Pilgrimage – Zenna Henderson

IMG_0605.JPGSummary (Good Reads): These are the People.
Marooned on this planet by the crash of their interstellar vehicle in the distant past, The People are never free of a sense of strangeness in this world and a yearning for the home they have half-forgotten.

These are the chronicles of their arrival on this world, their estrangement from it, and their ultimate acceptance of their poignant exile.

My Review (spoilers!):

Executive Summary: imaginative

This book was another that was mentioned in Among Others and was one specifically that Mori mentioned that she absolutely adored. Unfortunately, this book was out of print, and I had to order it on eBay. Thus the hilarious cover. Lol. The old adage is true though as the book was very good.

What I didn’t know until after I finished the book however, was that this book is made up of a series of short stories that were pieced together with a common theme. I honestly didn’t notice until the very last chapter/story as this one did not blend in as well with the others, and I found myself a bit confused. (However, I have ordered the sequel so maybe that book will help with the confusion.)

Separately I did a pretty detailed synopsis of this one because there’s not much out there about this book, and I know I will revisit it in the future when I recommend it to people.

I.

Lea takes a bus to a small town, nowhere specific, just as far as her ticket will go. She’s obviously depressed and speaking to herself, and she heads off to a random bridge to commit suicide. But she is stopped by a stranger, Karen, who tells her that the bridge isn’t over water (it’s dark outside) and the most she would do is break a leg. Karen has been sent to save Lea. However, Lea jumps off the bridge anyway, and Karen saves her by catching her at the bottom, and then tells her that there is still wonder left in the world! Karen makes a deal with Lea that she has something to show her, and if at the end, Lea still wants to commit suicide, Karen will push her off!

Even though they are in the middle of nowhere, they grab a bite to eat, and then they wait for Miriam to appear. She appears out of nowhere and then she and Karen fly Lea away. Lea, understandably, thinks that she did die when she jumped over the bridge because everything that is happening to her is so crazy. Lea awakes in the morning to find herself in a bed in a house somewhere, and Karen is there with breakfast. Lea is still depressed and wants to die but Karen convinces her that she should attend the Gathering and then make a decision.

Karen, Lea, and a bunch of others gather in the school room where Karen grew up attending school for the Gathering. Karen is the first to tell her story.

They had always had difficulty keeping teachers at their school. Karen’s father was the head of the school board so he was responsible for hiring the teachers. The school was remote, didn’t have many students, and the teachers (“Outsiders”) usually didn’t even make it to finish a whole year. But this year, they had a young teacher who was coming to Cougar Canyon. Her reviews from previous schools were somewhat mystifying as they said they couldn’t discern why she hadn’t finished at either school.

Miss Carmody (Valancy) arrives, and fits in beautifully. Karen’s brother, Jemmy, falls in love with her, but she rebuffs him that she’s different and therefore can’t. As the reader realizes by this time though, all the people living in the canyon are different. They can fly (lift). They can lift objects with their minds. Some of them can read (sort) each other’s minds. So it is ironically funny to Jemmy that Valancy believes that she is the one who is different. And yet, Karen begins to think that Valancy may actually be right.  She seems to recognize the glowing fruit of the koomatka when one of the children accidentally brings it out, and there’s a bit of a mystery as to how she hung some paintings high in the school room with no help. One day the school goes outside for a hike. And while they are there, a brush fire occurs that surrounds them. Valancy orders the children under the picnic tarp and creates a rain storm that puts out the fire.

When they return to the school, Valancy goes to speak with the Old Ones and they learn that her parents were the only ones to have survived of their kind, and they died very young. So she is the last of her group. But they are glad to know that there is the possibility of other groups out there.

II.

Lea is a bit confused from the first story, but she seems to be in better spirits. With Karen’s permission, she goes for a walk by the creek. She wades into the pool, coming more to terms with things, and then she hears a noise that startles her and she slips and falls fully in the water. A man is there and helps her, but she drifts out of consciousness and reawakens back with Karen.

Next in the Gathering is Peter and Bethie’s story. Peter was born to a normal family, but as a child of about 6 or 7, he realized that he was different. He could fly. His parents found out, and while none of his questions were answered, they didn’t seem too surprised. Bethie is born when Peter is nine, and she’s a troublesome child. She’s a “Sensitive” and takes on the grief of others when they are in pain. Their mother doesn’t know enough to fully help Bethie though, and she continues to grow heavier under all the burdens of others that she takes on.

They grow into teenagers, and Peter enjoys the gifts that he has–lifting and lifting objects to him–and he wishes that he could help Bethie with hers. Their father passes away, which leads their mother to open up to them more.  Peter graduates high school and takes a job in a plant. Bethie still struggles with depression due to the unsettled burden of other people’s problems. Their mother becomes a well regarded midwife in the area. En route to deliver a baby, their mother is in a car accident. She tells them that she was the only one of The People to survive. She did her best to blend in and married their father, an Outsider. He knew what she was but of course he couldn’t fully understand. They weren’t sure what would happen when they had children, but it turns out that the mother passed on her genetics to them. Their mother remembers the Home, not only due to the communal memory of it, but she was actually born there. It is now gone, and she nearly is too. As she is being called back to the Presence (the term for dying), she gets a strong sensation that there are more of the People nearby and that Peter and Bethie must try to locate them.

Time passes, and they all but forget their mother’s request until one day Bethie is so depressed that she is considering suicide. She makes the decision that they should try to find the other group of People. They set off following what few directions they have, and are able to navigate their way towards Cougar Canyon. Nearly there, their truck slides off the road. They awake to find Karen, Valancy and a few others inspecting them. Karen knows they aren’t outsiders since they can sense when outsiders are coming. Bethie draws on Peter’s pain and is nearly inconsolable, but no one understands why as she is barely hurt. He tells them that she is a Sensitive, and as Valancy is a Sorter (mind manipulator?), she is able to sort Bethie’s mind and finally provide her some relief! Everyone is very interested to learn that Peter and Bethie are “half-breeds” as no one knew whether that was even possible (and are in no way racist or rude to them as they were concerned of). They are welcomed into the community.

III.

Lea tries to leave during Peter’s story, but is stopped by Karen. Lea is upset because she believes that Karen has sorted her mind. Karen says that she has only gone into the outer portion of her mind, but the inner portion is always off-limits. Lea relaxes some and agrees to return, and Melodye begins her story. Melodye was having a bit of a career crisis and decided that she wanted to stop teaching, but then right before school started, she changed her mind and went back to being a teacher. But the only school available was in Bendo–a small mining town with a reputation for very serious, no fun people. She arrives at the school and realizes that something is wrong. The children all shuffle along, don’t laugh, and don’t enjoy anything. (Same with the parents). Melodye has been told that the school is hers to discipline as she sees fit, and she decides that instead of disciplining, perhaps the school could be the one place where the kids have fun!

One day Melodye listens in as they are on their lunch break, and one of the children begins saying that he dreamed again about the Home. Some of the others join in, but one girl is adamant that they should not talk about that because it is bad and evil. Melodye realizes that the children are a group of the People–ones who have been trained to hide their non-human abilities. She thinks about writing Karen, but she decides that she will try to get them to open up some first. She assigns them a writing exercise called I Remember the Home. The children are shocked but they proceed to write beautiful stories with pictures about their shared memory. All of them, but the same girl from before, Esther, who tells a different story. Esther remembers how their group landed on an island with savages. The savages saw them lifting and then were afraid and killed many of them. That was where they learned that being different would get you killed, and the only way to survive was to blend in.

The next day at school, the children were lifting, when Esther arrived with her father to show him all the “bad stuff” that was going on at the school. One of the children got startled and fell, hitting his head on the stove. No one in the group has the skills to help him, as they have all tried to forget how to do those things. The one thing, luckily, that they remember is how to call. They group call Karen who comes with Valancy and Bethie. As none of them are actually a doctor, they also get the town doctor, an Outsider, to help them. Bethie is able to direct the doctor as to what to do, and he does it, saving the child. Melodye (who is actually also an Outsider) continues teaching and growing the children back into the People.

At the end of the school year, Dr. Curtis comes to visit Melodye, and he asks her whether she would be interested in joining him in summer school. She’s confused, and he explains that there is an exclusive summer school in Cougar Canyon trying to develop ways to have Outsiders and the People work together. Melodye jumps at the opportunity.

IV.

Lea stops to talk to Melodye after her story, Outsider to Outsider. Lea wants to know whether the People can actually help Outsiders with medical issues, presumably her depression. Melodye says that they can. Karen and Lea return home and Lea asks about the man who carried her from the stream, but Karen is very vague about it. They’re about to sleep when Karen receives a call that Jemmy and Valancy’s baby is arriving so they rush off to help. The baby is delivered just fine, and Valancy listens to that night’s story from home.

Dita begins her story. She was teaching school in a new town. She had one problem child–a twelve year old first grader named Lucine. The other children harassed Lucine and called her crazy, and Dita began to realize that Lucine was about to snap. She stepped in to stop the children, and Lucine admits that someone helps her with her problems but then they get out of hand again quickly.

Dita returns to the hotel where she is staying and runs into Lowmanigh, a man she has promised to go on a ghost town trip with the following weekend. He asks about Lucine, and Dita is a bit confused. Low asks her who she is and what she’s doing there, and Dita doesn’t really understand, as they have already been introduced. Low is confused as well because he believes Dita to be of “his kind” but she doesn’t seem to understand him. He again asks about Lucine, and when Dita doesn’t provide the answers he’s anticipating, he goes into her mind to find the answers himself.

Dita, obviously a bit freaked out, stays in a different hotel in a nearby town the following evening. As she’s relaxing, Low appears and offers her a ride back to town and a trip to a ghost town on the way. She reluctantly accepts. While at the ghost town, Low thinks that a metal scrap he has found is what he is looking for, but is disappointed when he finds that it says General Electric on it. He tells Dita that his parents died when he was very young in a car accident. They were able to lift him to safety and told him to find the Canyon and his People. He’s been exploring ghost towns and canyons all around the area to try to find the Canyon that they meant. He asks Dita why she doesn’t know, and she reveals that her parents are absolutely ordinary, despite her ability to get into Lucine’s head, and her ability to lift.

They return to town, still trying to sort out what is going on. Finally, Low tells the first complete story of how the People ended up on Earth. They came from some other world, and The Home was destroyed. They found Earth as a habitable place, but unfortunately as they were landing, their ships began to burn. Many were able to land using the escape pods, but that is how the different settlements were separated. Low’s grandparents were part of the original Group, and he is trying to find his way back there. As they are talking outside the hotel, Dita again tries to lift. At that moment, Severeid, the town drunk, walks by, but they don’t think that he saw.

The next day, Severeid appears at Dita’s door, and it becomes apparent that he did indeed see. But instead of being scared, he is happy. He tells her of a place he used to work, in the hills, where the people would fly without wings. Dita tries to get more information from him, but unfortunately his English is poor, and she can’t understand more.

Dita and Low continue trying to learn from each other. Low tries to get Dita to be able to lift objects, but she can’t. She however can do something that he can’t. She can make metal objects glow until she turns the glow off. As Low has no memories of others of the People being able to do that, her belief that she is neither one of the People nor an Outsider is reinforced. Still though, Dita tries to find Severeid so that she can provide answers for Low, and it turns out that he’s missing.

At school, Lucine seems to be doing better until one day, Dita senses that Lucine’s anger is about to burst. After school, Dita goes to find Low to help Lucine. In the meantime, Lucine has beaten another student unconscious and hidden herself away in a cave. Low, Dita, and the sheriff are able to locate her, but unfortunately there is a cave-in. The sheriff thinks that they should just leave her, but Low and Dita understand that there is more to it. Dita finds that she can actually move objects, and she manages to keep the dirt away from Lucine’s face until Low is able to rescue her. After Low has pulled out Lucine, Severeid appears with Jemmy and Valancy!

Lucine is taken to see Bethie, who is able to help her with her anger. They realize that even though Dita is not one of the People, she has somehow evolved to have some Persuasions–ones that none of the other People on Earth have, and accept her as one of their own.

V.

After Dita’s story, Lea thinks that maybe she, as an Outsider, can somehow grow to be like Dita. However, Melodye informs her that, like her, she will always be an Outsider. Either you are born with the ability to do Persuasions, or you aren’t. (I, like Lea, am disappointed.) Next up to tell her story is Miss Carolle.

Miss Carolle oversees “the Francher kid” lift into a high window and begin playing a harmonica that he finds there. She awakes the following morning and goes downstairs in the boardinghouse. She speaks to another teacher, Anna, who is staying there. Anna admits that the Francher kid is difficult, especially during music. She has to send him out of the room because otherwise the record player won’t work. Miss Carolle thinks that’s a bit absurd, but she offers for Anna to send Francher her way if he gets to be too much.

Eventually she takes Miss Carolle up on the offer. Francher arrives and tells her that he was part of a circus act with his mother who was a mind reader. She died three years previously and he’s now in foster care and not having a very good time of it. She convinces him to play this tiny keychain harmonica she has and he plays a beautiful tune on it.

Anna has to take some time off due to chalk allergy and Miss Carolle takes over for her. (Miss Carolle had been badly injured in a car accident and hasn’t been working.) She sees first hand why Francher is so difficult, but she still tries to make a difference with him. Francher, with Miss Carolle’s help continues to stumble through adolescence. Deep down, he does try to do the right thing (decorating for the school dance) but difficult circumstances like his foster mom (who steals his money), the small town nosey ladies (gossiping about him) and developing his Persuasions (and in the process killing a couple of a neighbor’s pigs) make it tough for him to stay on track.

Then Dr. Curtis (Story III) arrives to go on a hunting trip. As he’s packing his jeep to set off, Francher realizes that Dr. Curtis has heard People’s music before. He tells Miss Carolle (who is a bit smitten with Dr. Curtis herself) that Dr. Curtis isn’t of the People but somehow he knows some things about it. Miss Carolle encourages Francher to ask Dr. Curtis who he knows.

While Dr. Curtis is on his hunting trip, the school heads off to the city to see an orchestra perform. Francher shows up, just like he did to the dance, in his faded levis. It’s confusing because Miss Carolle specifically spoke to his foster mother about using some of her government money to buy him some appropriate clothes so he would fit in. So after the concert, Miss Carolle pays her a visit. Mrs. McVey insists that she did buy him fancy clothes to wear to the concert, but after some questioning, it turns out that she had stolen the money that he had been saving to buy a musical instrument to buy his clothes for him. Miss Carolle knows that Francher is going to do something rash.

Dr. Curtis reappears and tells Miss Carolle that on his way home, he saw a trombone and a bass drum marching down the street by themselves. Miss Carolle realizes that Francher is behind it and convinces Dr. Curtis to take her there. She finds Francher and explains to him that not all people are like Mrs. McVey (or the rest of the small-minded townfolk). And then she has the realization that even though Mrs. McVey took his money that he was saving to buy an instrument, he doesn’t actually need an instrument to make his music. He can make music just with air.

They return back to the boardinghouse and Jemmy is there waiting for them. Jemmy took Francher back to Cougar Canyon with him to develop his skills, and with Dr. Curtis and Bethie’s help, they were able to diagnose Miss Carolle, and she was able to slowly start to walk unaided again.

VI.

Lea awakes the next morning and realizes that while she would love to stay in the dream life that seems to exist in Cougar Canyon, she doesn’t belong there, so she leaves. (Karen has long since restrained her, and Lea’s mental health has become more balanced.) She catches a ride out of town with a guy who is very happy to be in Cougar Canyon. He asks her if she has decided yet (he’s changed his mind 6 times already) but she’s not too sure what he’s talking about.

Presumably a while later (this was where it was a bit confusing), Lea has some food at a diner and then takes a walk, reflecting on how things have gone. She stops and leans against a bridge, thinking about how things could have gone, when Karen appears again. Karen convinces Lea to return to the Canyon the following evening for the final installment of stories. When Lea arrives at the meeting point for transport, it’s not Karen who is there–it’s someone named Deon. Lea debates not going, but Deon picks her up, and she realizes that Deon was the one who helped her in the stream and also the one who gave her the ride when she left.

They meet Karen, and Deon asks her if it worked. She tells him that it arrived, and it worked, and it’s time for the Gathering. So they head to hear the final installment of the stories.

Bram was one of the first to see the ship. He rushed home to share the news with Obla, telling her that a ship from the New Home had arrived for them! Obla had been injured during the landing on Earth and was deaf, blind, limbless, and severely burned. She had been waiting for this day to come because on the Home, you do not need a physical body. Bram is certain he also wants to go (presumably this is the decision that Deon was talking about to Lea), but Obla offers some questions. What if the new Home is different than the one they know? What if the People who stayed have changed or evolved differently? Would he still feel the same then?

Bram grows impatient for the people to come out of the ship, and talks to Jemmy and Valancy about what is going to happen. He thinks that the People should help take over the Earth and get in positions of power. Jemmy tells him that is not the way of the People, and tells Bram to stand watch over the ship and do a bit of thinking.

Eventually the doors of the ship begin to open, and a figure exits and runs off. Bram follows, and the person soon trips and falls. It’s a girl, Salla, and she’s not used to running (I can relate). Bram encourages her to lower her shield as the planet isn’t dangerous. She tells him that they have grown so used to shielding on the new Home that everyone does it. They don’t go out in the sun or the rain without shielding. She hears her mother, on the ship, Questing her, and she returns. They are all due to come out the following day.

The Group gathers to await the opening of the ship. There are only 4 aboard–Salla, her parents, and their Motivator, Laam. The ship was brought to Earth empty so as to bring back all the People who had been stranded there. Bram returns to tell Obla the happenings, and tells her about Salla, a stranger from Home. Obla is concerned as there have never been strangers among the People, and she continues to instill doubt in Bram’s decision to leave. Bram meets up with some of the others to hear their thoughts. Dita is leaning more toward staying as she is not from the Home at all, but she still doesn’t want to be left behind. No one is certain as to what the right decision is.

Salla eventually returns to experience more of Earth. She walks around shoeless to experience things even more and manages to burn her foot. Bram offers her some salve, and she is curious why the Healer can’t just fix her. Earth has no Healers. She’s nervous to go back to her mother with her foot blistered as her mother already thinks that the people of Earth are undene (savage). Bram is understandably a bit offended. Salla tries to explain that the sort of activities like running and swimming are not really encouraged beyond childhood as they are encouraged into more intellectual activities. Salla’s mother especially spends most of her time Anticipating roses. As in, she takes a rose and Anticipates the next growth stage that it will show and then makes her created rose show that just before the other rose. (And Bram says what all the readers are thinking. If not enjoying that makes me undene, then I’m ok with being undene.) Salla though, is entranced by the ability to explore Earth like a child. Unshielded, she splashes in streams and explores caves.

Two weeks after the ship’s arrival, a meeting is called where the Earth People have to discuss what to do. Some people want to stay. Other people want to go. Bram begins to voice his decision when he realizes that he can’t decide at all. In the end, he just can’t imagine staying without Salla, and to his surprise, she wants to stay on Earth too! He’s overwhelmed and takes Salla to visit Obla. When Salla sees Obla, she screams. Bram did not tell her what Obla looked like (perhaps to him, she doesn’t look like that at all) and she runs out. Bram goes after her, and Salla explains that she had never seen a person with disfigurements before. On the Home, they don’t have anything like that because with various technologies, they are able to restore them. Bram and Salla go back to Obla, apologize and explain what life could be like for her on the new Home. She is ecstatic and is ready to leave.

Bram knows that eventually he will return to the Earth and when that happens, he will truly be coming Home.

Verdict: 4 stars

Again, I was ruined a bit by the ending. I was so enthralled with this book halfway through that I was telling everyone about it. But I’m a bit disappointed that the segue story (Lea’s) was never actually finished. Who was Deon? What did they decide to do? Why did Karen rescue Lea in the first place? What was their connection?

But what I did love about this was the idea. A group of aliens spread in pockets across Earth trying to find themselves again. They aren’t anti-human, in fact, most of them seem to even be pro-human (Karen). They’ve evolved over the generations, even somehow evolving the humans who are living among them. And then in the end, when they have the opportunity to return to the rest of their People, they have to make a tough decision as to whether to stay and rebuild where they are, or to return to perhaps be second class (undene) citizens. It all seemed very well thought out and very plausible from a psychological standpoint. It really is a brilliant work of science fiction.

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Filed under 4 stars, Book Review

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