The Chrysalids – John Wyndham

Posted on 11 January 2010. Filed under: Book Reviews | Tags: , , , |

A couple of days ago I could be seen on Twitter complaining about reading a book instead of listing books on the website. I was complaining because reading takes more time than listing and I’d really like to get back to my previous numbers of 1,500 books on the website as opposed to the just under 400 I have today. As it turned out it was a good thing I opened this book.

Many years ago when I was a real teenager I read a book and the ideas in it captivated me so totally I still remember them very vividly today. The images I kept with me all these years were those of telepathy and people (some adults and some children) being pursued because they were telepathic and therefore not of the norm. They included being captured by something that restricted ones movement and they included something that moved like an aeroplane. There are many other images there but those are the main ones. It was a wonderful story and I’d quite forgotten what it was called and who it was by. It’s a pity I never mentioned it to anyone otherwise someone in my house would have pointed me directly to the book on my shelf and I wouldn’t have been tortured by not being able to reread it.

John Wyndham was the pen name used by the often post-apocalyptic English science fiction writer John Wyndham Parkes Lucas Beynon Harris (10 July 1903 – 11 March 1969). Thank you to Wikipedia for this information. He was a really good writer with fabulous ideas. I read many of his novels and some of his short stories as a child and was totally captivated by them, they have remained in my memory banks since then. It’s been helped somewhat by the movies they’ve made of books such as The Midwich Cuckoos released as The Village of the Damned in 1960, Children of the Damned in 1964 and a remake of The Village of the Damned in 1995; or The Day of the Triffids released in 1963 which was remade into a series in 1981. I’ve only seen the earliest releases but they’ve stayed with me forever. They’re nominally science fiction but there’s a great deal of horror in there as well so they’d suit both types of readers.

The Chrysalids is post apocalypse and having been written in 1955 during the cold war was probably based on what might happen following several nuclear attacks. There is evidence here as Wyndham refers to the Badlands several times and also mentions that there are bad years with crops and livestock possibly due to winds coming from the Badlands. There has been a resurgence of very religious groups who have banded together to stamp out genetic mutations. The government controls this and issues certificates of normality via inspectors living in the area. Our hero, David Strorm, is telepathic and survives through to the age of 20 through natural caution, being able to ‘discuss’ the problems telepathically with others and a sympathetic uncle who cautioned them to keep quiet about it. Finally, his much younger sister, Petra, discovers her natural telepathic talent and life in their own homes becomes fraught with danger. They run, along with a cousin, Rosalind, who is also telepathic and are finally saved by other telepaths from Zealand.

The characters are very well drawn and the book is in the first person so I always felt I was David, despite being the wrong gender. The Religious themes are very well put together and I could see this might actually have happened if there had been a nuclear war.

It was a thrilling tale and I had so much trouble putting down. While I’m upset to have been interrupted in my listing I’m also very excited to have found this story after so many years. It’s one I recommend wholeheartedly, just like anything written by John Wyndham.

Warnings:

Casual mentions of furtive sex
Death of humans and animals
Very heavy Religious themes

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