“How can you tell the legend from the facts on these worlds that lie so many years away?”
“–planets without names, called by their people simply The World, planets without history, where the past is a matter of myth, and a returning explorer finds his own doings a few years back have become the gestures of a god. Unreason darkens that gap of time bridged by our lightspeed ships, and in the darkness uncertainty and disproportion grow like weeds.”
This is how the novel starts. This is the earliest published of the Hainish novels, in which all life of multiple systems (including Earth) stem from a Hainish colonial origin, but that, as the empire expands, new worlds can find their way into via invitation and a stringent process of inquisition. Like Star Trek, this process also involves a fair amount of anthropological survey (or more like xenopology, or whatever it might be called).
In this novel, the above idea of how a visitor well-known to a people on a far away planet, who is himself rather typical or unexceptional becomes a god-like figure is the central conceit of this novel.
It reminds me a lot of the Arthur C Clarke maxim “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
You could argue, and trust me people do, what does and doesn’t count as magic, but this quote is about a position of perspective on the technology. In this novel, Rocannon, an explorer, is treated as one such being and finds himself enmeshed in the local politics and history of the planet. Because he is not there to extend an invitation to join the collective or to share their technology, he is a strange historical blip on their world, but one with real impact. From their perspective, he is indeed magic. And weirdly to his perspective, and by accounts our perspective as readers, they are not fully alien and definitely not primitive, but a weird kind of fantasy.