Sylvia Louise Engdahl is most famous for two of her earlier works, young adult science fiction novels featuring a girl named Elana, who is a member of an advanced humanoid race which intervenes in the development of less developed worlds to help them advance or to save them from some catastrophe. Her people are noted for their telepathic and other mental abilities which they use to great effect on their missions on other worlds.
In “The Enchantress from the Stars” Elana and her companions, including her father, are on a world with a civilization with technology roughly equivalent of medieval Europe. This world is being threatened by another advanced civilization which means to conquer it for its resources. Because Elana’s people have a strict “prime directive” non intervention rule, Elana is cast in the role of an “enchantress” who uses her powers to help a local woodcutter with “magic” to help defeat the alien interlopers. “Enchantress from the Stars” was a runner up for the Newbury Award and, 20 years later, won the Phoenix Award for books that had been neglected when they were first published.
The second Elana book “The Far Side of Evil” finds Elana on a world roughly equivalent to 20th Century Earth, divided into two conflicting groups of nations, one that adheres to freedom and the other to tyranny. Like Earth during the Cold War, this planet is on the brink of either a nuclear holocaust or expansion into space. Elana is ordered only to observe, but a fellow agent decides to break the non interference directive and directly intervene, leaving Elana the choice of either trying to stop him or join with him. To complicate matters, Elana spends most of the time of the novel a captive of one of the tyrannical countries, the planet’s version of Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia. “The Far Side of Evil” is recommended for older juvenile readers.
When they came out in the 1970s, the two Elana books were unique in having a strong, young female protagonist. Even 40 years after their publication, the books hold up very well.