Because life is like that, CounterNarration recently experienced small surges in followers interested in democratic socialism and, for wholly separate reasons, in those interested in that form of neurodiversity that is, somewhat unfortunately, most commonly referred to as “giftedness.” If you haven’t heard my spiel yet, I see an overlap between these subjects that needs a lot more teasing out than I can do in this introductory note (and which other posts on this blog begin to address).
That was the context in which I was pondering what to do to follow up my last post. There’s certainly more to the issue worth examining, and while I printed and annotated a small stack of research papers that I thought would fuel useful insights, I need more time to ponder those things. So stay tuned if you’re interested (though it could be a bit of time; I’m slow like that). In the meantime, I have a post coming up very soon about creativity and, separately, about what both of the above groups of readers might find interesting about the neurodivergent revolutionaries of the past.
Anyway, when I realized I was spinning my mental wheels, I decided to take a break from analysis and do something I haven’t made time for in a long time: reading fiction.
And that’s when I realized the perfect topic for this post. Because the book I instinctively picked up—one that’s long been one of my favorites—will surely find other devoted fans both among the action-oriented idealists as well as those who come through places like the Hoagies’ Gifted Blog Hops or from the Dabrowski community.
The book is called This Star Shall Abide, and it’s the first volume of the Children of the Star trilogy by Sylvia Engdahl. Though it certainly has dramatic conflicts, the heart of the story is the time it spends parsing what the characters are thinking and why. So if you like a lot of action, it might not be for you. I’d only note that the mind is precisely where the most important action happens, and the book is bursting with action in that respect.
This Star Shall Abide the story of a gifted young man named Noren who rebels against the repressive society he lives in by openly declaring that he believes the Mother Star—the central symbol of their religion—is fake, made up by the Scholar caste to keep everyone else in line. The story follows what happens to this dangerously divergent thinker after he does so. Any of you raising kids who constantly ask piercing questions about why the world is the way it is—both scientifically and in terms of social justice—will definitely want to put this volume in your child’s hands (once they’re in middle school, at least)—and if you were once such a kid yourself, pick it up for yourself!
The book is also a great example of Dabrowski’s theory playing out. First off, it’s chock-full of overexcitability (OE); Noren’s primary OE is intellectual, but he exhibits very strong emotional OE as well—and this proves crucial to his development in exactly the way Dabrowski says it should. What one-sided development looks like is explored in the story as well. And Noren’s betrothed, Talyra, is a great example of someone who is highly intelligent but not intellectually overexcitable (since these are not the same thing), while her strong emotional OE makes her both an upstanding citizen in the eyes of her community and highly compassionate to those the community considers less upstanding. (And yes, the society in this book is sexist; the author, a woman born in the 1930s and who has worked as a programmer, made it that way intentionally, for pondering purposes.) And all that in-the-head action I spoke of? It is, naturally, Dabrowskian disintegration, with both positive and negative examples. What is it that could drive Noren but the influence of Dabrowski’s third factor?
For those of you who are some variety of visionary, socialist or otherwise, the book presents the different sorts of people who will hear your message, and the way the characters interact on this note can be quite informative. In particular, it explores power and the various motivations of those who desire it (and those who don’t). And that connection between visionary politics and neurodiversity that I alluded to in the first paragraph of this post and then dismissed as too complex to explain satisfactorily at the moment? It makes it quite simple and clear. Narrative at its best does that.
The School Library Journal in 1972 described This Star Shall Abide as “Superior future fiction concerning the fate of an idealistic misfit, Noren, who rebels against his highly repressive society…. Although there is little overt action, the attention of mature sci-fi readers will be held by the skillful writing and excellent plot and character development.” In 1973 it won the Christopher Award, given for “affirmation of the highest values of the human spirit.” And most prestigiously of all, my dad liked it. I convinced him to read it while I was reading it for the second time, back when I was living in Japan, and we discussed it by email. Here’s what he sent me on January 19, 2008:
This was a very enjoyable and thought provoking read.
Now, when can we talk about it?
While I was up north I picked up THE FAR SIDE OF EVIL, by Sylvia Engdahl. I hope it is a good as CHILDREN OF THE STAR.
So hey, if you’re looking for something thought-provoking to read, pick it up. If you enjoy this blog, the odds seem pretty good that you’ll enjoy this book, too—and if you’re following any of the topics I’m following, now might well just the time for it. You can get the whole trilogy used for under $4, and if you (unlike me) don’t mind reading long-form narrative on a screen, there are also Kindle versions available. Happy reading!
If you read it and want to discuss it and include spoilers in the comments, feel free! Just please use this handy HTML code to cloak them:
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Image credits: danfador, 455992, and kalhh at Pixabay