Divergent Thinkers in Fiction: This Star Shall Abide

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.

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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?

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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:

Finished today!
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.

Love,
Dad

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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Your spoiler text goes between the two tags!  Then just drag your cursor to highlight the text if you want to read the spoilers.

Image credits: danfador, 455992, and kalhh at Pixabay

10 thoughts on “Divergent Thinkers in Fiction: This Star Shall Abide

    1. I remember now that you and Ivy and I had been discussing it, not long after Dad and I were talking about it. I do enjoy prodding people to read this book. 🙂 Glad to hear it provoked thoughts for you, too, Fred — and of course I’d love to hear them if you remember any from back then or read it again and have more thoughts!

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  1. I like the way you write. I wonder though, rather than continuously couch your exposition in the context of external confirmation sources like OE and Dabrowski et al., you just wrote what you thought and felt. I’m sure all that context is well and good, but frankly I don’t care about OE and Dabrowski and whomever else might add to the conversation. But I WOULD like to hear what you have to say and why you think it should be said.

    YOU think This Star Shall Abide is worthy? Okay, I’ll hunt it down and give it a try.

    Japan huh? Have you read A Tale for the Time Being?

    I’ve waded through quite a few library books and over the last few months and enjoyed only these two out of about 40: The Girl with all the Gifts, and The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly.

    Care to beta read a story I’m working on?

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    1. Anony, thanks for that straightforward comment! Of course I very much appreciate the kind words about my writing and it means a lot to hear that you’d value my opinion, without anyone else’s propping it up. 🙂

      As far as Dabrowski goes, well, I do think his work is incredibly important and valuable, so it’s not artificial or an attempt at external confirmation that I mention it. There’s a subset of people who follow this blog because I flesh out the Theory of Positive Disintegration beyond academic and psychological jargon…but I guess it works because I enjoy doing that, so it comes up naturally. 🙂 Though I know that not everyone here cares about it. (I’ve thought about how most people would respond to this by writing two separate targeted blogs, but…that would inhibit the leaping between subjects that I so love to do!)

      Mainly, I just want people to read this book. Not all of you are going to like it, but I’m sure some of you will. If I can hook readers with Dabrowski and OE, great! I’m sure many in that that circle would like the book…but I’m also happy to try some other hooks, too.

      Beyond that, I’d have liked to say more about it, but that would mean sharing spoilers. Alas.

      And I had not heard of any of the books you mentioned, but I’ll look them up! What did you like about these few titles that set them apart from the others?

      As for beta-reading, I’d love to, though at the moment I’m totally swamped. Would you care to remind me of your novel in about a month? My fingers are crossed that I’ll be less swamped then, and I do enjoy reading people’s original, unpublished fiction. 🙂

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    1. This didn’t strike me when watching Miyazaki’s films, but I can sort of see it in retrospect. But this reminds me of something I’ve heard other gifted people say: it’s frequently the gifted people who write the stories that get published, and we base our characters on how we understand the world, so gifted people are highly overrepresented in fiction. And then others who think that way will watch it and think, “hmm, yeah, I relate to these people.”

      But occasionally, some real gifted issues club you over the head in fiction, and Sylvia Engdahl’s work — especially This Star Shall Abide — is one of those books.

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    1. Funny you should mention this yesterday, because I don’t generally play role playing games, but was invited to join one yesterday after I posted this, so I gave it a shot. Perhaps I should share this with the group…!

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