Below the Root is a childrens book by Zilpha Keatley Snyder in 1976. It is the first book in a trilogy about Greensky, a mythical planet where the trees grow very tall and the people live in them.

It is also a computer game based on the book and Greensky triology, produced in 1985 by Windham Classics and published by Spinnaker Software. This game was commonly played on the Commodore 64 and was popular for it's unique gameplay and non-violent, adventurous theme.

Introduction:

Below the Root is the first book of the Green-sky trilogy, written by Zilpha Keatley Snyder and published in 1975 both in the United States and Canada. Within the book there are eight pencil drawings, as well as the illustration on the front cover, all drawn by Alton Raible. This book, while written in a style appropriate for her favorite age group, children 9-13, contains ideas that could make anyone who reads this book think about the consequences of withholding knowledge from the general population.

Setting and Background:

All three books in the trilogy are set in the world of Green-sky, a beautiful planet with very low gravity, covered with thick forests of huge trees. The people, who call themselves Kindar, have built their cities high in these trees and almost never go near the forest floor, where they believe that monsters called Pash-shan live. They wear a silken outfit called a shuba which allows them to glide from branch to branch in the light gravity. They live a peaceful lifestyle guided by the Ol-zhaan, who lead numerous ceremonies of celebration and harmony for the people.

From the age of two, all infants start going to the Garden of Song and Story to learn everything they need to know. One of the first skills learned is that of gliding in a shuba so that their parents do not have to worry about them falling to the forest floor and being taken by Pash-shan. At the age of thirteen, each child is given an apprenticeship in a profession, usually one in which they show interest or talent. A few are allowed to continue their education to become teachers, and only two in all seven cities are Chosen to become new Ol-zhaan novices each year.

A large part of their time at the Garden is devoted to memorizing the stories of the past. All Kindar learn the story of D'ol Wissen, one of the first to become Ol-zhaan after the flight to Green-sky by the ancestors of the Kindar. He created the Root which covers the forest floor and imprisons the Pash-shan. The Wissenvine created along with the Root also bears Wissenberries, which create a gentle narcotic effect when eaten, and the beautiful, but incredibly fragile, Wissenblossom. The flexible vine itself is used in nid-places for a number of things like nids for sleeping.

Almost all children possess at least some ability in several Spirit powers. The most common are pensing, kiniporting, and grunspreking. They are actually taught to practice these abilities with games at the Garden. Because they usually start fading by age 10, it is rare for adults to be able to do anything with the Spirit-force. The one exception are the Ol-zhaan, who are believed to be very strong. Certainly the first Ol-zhaan must have had legendary abilities, especially D'ol Wissen, who used grunspreking to create the Root.

Plot Overview (no spoilers):

Raamo D'ok believes himself to be an ordinary child of ordinary parentage. However, he has just turned thirteen and was Chosen to become one of the Ol-zhaan. He believes this is only because he has retained some Spirit powers longer than usual for a child of his age. At this time, there is talk among the people of the Root beginning to wither, and more people than usual have disappeared mysteriously. When he begins his training as a novice, he finds his view of the Ol-zhaan and his own society completely turned upside down as he learns the truth behind his people's history. He begins to suspect that the Ol-zhaan are not what they seem after he is contacted by an older novice and told of the existence of a secret group within the Ol-zhaan. When he finds a strange child on an expedition to the forest floor, he begins to wonder who the Pash-shan are really and what actually goes on below the Root.

Characters (spoilers):

Raamo D'ok: He is the main character of the story, age thirteen at the beginning of the story, but fourteen for most of the later part. He is chosen at the beginning to become one of the two Ol-zhaan novices for that year. He has higher than normal Spirit abilities and curiosity. At the Garden he often had trouble memorizing the songs and stories because he would wonder about everything. Through the story he gradually learns the truth behind his society, partially from his novice studies, but partially from his own explorations and deductions. Finally he makes an expedition to the forest floor with his fellow novices Genaa and Neric and there rescues an Erdling child, Teera.

Genaa D'anhk: She is the other Chosen of the same year as Raamo. He finds her beautiful and seemingly perfect material to become Ol-zhaan. She memorizes everything instantly, including songs and stories but also people. She has no Spirit abilities except that she can send to Raamo clearly when she wants him to hear. Eventually she finds out about Raamo's attempts to watch the other Ol-zhaan to learn the truth, and joins him and Neric. Her father disappeared two years ago after telling her he was going to the forest floor to find out anything he could about people who were said to have been taken by the Pash-shan. After the rescue, she questions Teera, who happens to know her father and is able to reunite the two. Her mother is Jorda D'anhk.

D'ol Neric: He is an older novice who accidentally found out about a secret group within the Ol-zhaan, the Geets-kel, and is determined to recruit Raamo to help him find out about them. He still retains the ability to pense, like Raamo, and can send to him strongly without Raamo being able to see him. He seems to have some talent for healing as well, as he tries to heal Raamo's sister, Pomma, and seems to succeed somewhat. He also participates in the expedition that turns into a rescue.

Teera Eld: She is an eight-year-old Erdling child who ran away because there was not enough food and the other Erdlings wanted to eat her pet lapan, Haba. She found an opening in the Root big enough for her to squeeze through. Raamo and Neric find her wandering around on the forest floor, hungry and lost, and believe at first that she was a captive of the Pash-shan. They hide her at Raamo's family home so that the other Ol-zhaan do not find out that they had been to the forest floor. Teera reunites Genaa with her father, Hiro D'anhk, and makes friends with Raamo's sister, Pomma.

Pomma D'ok: She is the same age as Teera, seven at the beginning of the book and eight later. She has a pet sima named Baya. She has always been thin and frail and eats too many Wissenberries, but in Raamo's first year as a novice, she becomes even frailer and refuses to eat much. Hearba sends her to the Ceremony of Healing a number of times, but it only seems to be at all effective when D'ol Neric performs it. When Teera comes to live at their house, she makes friends with the Erdling girl and becomes much healthier. She teaches Teera a number of games, one of which is a pensing game where two children try to send images or words back and forth. Pomma learns a lot about Erda from this game and is the first to discover the truth, that Teera was not a captive of a Pash-shan, but an Erdling, the same as the Pash-shan, who are not monsters after all.

Hiro D'anhk: Genaa's father; he was Director of the Academy in the main city of Orbora. He was interested in studying the Pash-shan, but when he applied to the the Council of the Academy (consisting of Ol-zhaan) for permission to study them, he was denied. Soon after, he was transferred to the distant city of Farvald. He began accumulating information on people taken by the Pash-shan and noticed too much of a pattern. When he went to the forest floor two years ago to try to find out more, he was drugged by D'ol Wassou and sent below the Root. He lived there with the Erdlings since that time and was briefly reunited with his daughter near the end of the book.

D'ol Regle: He is the master of Ol-zhaan novices and teaches a class on Kindar history. In this class, the novices learn about the war before the flight and the extinguishing of violence, but not the true nature of the Pash-shan or the true story of Wissen. Regle distrusts Raamo for his Spirit abilities.

Valdo D'ok: Raamo's father, a harvester. Raamo heard about the dangers of going close to the forest floor from him because the harvesters routinely go near the ground to cultivate their crops.

Hearba D'ok: Raamo's mother, who is an embroiderer. She decorates a beautiful new shuba for Raamo's father.

Ciela: She was assigned by the Ol-zhaan to help the D'ok family manage their new home given to them as the result of being the family of a Chosen.

Tocar: He is the Erdling boy who hears Teera's shouts when she is trying to contact someone to find Hiro D'anhk for Genaa. As well as bringing Hiro to the opening, he also tells Teera's parents, Kanna and Herd Eld, that Teera is safe.

Themes (spoilers):

The major theme which becomes apparent fairly early in the book is the consequences of withholding knowledge from society. The Ol-zhaan are really not so much the leaders of society as the caretakers of the knowledge which they believe would destroy their society. This knowledge is twofold: first, that the Pash-shan who live below the Root are actually people just like the Kindar, and second, that the first Ol-zhaan deliberately exiled the ancestors of the Pash-shan after the flight and imprisoned them below the Root because they had the seeds of violence. The Ol-zhaan wanted to avoid the possibility of another war like the one that had destroyed their home planet, so they tried to extinguish the seeds of violence within the people. A faction led by D'ol Wissen believed that the Kindar should not be told of their true origins. Another faction, led by D'ol Nesh-om, opposed this belief. To ensure that the knowledge would be protected, Wissen exiled Nesh-om's group to the tunnels below the forest floor and created the Root to keep them there. He left a secret entrance, however, so that anyone else who found out the truth or showed seeds of violence could be taken there as well. He also put all the implements of violence and books from before the flight in a hidden, locked place. The Ol-zhaan have guarded the key to this place and the entrance to below the surface ever since.

As a result of the split, the two groups, Kindar and Erdlings, have developed in different directions. Guided by the Ol-zhaan, the Kindar are taught only to love their fellow people and celebrate every possible joy in life. They learn many songs and chants that they use in ceremonies or just to calm themselves. They eat no meat and do no harm to people or nature. They have plenty of food, though, and live comfortable, idyllic lives surrounded by the beauty of nature and the kindness of others. The planet itself provides everything they need, from food, to silk for clothing, to vines for utensils and dwellings. "Unjoyful" expressions or words are met with disapproval. Words like "war," "kill," "violence" and the like have been completely erased from their vocabulary. "Dead" is supposed to be used only as an adjective, but lacking the word "kill," people sometimes use it as a verb in moments of anger." This usage is met with shock and usually (if it is a child) a punishment.

On the other hand, the Erdlings live difficult lives beneath the Root. Food is scarce. They routinely cook and eat the meat of lapan, although a few also keep them as pets, and they spend a lot of time in the tunnels below the orchards, hoping for fruit to fall where they can reach. They have much darker skin of a golden hue than the Kindar, who are very pale, because they spend so much time in the sun shining on the orchards. Except for the orchards, most of the Kindar cities are shaded by thick trees, so they do not tan very much even though they are outside much more. They dress in animal skins decorated with pieces of metal.

The secondary theme that shows up somewhat in this book but more in the second and third books of the trilogy is that of prejudice. The Kindar have believed for so long that only monsters live below the Root. Now that an Erdling child is free, it is only a matter of time before more people become freed. Their society is so different that it would be difficult for them to adapt to Kindar society, even if the Kindar did not have a bias against them. There is also the issue of the Ol-zhaan's historical betrayal of the Erdlings, which as a result has created prejudice against the Kindar by the Erdlings as well. Especially when they see how comfortably the Kindar have been living in the trees, the Erdlings will be jealous and resentful that they have been kept underground for so long. Even if the Kindar do not know about the Erdlings, the Erdlings know everything about the Kindar from those who are sent below, called Verban.

Songs and Poems:

Song plays a large part in the rituals of daily life of the Kindar. Everything has a song, from the morning ritual to the greeting ritual to the food-taking ritual. Many songs are learned as a child at the Garden. Raamo remembers the oldest of these at the very beginning of the story, a song that celebrates the forest that gives them everything they need:

Forest Chant

Forest is and was and will be,
Root and roof and all between.
Pan-fruit feed me, nid-bough hold me,
Peace and Joy be ever green.

Forest is and was and will be,
Grundtree, rooftree, Sacred Bloom.
Far and deep our cares are buried,
By the Wissenroot entombed.

Forest is and was and will be,
Where the flight was brought to rest.
Where the Kindar danced creation,
By the Ol-zhaan, Spirit blessed.

The greeting between people whenever they meet is accomplished by placing one's palms touching the palms of the other person and chanting this song:

Palm Song

This our greeting, palm to palm,
As our meeting fate-lines flow,
Merged in Spirit and in song,
Love and Joy united grow.

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