The People

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Name: The People
Creator: Zenna Henderson
Medium: short stories, television
Country of Origin:
External Links: Science Fiction Encyclopaedia, Wikipedia
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Everything she ever wrote says one thing. There is wonder in the world; and don't persecute people for being different. - Fan blogger weshallallbestars, 2013

The People is a concept that is used in many works by science fiction writer Zenna Henderson. The People are a group of humanoid extraterrestrials who fled their planet's destruction, with many of them marooned on Earth in the American southwest since the late 19th century. They differ from humans mostly in their pacifism and paranormal abilities; all of the People have some degree of telepathy, but everyone also has an individual "Gift". Henderson also invented a religion for The People that resembles Christianity.

A few of the stories were adapted into a 1972 made-for-television-film The People, starring William Shatner.


The People stories have always had a small but faithful readership. While often describing her stories as overly sweet and bland, or too filled with Christian references to be palatable to non-religious readers, today's fantasy and SF fans often confess to being fond of them. [1][2][3]

However, fantasy fan blogger "weshallallbestars" points out the necessity of not adding a disclaimer to your enjoyment of Henderson's work:

People always apologize for Zenna Henderson.

Like, “I know she’s sentimental, but.”

No. Don’t do that.

Everything she ever wrote says one thing. There is wonder in the world; and don’t persecute people for being different. She says it simply and beautifully, without a single false note.

Simplicity is not stupidity. Gentleness is not boring or weak. Children and teachers are part of the real world. Teaching and counseling and the kinds of work that require emotional sensitivity are real disciplines.

She was a schoolteacher who taught in a Japanese internment camp and wrote about refugee psychic aliens and children who could fly. No, this isn’t silly or naive. It was a genuine, and somewhat successful, attempt to change the world for the better through fiction.

If you can make generations of young people grow up a little more hopeful and humane, if you can give them glimpses of the joy beneath the skin of the world, you are winning. [4]

Some authors cite her as an inspiration,[5] and children's fantasy author Nina Kiriki Hoffman is often compared with her. [6][7] Some fans of Alexander Key believe he based the alien people in his Witch Mountain stories on The People.[8] In fact, John Campbell's review of Escape to Witch Mountain (1968) in Analog, a professional SF magazine, explicitly and favorably compares the two).

A 1972 ABC-TV movie, The People, was based on Henderson's story "Pottage". Produced by Francis Ford Coppola and directed by John Korty, it starred William Shatner and Kim Darby, who had appeared together in Star Trek in the episode "Miri". [9]

A fan club, No Different Flesh, was founded in 1970 by Linda A. Stanley and L'Shaya Daimon (then using the name Salkind).

Online, fans of Henderson contribute information at The Zenna Henderson Homepage, with links to reviews of her books and background information. There is a brief tribute video, Zenna's People.

In 2013, the great fashion designer Erdem used Henderson's work as an inspiration to create new styles. His idea was to evoke memories of 1950s ideas about femininity, but with an eerie, alien touch.[10]

The People fan fiction

There are very, very few People stories in fan fiction. Henderson wrote with a unique voice and point of view that is difficult to emulate. Fan writer Parhelion's novella Moab has been cited by Henderson devotees as excellent. It maintains and expands the spirit of Henderson's stories while introducing concepts that need to be addressed within The People's conservative framework.


  1. Zenna Henderson by Doug Taron, talks about visiting her grave, on his blog Gossamer Tapestry, page found 2013-07-02.
  2. Jo Walton, Lonely and Special: Zenna Henderson's Ingathering. Page found 2013-07-02.
  3. Past Masters: Zenna Henderson by Bud Webster, originally published in Helix, April 1, 2007.
  4. weshallalbestars at Tumblr, People Always Apologize for Zenna Henderson. November 6, 2013.
  5. Zenna Henderson, entry by fan author RLL on her blog Report from a Fugitive, dated July 9, 2012. Page found 2013-07-02.
  6. Jo Walton, Not So Urban Fantasy, review of The Silent Strength of Stones. Page found 2013-07-02.
  7. "I’ve compared Hoffman to Zenna Henderson, but Hoffman’s work has a harder edge and was written in a time when it’s possible to write more directly about abuse. If Hoffman’s work has an overall connecting theme it’s young people keeping secret what makes them special." Jo Walton, Baked Goods and Curses, review of A Fistful of Sky. Page found 2013-07-02.
  8. Was Escape to Witch Mountain based on Zenna Henderson's "People" stories? On the Films By & About Latter-Day Saints website. Page found 2013-06-21.
  9. The People, Entire film online at Youtube.
  10. Spring 2013 Fashion Week: Vivienne Westwood’s “Climate Revolution”, and Erdem’s take on 1950s sci-fi femininity.