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Literature / Enchantress from the Stars

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Cover of the 2001 Edition

Enchantress From the Stars is a book by Sylvia Louise Engdahl that explores humanity's role in the universe. It also comes with a companion novel, The Far Side of Evil.

See the FAQ by the author.

The story is told from three perspectives, that of Elana retelling her side of the story as a letter to a cousin, that of a fairy tale where Georyn sets out to slay a dragon (really an Imperial rock-chewer), and that of Jarel, an Imperial medic who opposes the treatment of the natives. It is left ambiguous which civilization, if any, is ours, the Federation, the Empire, or the Andrecians.

Spoilers ahead!

Elana is a field agent trainee from the Federation's anthropological service who snuck aboard a research ship. The anthropological service is dedicated to researching Youngling civilizations, or civilizations who have not matured enough to join the Federation. Because of her father's status as a senior field agent, she is allowed to stay on the ship.

The situation is grave; Andrecia, a medieval planet, is being invaded by the Imperials, who want to make a colony there. The natives believe the Corp's rock-chewer to be a dragon, and many have tried and failed to slay it. Federation agents must make the Imperials leave without interfering with the development of either the Andrecians or the Imperials.

Originally, Ilura, another field agent, was to pose as a native and scare the Imperials with "magic", really psychic powers. However, Ilura is killed by Imperials and Elana must take her place.

Elana poses as an enchantress and teaches Georyn and Terwyn, two woodcutter's sons, to use telepathy to scare the Imperials. Before this, Georyn and Terwyn are trusted with three tasks by the Starwatcher, an old man who is actually Elana's father. First, they must retrieve a magical disc (actually an inter-comm unit), a piece of the sun (an electric lamp), and a magic cup (an ordinary cup which Elana moves with psychokinesis) with Evrek, Elana's fiance, as the "demon" who challenges them to reach their full potential.

Terwyn faces the dragon and its enchanted minions (actually Imperials in enviro-suits) but is killed after he draws his sword on them. Elana, Evrek, and the Starwatcher decide to further test Georyn so he is prepared to face the rock-chewer. They take him onboard their ship after drugging him and subject him to a mental test.

Elana accompanies Georyn on his way to the Imperial camp, but is captured as a "sacrifice" for the dragon when she tries to save a girl who was about to meet the same fate. She is eventually handed over to the custody of the Imperials. In the camp, she meets Jarel, an Imperial medic, and tells him the truth about the Federation, risking disclosure of its existence to the Empire.

Jarel frees Georyn and Elana decides to die so as not to reveal her secret to anyone else. She runs towards the rock-chewer, but is saved from being crushed when Georyn uses his powers to hold falling debris in mid-air.

The Imperials and the Federation agents leave Andrecia. Elana finds parting difficult, but necessary because her love for Georyn cannot be fully realized without jeopardizing the Federation's policies.

This book provides examples of:

  • Alien Non-Interference Clause: The Federation's policy of non-interference. This book was partly published due to the fact that Engdahl did not like how the Prime Directive was handled in Star Trek.
    • The way the clause is treated almost reads like deconstruction. Federation agents specifically learn a technique which makes them more vulnerable because of it!
  • Arranged Marriage: Evrek and Elana's relationship is implied to be this.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The planet is saved, but Elana and Georyn must part, and Jarell is in for a big trouble.
  • Break the Cutie: Elana's captivity. by the time she attempts her suicide, she clearly sees it as a better alternative to captivity, regardless of the whole secrecy thing.
  • Clarke's Third Law: The Andrecians view Imperial technology as magic wands that turn people to stone (stunners), dragons (rock-chewer), monsters with no faces (Imperials in suits) and the examples in the summary. Also, telepathy and psychokinesis among the Federal field agents are stand-ins for advanced technologies humankind can't think of yet.
  • Comes Great Responsibility: The Federation is very careful not to overly interfere.
  • Damsel in Distress: Elana, which comes dangerously close to Chickification, though she is no fighter to begin with.
  • Disintegrator Ray: the atomizer of the Imperials.
  • Disposable Woman: Ilura gets killed just so that Elana can take her place.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The treatment of Andrecians by the Empire is eerily similar to treatment of Native Americans.
  • Driven to Suicide: Elana, basically by order, but she doesn't die.
  • The Dung Ages: Andrecia, what with the king killing people on a whim and people in the villages massively suffering. And this is before The Empire shows up.
  • The Empire: The invaders.
  • Evolutionary Levels: Subverted in that Elana mentions that although the Andrecians are not technologically-advanced, their minds are not "primitive". However, this trope applies to the notion of civilizations having three stages they must go through.
  • Fatal Flaw: The commitment to non-disclosure of Federation gets Ilura killed and forces Elana to attempt suicide.
  • The Federation: The Federation which Elana comes from.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Elana will survive, since she tells her story as something that already happened. However, we don't know beforehand whether the mission succeeded.
  • Forgotten Fallen Friend: Terwyn. Even before his death everyone appeared to pass him over for his superbly talented brother, Georyn, and after he dies not even his brother mentions him again!
  • Future Imperfect: Possibly for our culture interpreting the events of the book as a legend about dragon slayers, assuming the Andrecians are us.
  • Gambit Roulette: Elana's father has run one when he didn't order Evrek to kill her.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Jarell.
  • Human Aliens: Elana can pass as an Andrecian with quirks. Ilura was able to pass as one. This was done purposefully to make the identity of the three civilizations ambiguous.
  • Humans Are Psychic in the Future: Elana.
  • Human Sacrifice: Elana, intended.
  • Interrupted Suicide: Elana's suicide is prevented by Georyn by stopping the rocks mid-air. Since this convinced the Empire to let him and Elana go, this also counts as Happily Failed Suicide.
  • Interspecies Romance: Elana and Geory. See Star-Crossed Lovers below.
  • Invisible Aliens: Elana and all members of the Federation are this to the Empire and Andrecians.
  • Jade-Colored Glasses: clearly author's preferred position. Elana and Jarell develop them by the end.
  • Leeroy Jenkins: Most of the Anrecian charachters. Elana also is close.
  • Magic Feather: The stone Elana gives Georyn to concentrate his innate abilities.
  • The Magic Goes Away: Elana takes back the magic stone at the end.
  • Magical Incantation: Subverted; Elana uses the Academy's anthem as a charm for a magic spell when the words themselves aren't important; it's the believing part.
  • Magic Versus Science: Imperial tech vs. telekinesis by medieval culture. Subverted as the telekinesis actually comes from The Federation, which is also more advanced technically.
  • Mind over Matter: Federal telekinesis is a major plot point.
  • Naïve Newcomer: Elana, who knows most of the theory, but has zero experience and is overenthusiastic.
  • Not Afraid to Die: Elana (at climax), Georyn.
  • Outside-Context Problem: The Empire for Andecians.
  • Plucky Girl: Elana, her Chickification nonwithstanding. She may not fight, but she endures a lot and just continues to go.
  • Police State: the Empire is this given that it uses the mind reading device on its citizens.
  • Power Incontinence: Elana's telekinesis is unreliable.
  • The Power of Love: makes Georyn able to master the telekinesis to a huge degree, scaring the imperials.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: Jarell in the beginning.
    • The Empire in general: they are mostly decent people, but consider Andrecians inferior. Notably, they have Disintegrator Ray and paralyzers in their arsenal, but no Agony Beam, and mostly use stunners.
  • Skilled, but Naive: Elana.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: idealistic, but not jade-colored. Naivete wil get you into trouble, but being a cynical unbeliever (like The Empire) will outright ruin you.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Elana and Georyn. Neither could be happy in the other's world.
  • Superweapon Surprise: Invoked In-Universe. The whole plan for the expedition was to make Imperials think many people on Andricia have mental superpowers.
  • Telepathy: Self-explanatory, Federals.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Elana, repeatedly. Which makes her Driven to Suicide. Fortunately...
    • Inverted: Out of many, many ways to commit suicide, Elana chooses the most complicated one and gets rescued. This conveniently also removes the reason for her to die.
  • Too Kinky to Torture: Subverted: Elana can withstand torture, but this is pointless against the Empire (see below).
  • We Have Ways of Making You Talk: The Empire can extract information directly from the brain, making interrogation resistance virtually impossible.
  • What Is One Man's Life In Comparison?: if a Federation agent is captured, and it stands to reason that he or she will cannot prevent divulging the information about The Federation, the agent is supposed to commit suicide. Of course Elana is only told this after she is captured during the action which she probably wouldn't undertake had she known this beforehand.
    • And since her father doesn't quite trusts her to commit suicide he secretly sends her fiance to either free or kill her, only stopping the plan at the last second. Double facepalm since earlier he explicitly declined giving her the order to die.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: Elana is naive and idealistic even by her world's standard, let alone when compared to situation on Andrecia. She is in for a few very nasty surprises and harsh realities (including life of a captive and her father being Manipulative Bastard).
  • A World Half Full: Both Andrecia, despite being in The Dung Ages, and The Empire, which is oppressive and ruthless but, as Jarell recognises, can still reform itself and progress beyond its current practices.
  • Youngest Child Wins: Georyn.