Urn Burial Summary
by Robert Westall

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Urn Burial Summary

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Urn Burial is a fast-paced science fiction novel with a strong sense of place and interesting characters, not all of them human. It features several exciting action sequences (ray gun battles in the dark and underground) and a couple of genuinely scarey bits (humans forced to serve as experimental animals). The book also deals with a number of topics likely to appeal to young adult readers. The most important of these is the possibility that extra-terrestrials may have periodically visited the Earth for centuries, leaving behind artifacts like the burial urn that triggers the story's action, and unwittingly generates such figures out of myth as werewolves and devils, not to mention the Book of Revelations.

The novel also features what might be called limited pacifism. Unlike other Quaker science fiction writers such as Joan Slonczewski and Judith Moffett, who appear to argue that it is never proper to take the life of another intelligent being, Westall limits his prohibition against killing to doing so within ones own species. The catlike Fefethil who guard the Earth from harm by the dog-like Wawaka, absolutely prohibit the killing of their own kind, and the single greatest reason why they look down on apes (as they call us) is that we do kill our own species. The Fefethil, however, although we are told that they value all life, will grudgingly kill representatives of other intelligent races when they deem it necessary to their interests or those of Merethon's children, "the highest race in the universe," whom they apparently serve. In the distant past, for example, they apparently wiped out virtually an entire intelligent species, the demonic Attock, who are, we are told, almost the personification of all that is evil in the universe.

Although the Fefethil have protected Earth from attack by both the Wawaka and the few remaining Attock, they are hardly our allies. They look down on us apes, both because of our record of self-slaughter and because we have badly polluted our planet. To them we are, at best, semi-intelligent. It is obvious that they would be entirely willing to wipe us out too if our species ever became a threat to other, more civilized life forms.