's even older. Meanwhile, Mr. and Mrs. Klevity in "Something Bright" look like a kindly older couple but turn out to be from a race of practically ageless creatures from another dimension and end up subverting the trope again when it turns out that even as old as they are, they're considered youngsters among their own people.
  • Recursive Reality: "Walking Aunt Daid."
  • Satan: Strongly implied to be what's in the cave in "Stevie and the Dark," particularly when Stevie accidentally defeats it with a homemade crucifix.
  • Year Inside, Hour Outside: The Klevitys in "Something Bright." They are explorers from another dimension who volunteered to come to Earth, unaware of any time discrepancy between dimensions. In Earth time, the Klevitys have been stranded for decades, while their companions back home believe they have been gone only a few days. Slightly subverted in that they consider Earth "inside" and their home dimension "outside."