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I first read this book in secondary school during the 1970s. I was around the age of thirteen at the time that this book was handed out (brand new editions) in English Literature as a class read. As I was always a fast reader and immediately recognised this book as an intriguing read, I went out and bought my own copy (as school reading books had to be handed in at the end of the lesson for another classes use)
It isn't the thickest of books and so I read it quickly, but still enjoyed reading and discussing the book in the class environment.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
John Wyndham, late, well known British writer of science fiction, was born (John Wyndham Parkes Lucas Beynon Harris) in Knowle in 1903 and lived in Birmingham for many years. He was a pupil at various boarding schools but seemed to cultivate his talent at Bedales in Hampshire. Wyndham pursued different and diverse careers, also serving in the armed forces during WW11. Among his works are 'The Day of the Triffids';' The kraken Wakes' and 'The Midwich Cuckoos' or 'Village of the Damned.' I would think many will recognise the Midwich Cuckoos,as it has been adapted for television . I don't find the chrysalids is as well known, although I personally would definitely name this as my favourite Wyndham novel.
This excerpt, which w gives a good introduction to this author and his work, is written for the BBC's,'No Place On Earth' where Dan Rebellato examines the importance and influence of John Wyndham on the history of British and American science fiction.
"The Day of the Triffids' is one of the great post war British novels. It was the first big success for its author John Wyndham - and it came late. He was in his 40s when it was published. He went on to write a series of successful books including The Kraken Wakes, The Chrysalids and The Midwich Cuckoos.
His novels are set in middle class British suburbia - and have been accused of being 'cosy catastrophes', but at their heart is a streak of darkness. Wyndham was interested in how ordinary people would cope when extraordinary, and terrifying things happened to them.
His greatest successes came in the 1950s and his preoccupations were very much post war and cold war; nuclear annihilation, social breakdown and anxieties over communism. He was also prescient; he touches on climate change, genetically modified crops and species extinction. He was fascinated by evolution; would human beings one day be supplanted by something superior? He was also intriguing when it came to his heroines - they were resourceful, sensible and clever. An occasional tear might be shed, but the Wyndham girl was soon decapitating triffids or felling religious fanatics."
When I read this book for the first time (I have read it many times since) it was at a time when we were taught at school about world War 11 and the impact this had; about the USSR, the cold war, and the Berlin Wall was spoken about with horror. Germany was truly divided. I wrote about the lead up to the division of Germany in my O level history (World Affairs) project and felt, as did my peers that the threat of nuclear war was very real and frightening. No wonder many of us rebelled.
The Chrysalids begins and the reader finds that the sinister aspect of the story unfolds. Although everything seems as if it is taken from history, to me the opening few pages put me in mind of a small American village, or town, from long ago but the story is actually set in the future, after a nuclear war has destroyed and marred most of the world. There is no technology: no washing machines and little in the way of labour saving devices and, more importantly, little way of communicating. Without television and radio the inhabitants of this society remain very closed and ignorant.
The inhabitants of Waknuk live strict lives adhering to harsh rules set by the elders of their small community. It has, in fact, been likened to Salem and the Salem witch hunts. There is certainly a feel early on of everybody watching everyone else to uncover wrong doing and sin.
David, a child of Waknuk, tells the story. David's father is one who holds power in this society and he expects, no INSISTS, the rules to be strictly adhered to by his family. And then Sophie appears whom David befriends. We discover that Sophie has a shameful secret which David discovers by accident. Will David keep this secret or do as he has been brought up to do, and betray his new friend?
We discover that David also has a secret; he has the power of telepathy and can also see strange things, which are completely alien to him. This makes him a deviant too. How many others like him, are there to be found?
Because of the radiation crops often grow 'mutated' such as an extra ear of corn. Any crops such as this are destroyed. The same goes for animals. Mutaton is rife at this time. Pregnant mothers are in no position to enjoy the imminent births of new babies as; until the new arrival has been inspected and registered as 'normal' they cannot allow themselves to feel any involvement. Babies are being born 'with extra fingers or toes, or they may be missing digits. These are known as mutants and are quickly taken away from the mother. Anyone giving birth to such a child is treated with shame as if they have sinned. Any deviation from the norm, at all, is not accepted. Babies are killed if they deviate in any way. Waknuk is a place best to wear mittens and shoes at all times and somewhere best to keep one's thoughts well and truly to oneself.
But some manage to slip the net somehow and are often discovered later. The community is always on the lookout for deviants as it needs to stay clean. These 'deviants' are sent away to from their home to The Fringes, which is outside of Waknuk. Beyond this area is 'The Badlands' which is lawless and harsh, as the inhabitants are without basic necessities, therefore crime is rife. Crops grow largely even more mutated here.
And further on is The Blacklands where crops won't grow at all, such is the state of the land resulting from it being burnt by radiation. People from Waknuk tend to stay close to their own community and have little knowledge of anything beyond. Curiosity isn't advisable.
I won't say any more about the plot as I wouldn't want to risk spoiling it fro any would be reader.
To me this is best described as 'sensible' science fiction. It isn't full of horror but gives food for thought and tells a story in a gripping way. It is believable, well it was and is to me.
The main characters are likeable. All characters are introduced clearly, and readers obtain a good understanding of David's friends and enemies.
When I read this book I am quickly transported into this strange frightening society. I feel for the heroes/heroines of this novel, and find their lives and turmoil, leave me wanting to find out more and to keep on reading (even after the initial read). I always find this story both gripping and full of suspense.
As mentioned, I first read this as a school study novel when in my early teens but, like all John Wyndham books, it is suitable for teenagers (probably older teens) and for adults alike.
As the mother of two boys and two girls, I found (when they were of school age) that it was a harder task to find to find suitable literature for the boys, more than for the girls. Also, it is often harder to encourage boys to read. Well, The Chrysalids is a book highly suitable, being equally enjoyable and interesting to both sexes. I have succeeded in coaxing all my children to read this book. All four enjoyed.
WHERE TO BUY THIS BOOK
This novel in conventional book form, either hardback or paperback, is available from libraries, second hand booksellers and all good book retailers. It is also available as a Kindle edition and an audio book. It can be found in all book forms.
I own 'The Chrysalids' as a Penguin Modern Classics, edition paperback. I have had this book for some years now but did buy a second edition for one of my children to read as I couldn't find my old edition at the time. I think I purchased from W.H. Smith.
This book is sold by the following retailers:
W.H. Smith- Around £5.00
Waterstones- £8.99 for the Penguin Classics edition (ISBN 9780141181479)
And all good bookshops: either online or in the high street.
Anybody who had ever read a book by John Wyndham would heartily recommend him to me, but it was not until I was in my mid thirties, with a balding scalp and a swelling belly that I finally got around to reading one of his works. Would I read anymore, and would I be one of said people heartily recommending his books to others? Yes and Yes. For those who do not know, Mr Wyndham is the British author of several Sci-Fi classics such as The Day of the Triffids, The Midwich Cuckoos (filmed as Village of the Damned), Chocky and the book I am about to discuss... The Chrysalids. He is now dead, but his memory lives on and will do so for many a year.
Our hero of the Chrysalids is David. David lives in a world set in the future where everyone has gone back to basics following the 'Tribulation.' In this God-fearing world, it is required that everyone should be of God's own image and those not shall be cast out or killed. These 'mutants' can be people born with defects that are major and minor, from extra long limbs to extra toes. David is a boy growing in this age with a strict father, who whips him for not telling anyone about his friend Sophie (who happens to have six toes on each foot).
David is also a telepath, who can communicate with others like him nearby, through thought images. One of these people is his cousin Rosalind. Because this is out of the norm, he and his telepathic friends have to keep this secret, lest they be cast out for this 'defect' and abomination before God. After his sister Petra is born it becomes apparent that she, too, is like David - however her powers are much stronger.
The area in which they live is habitable, but there are many areas around known as the Fringes. In these Badlands many deviants and mutants live. When David and his friends are found out, they have to go into these lands to keep away from those who would hurt them for being different. They discover many answers as to who they are and what has happened to the world. Also, his sister Petra is starting to communicate through thought shapes with another like their kind, in a far away place, a place where everyone can communicate this way...
I enjoyed this book a lot. Trying to broaden my readings, I have been reading several other 'classics' (some might recall my Dorian Grey op) and I can quite understand why these books are so popular. As for Wyndham himself, his prose is very good and the narrative is handled well. He keeps his cards close to his chest and only lets us know snippets of information. He likes to keep us guessing. The story is a simple one, but has the reader enchanted and wanting to know what happens. It is labelled as being science fiction, but it is more of an adventure, and about being born in a world where you are different and having to cope with this, and realising that being different is not always a bad thing...
If I have any qualms, then that is the fact it seems to take a long time to get started and it sags a little towards the end. I like the fact, however, that it is just a short book (about 200 pages) and not over padded, as many of this genre tend to be nowadays. Overall, a great read.
This review also appears on Ciao Uk by me as Borg...
The Chsysalids by John Wyndham is a post-apolaclyptic vision of a world where people are obsessed with conformity to the norm, or in their words, the image of God. Anyone who does not conform to this image becomes an outcast, and the women who are categorised as Deviants are sterilised before being sent off. The image of God has 2 arms, 2 legs, 2 eyes, 1 nose, 5 digits at the end of eat hand and foot
etc. You get the idea.
The narrator of this book is David, a young, apparently normal boy who finds out quite early on that he is not quite normal but to all outward appearances he is, so is safe from the religious-minded people around him, chief of whom is his father. Not so lucky is a girl he meets who has a physical deviation, and this causes him to wonder whether it really is the will of God being done by the zealots here
As David realises the danger his special talents wrought from his differences could cause, and becomes aware of others with the same talents, he is drawn instinctively away from his family. He knows that they would think nothing of banishing him to the Fringes, and area where mutation is more likely and thus is considered Godless. But what hope is there even if he and his friends could escape? Is there really anything past the Badlands, where the ground has been so damaged by the Tribulation that happened to the Old People that nothing can live? What do his dreams of a city mean, which he began to have even before he knew what a city was?
Unlike many modern science fiction writers, Wyndhams style exhibits a directness and lack of jargon that makes his work among the most accessible of all sci-fi to those new to the genre. He also focuses very much on the results of the situation on the people in the stories, rather than focusing on what actually happened / is happening. His characters are fairly well developed, though there were rather too many throw-away characters for my liking that could have been interestingly developed if they had continued part of the story. At times his characters do tend to be a little preachy (as in Day of the Triffids, though in this case its completely in character when it happens. Another similarity to his most famous book is that the language at times ascends to a poetic level, which adds to the novel despite contrasting to the rather pragmatic style that characterises most of the book. My biggest criticism of the book would have to be the occasional long-winded speeches given by some characters, and the fact that the ending didnt really seem quite satisfying, but its still a very good read.
As with all good sci-fi, there is plenty to make you think here. Wyndhams novel seems to be attacking both religious fanaticism and what people would be like if they truly believed in the survival of the fittest evolutionary theory. The world he presents here is both believable and chillingly possible, while everyone has their own, very different interpretation of why things have happened, and each believes their own version absolutely. Perhaps most tellingly, the view of one of the characters seems to bear just as much relevance to our own times as in the future of the novel. This is how they viewed humanity of our day:
They learnt to co-operate constructively in small units; but only destructively in large units. They aspired greedily, and then refused to face the responsibilities they had created. They created vast problems, and then buried their heads in the sand of idle faith. There was, you see, no real communication, no understanding between them.
All in all, The Chrysalids is a very well-written, interesting science fiction novel that all fans of the genre will enjoy. To me it didnt quite have the brilliance of Day of the Triffids, but it came pretty close. Recommended to anyone who likes intelligent sci-fi, and perhaps to open-minded non-fans of skiffy too.
You should be able to find this in any bookshop with a sizeable Science Fiction section, sadly Wyndham isn't as well known as his talents deserve so his works are sometimes harder to find than other recognised names in the sci-fi world. Amazon.co.uk have it listed at £6.35 new, with it being listed on the Marketplace from £1.60 upwards.
Thanks for reading!
Penguin books. ISBN 0141181478 Set maybe a thousand years into the future after planet Earth and the human race have been decimated by nuclear war, the inhabitants of Waznuk (Northwest Canada?) operate a "zero tolerance" towards "deviations from the norm". Animals are slaughtered, children sterilised and banished to "the fringes" to fend for their selves as best they can. Into such a world is born a small group of telepaths who live lives of secrecy until events conspire to make the wider community aware of their existence beginning a race against time in their attempt to reach safety. This book written in 1955 still offers a good read despite having a slightly old "British" feel to it the characters are reasonably well drawn with quite "believable" descriptions of what it might be like to be a telepath. The pace of the story is good and is only spoilt by a slightly "preachy" monologue by one of the characters at the end. I would recommend this to anyone who likes science fiction and particularly stories about telepaths and/or the old post apocalyptic stories so popular in the 60s and 70s.
In the community of Waknut it is believed mutants are the products of the Devil and must be stamped out. When David befriends a girl with a slight abnormality, he begins to understand the nature of fear and oppression. When he develops his own deviation, he must learn to conceal his secret.