Gundersen returned to Holman's World seeking atonement for his harsh years as colonial governor. But now the lush, exotic planet of mystery was called by its ancient name of Belzagor, and it belonged once again to its native alien races, the nildoror and sulidoror. Drawn by its spell, Gundersen began a harrowing pilgrimage to its mist-shrouded north, to witness a strange ritual of rebirth that would alter him forever.
An interesting point is that the nildoror look a lot like elephants (distinguished by the presence of three tusks, small horns atop their heads, three gripping points at the end of their trunks, and a variety of non-elephantine colors), so humans have difficulty regarding them as an intelligent species. Furthermore, having no hands, the nildoror possess nothing we would call technology – no buildings or cities or tools. But they undoubtedly have a rich cultural and religious life which commercially-minded human colonists chose to ignore in their exploitation of Belzagor's resources. And then there are the mysterious sulidoror, denizens of the high mist-country and possessors of their own distinct culture. The parallel with historical situations (American expansion into Native American territory as well as the British time in India) is much in evidence, as is the hypocrisy of so-called liberals who, when confronted with the strangeness of alien customs, react with prejudice or insulting paternalism. There are also some jabs at tourists of the ugly-American variety. Gunderson's journey of self-discovery is quite moving and well-portrayed. The story also has many parallels (intentional on Silverberg's part) with Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, and even features a character named Kurtz.
In his Introduction to the 1979 edition, Silverberg admits that when he wrote this book, he did not consider it among his best, but over the years, the praise others have lavished upon it has caused him to re-evaluate it and see it strong points.
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