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Henderson, Zenna

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1917-1983) US author and schoolteacher who frequently used her teaching experience in Arizona and elsewhere as a base for her stories; perhaps significantly, given her treatment of Aliens as emblems of our better selves, during World War Two she taught interned Japanese-Americans in a relocation camp. Her first story was "Come on, Wagon!" for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction – the magazine with which she is mostly strongly associated – in December 1951; soon after, with "Ararat" (October 1952 F&SF), she began publishing the series of stories about The People which comprises her central achievement, and which became a central feature of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Put together with framing devices as Pilgrimage: The Book of the People (fixup 1961) and The People: No Different Flesh (coll of linked stories 1966) – and assembled as The People Collection (omni 1991; exp vt Ingathering: The Complete People Stories of Zenna Henderson 1995) – the sequence recounts over a long timespan the arduous experiences of a group of aliens with Psi Powers who have been shipwrecked on Earth and must try to survive as well and fully as possible as a Wainscot Society; although outwardly indistinguishable from humans, they are morally superior (see Pariah Elite); it has been suggested that not only her experiences in World War Two but also her Mormon background may have contributed to the intensity of her depiction of the life of a group of family-oriented morally impervious exiles in Western America. Selected stories from both books were adapted for the screen as the made-for-tv film The People (1972).

Henderson's non-People stories inhabit the same calm, cold Western environment, but are less protected from its consequences, and have not been as popular; they are assembled in The Anything Box (coll 1965) and Holding Wonder (coll 1971). Some of the same decorous warmth infuses this work, as it so inescapably marks The People tales, and her portrayal of women in unchallenged positions of authority was noted early and favourably by Feminist critics. It is true that her patent decency sometimes overly reduces tensions and contrasts, but though this wholesomeness can be vitiating, the humaneness almost always shines through. [JC]

see also: Children in SF; ESP; The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction; Pastoral; Superman; Women SF Writers.

Zenna Chlarson Henderson

born Tucson, Arizona: 1 November 1917

died Tucson, Arizona: 11 May 1983



The People



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