Below the Root (Green Sky #1)

Below the Root - Zilpha Keatley Snyder

Rereading a beloved childhood favorite as an adult is always risky.


I read Below the Root by Zilpha Keatley Snyder and its sequels over and over and over again as a voracious young SF lover in the early 80’s (and surprisingly was oblivious to the computer game based on the same world).  At the time, I was fascinated by the ability of Raamo to read minds, or at least emotions, and swept along by the idea of gliding through the treetops.  I was totally immersed in the immediate events and not too concerned by the larger moralizing of the story.  


Re-reading as an adult, I keep being struck by the parallels to The Giver.

  • The attempt to create a utopia free of violence and pain
  • A small group of privileged elites who know the secret
  • That these elites commit violence to maintain the innocence of the masses
  • The protagonist being chosen to join the elite

Now these items are very common in utopia/dystopia stories, but the similarity is easy to find.  


When reading as a child, the many made up words used to create the foreign world of Green Sky, pense instead of telepathy, nid for home-place bower, Ol-zhaan for the priest class, just were accepted without thought. Reading as an adult, the way the wonderfully detailed world is described feels a bit dated and I wasn’t sure that the made-up words added value.  Reading as a child, I was also oblivious to certain other details that just jumped out at me this time around, such as the specifics of the special medicine taken the youth halls and what exactly was alluded to by people sharing “close communion.”


Reading today, the minimal character development is grating to my adult eyes.  It’s hard to decide if it is intentional because Ms. Snyder was writing for a younger audience or if the much shorter book length in 1975 just didn’t allow the space for the complex internal dialog that we have become accustomed to. But despite the flaws that my adult eyes see, I wish that Below the Root is better known and more widely read.

My memory is that I always preferred the middle book in the trilogy And All Between best.  I do intend to continue re-reading to see if that holds, since I was able to pick up all 3 volumes as free ebooks during a big “sale” last year.