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THE CHRYSALIDS-A Gripping Science Fiction Read
The Chrysalids - John Wyndham
Member Name: lak11
The Chrysalids - John Wyndham
Date: 17/01/11, updated on 10/07/12 (223 review reads)
Advantages: Suitable for a wide age range and both sexes.
Disadvantages: None for me.
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.
Summary: Highly recommendable.