The Keeper of the Isis Light by Monica Hughes

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Hughes, Monica.  1980.  THE KEEPER OF THE ISIS LIGHT.  New York:  Bantam Books.  ISBN: 0-553-23321-1.

Monica Hughes’ Phoenix Award-winning The Keeper of the Isis Light tells the story of Olwen Pendennis, the youngest lightkeeper in the galaxy.  Olwen was born on the planet Isis, the fourth planet of the F5 star, Ra, in the constellation of Indus in the Milky Way galaxy.  Olwen’s parents had been sent to Isis by the Stellar Travel Consortium (S.T.C.) to be lightkeepers on Isis, which was an emergency landing spot for space travelers.  Olwen’s parents died during a violent storm, entrusting their young daughter to a DaCoP (data collection and processing) robot.  The robot, whom Olwen calls Guardian, and her pet, Hobbit, a hairy dragonlike creature who behaves like a big dog, are Olwen’s only companions.


On Olwen’s sixteenth birthday (in earth years), 80 settlers from earth arrived on Isis aboard the Pegasus Two.  The settlers came to Isis because more “comfortable” planets near Earth had been “used up” and were overcrowded and polluted.  Isis is very different from earth.  Its sun, Ra, is much more intense than earth’s and the ultraviolet rays are extremely strong.  Additionally, the atmosphere lacks oxygen, especially on the high mesas where Olwen and Guardian live.


Under the pretext of protecting her from diseases and germs brought by the settlers, Guardian makes Olwen wear a protective jumpsuit, mask, gloves, and boots whenever she is around the settlers.  Despite the protective clothing, Olwen and one of the settlers, 17-year-old Mark London, fall in love.  Mark wants to see Olwen’s face without her protective mask and Olwen wants to wear the pretty clothes Guardian has made for her instead of the jumpsuit, but Guardian is adamant that she must always wear the jumpsuit when she is around any of the settlers.  One day when she is on the mesa without her protective clothing, Mark surprises her, but there is an accident and he falls off the mesa, injuring himself. 


Olwen is distraught and takes Hobbit for a walk near the valley, where the settlers have their village.  Some of the men see Hobbit and shoot him and shockingly, one even raises his gun at Olwen.  She is outraged and goes to the village where everyone but Jordy, a young boy with “Negroid” features, recoils from her as if she were a monster.  At home, Olwen confronts Guardian and he confesses that when she was a young child he “adapted” her body for life on Isis.  He made her skin reptilian and bronzy green in color, gave her a third eyelid to protect her eyes from Ra’s harsh light and adapted her body in other ways to make it easier for her breathe and to help her move more easily over the rough terrain.  Guardian tells her that he made her wear the jumpsuit in the hopes that people would get to know her before seeing her, so they would be more forgiving of her appearance.


Jordy disappears as a violent storm approaches and Olwen braves the storm to find him and return him to the village.  She earns the gratitude of the settlers.  Mark begins to regret the way he treated Olwen and is moved by guilt to try to convince her that he can love her as she is.  The captain of the Pegasus Two even offers to take Olwen to Earth to see if the doctors there can return her to “normal.”  Olwen refuses and she moves with Guardian and a new Hobbit to an even more remote area of Isis to live alone.


The Keeper of the Isis Light uses a science fiction setting to explore important themes such as prejudice, “survival, the integration of cultures, and what it truly means to be human.”  Olwen’s willingness to help the settlers find Jordy after they take over her planet, kill her pet and react with horror to her appearance illustrates that although her appearance had been altered, her humanity remained.  The contrast of Jordy’s acceptance of Olwen’s appearance and Mark’s horror illustrates that prejudice is a learned trait.   


Olwen is a wonderful role model for young people, especially girls.  She is able to appreciate the modifications Guardian made and the beauty of her own body and its strength.  Her unwillingness to change just so society (and Mark) will love and accept her is very empowering. 


Works cited:

Kunzel, Bonnie.  “An Invitation to the Writing Game: Monica Hughes (1925-2003).”  ALAN Review, (Winter 2004),, accessed January 17, 2006.


By Monica Wood