Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Zenna Henderson: She Held Wonder

The first time I read any science fiction with a spiritual foundation was when I picked up C. S. Lewis' Out of the Silent Planet in high school, when I took it upon myself to organize their paperback book collection. It was another decade before I ran across any other science fiction which carried with it a sense of the divine.

The writer was Zenna Henderson. She is most famous for a series of stories about The People, A group of humanoid aliens who crash landed on earth during the 19th century. Along with certain "persuasions" or abilities like levitation, telepathy and healing of emotions, they had a everpresent awareness of "The Power." They praise the power, pray to it (him), and follow a morality which flows from this Power. Scripture references mixed with paranormal abilities and a bitter sweet story about a people a long way from a home that had been destroyed a century ago.

Her other short story collections Holding Wonder and The Anything Box contained stories ranging from the serious to the whimsical. Henderson wrote about a teacher giving instruction to a little girl's invisible friend, about angels in coveralls repairing rips in time, about a tonic "for what ails you," about a child who is "the believing kind," and one of my personal favorites about a separatist religious community and a scientific research center just 20 miles apart and the lesson in faith a skeptic learns.

"The Effectives" takes place in the future after a space probe has brought back a deadly disease. The only somewhat effective treatment is a total blood transfusion. There are several research centers, but EDRU - 14 has a much higher recovery rate than elsewhere. A researcher arrives to find out why. The only difference is that much of the blood used came from the town of Away, the home of an Amish-like religious community of "Detachees." The difference? Well, I'll let you try to find the book in your library or purchase it from an online out-of-print store, but it has to do with something the Detachees do while giving the blood.

Another wonderful story is about a couple trying to duplicate some wonderful concoctions by an eccentric relative. But they miss the main ingredient which gives the story it's name "Love Every Third Stir."

These stories are not edgy. Indeed, some would call them syrupy sweet. Sometimes the stories are a bit predictable. But the strong moral basis of the stories, the intriguing premises, and the memorable characters have made these stories favorites for fans over the past 30 years.

The only book currently in print is a 1995 collection of all the stories of The People called The Ingathering.

The other out-of-print books, many of which are available at sites like and Barnes Nobel include:

Pilgrimage: The First Book of the People

No Different Flesh

Holding Wonder

The Anything Box

If you are looking for edgy, socially troubling, apocalyptic type of science fiction, these books are probably not for you. But if you like a good uplifting read touched with the fantastic, pick up one of these books. You might find yourself HOLDING WONDER.

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Blogger Becky said...

Great post, Terri. You've introduced me to an author I had not known.

Yes, please add my site to your links: A Christian Worldview of Fiction -


December 7, 2006 at 11:01 AM  
Blogger Elliot said...

I'll have to check out Henderson's other works. I've read half the People stories and enjoyed them. Her work, for all its sweetness, was surprisingly deep at times, and deal with real human pain.

December 11, 2006 at 10:28 AM  
Blogger chrisd said...

I've never read them either--thank you for sharing her. I have to finish up Wayne Batson Thomas first and then try to work on my own. I'm so far behind I think I'm ahead.

Anyway--blessings to you and have a wonderful New Year!

December 28, 2006 at 7:15 PM  

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