S. William Alderson

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 803

Star Born! The title itself is something of a pun on the two groups of the story: those born on Astra and those borne to Astra.

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The events are told from two different viewpoints: on the one hand by a colonist—a descendant of a small group of fugitives from a 1984 life on earth—and on the other, by a member of a party of explorers from the now liberated earth. Andre Norton uses this alternation of narrators to give a broader view of events, but also, more important, to sustain suspense in a way which could not be done by straightforward narrative.

The story tells what happens when the party of explorers lands on Astra during the culmination of a war between the two native races: the Astrans, belligerent, callous and domineering, the former masters of their world, and the Sea People, a gentle, telepathic race of humanoid amphibians. The Sea People have become friends and allies of the Terran colonists and have passed on to them some of their telepathic gifts….

[There is] no major climax, only a series of incidents. Although told from both colonists' and explorers' viewpoints, there is an obvious bias towards the colonists and although the device of alternating viewpoints helps to sustain interest, the book falls short of the standard of the author's Breed to Come where she has employed a similar device and plot much more successfully. (p. 113)

S. William Alderson, in Children's Book Review (© 1973 Five Owls Press Ltd.; all rights reserved), September, 1973.

The problem for a prolific author, and Andre Norton is surely that, is the increase in critics' nonchalance. So long as the standard seems to be maintained, the products, in this case more than sixty books at the rate of three a year, may go unremarked beyond the nod of acknowledgment. But readers grow and change. Those who know Miss Norton's space fictions may not even be aware of her historical fantasies, or, at the start, may mistake the one for the other.

Those who know Miss Norton's work well appreciate her highly. She belongs to the group of writers whose books appear on the list for the young as the result of shrinkage in the adult novel, although her readers might be of any age over twelve. The background of her stories is a literary one and includes myth and legend and the high tone and seriousness of epic, the dark and brooding matters of tragedy—more Senecan than modern, for in the lives of the heroes much is to be suffered when little can be done to strive against the violence of fate. At first approach, the reader's difficulty is to share the author's context.

The Crystal Gryphon belongs to the category of historical fantasy of the kind that readers may approach through Rosemary Sutcliff or Peter Dickinson. Indeed, Miss Norton and Miss Sutcliff share a common theme in the heroic tale which generates a linguistic and tonal similarity, difficult for the novice, spellbinding for the initiate. For new readers to make the most of her remarkable qualities they should have someone who already appreciates and understands them to discuss them with. The Crystal Gryphon, far from being simply the latest in a series, seems an ideal starting place.

The structure is admirably clear, yet subtle. The hero, Kerovan, and the heroine, Joisan …, tell, in alternate chapters, of the events which bring them together eight years after their betrothal….

Besides sharing the author's context of legendary tale, the reader has to accept the symbolism of the underlying value structure: simple faith and truth, honour, valour, the cycle of time, the significance of word-bond and kinship, all of which are embodied in the characters and the atmosphere. Power is generated by obedience to the nature of things, by stones that have lain in earth or other talismanic objects whose significance the reader is bound to accept. It is in the nature of Miss Norton's spellbinding that he does so. Set in a time out of time, with a past that looms uncertainly over a present that is still ancient, this heroic tale generates its own linguistic style. Certain word-forms distance it from the reader: "unfriend," "blood-claim," "birthing," the speech of the characters and the forms of greeting and cursing. The convention is well enough established by Rosemary Sutcliff, Ursula Le Guin and others to cause the experienced reader no qualms, but it is to Miss Norton's credit that she maintains the heightened phraseology with no loss of credulity. To those who have been sceptical about the effective continuance of this gifted writer this book offers a chance to begin again; and to the rest of us, a distinctive experience.

"Sorcery for Initiates," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1973; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), September 28, 1973, p. 1114.

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