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The Chrysalids

by John Wyndham

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
3,785992,260 (3.91)291
Genetic mutation has devastated the world and a bleak, primitive society has emerged from its ruins ; a society which punishes any deviation from rigid norms.Ten-year-old David is having strange dreams about a mysterious city. But in his ultra-religious village of Waknut, all abnormality is abhorred, and he soon realizes that differences can be very dangerous indeed.… (more)
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1950s (43)
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» See also 291 mentions

English (100)  German (1)  All languages (101)
Showing 1-5 of 100 (next | show all)
Every time I pick up a John Wyndham novel I find myself expecting some good clean science fictiony fun, and then get surprised when the violence and the killing and base degradation start up. I'm not sure why — this is my fifth Wyndham book, I really should have learned by now. It's probably nothing more than the fact he's an Englishman called John Wyndham Parkes Lucas Beynon Harris writing in the 1950s, and surely someone in that place, at that time, with that name simply wouldn't write anything disturbing, would they?

Metaphysical cogitations aside, The Chrysalids is a jolly good book. Set some unspecified time after a nuclear apocalypse has ruined the world, it revolves around a community in northern Canada living in an area mostly unaffected by the fallout. Centuries before the story takes place, when the community was founded, a set of rules were laid down, wrapped up in religion, that forbade any living thing to deviate from accepted normality. Deviant crops are burnt, deviant livestock are slaughtered and burnt, and deviant newborn are disposed of and never spoken of again. If the deviation in a person comes to light only later then they are sterilised, stripped, and forced into "the Fringes", a kind of brown belt between the safe zone and the irradiated Badlands.

The system in general isn't an entirely terrible idea. Genetic mutation caused by radiation is almost never beneficial and controlling it would keep the community genetically viable over the centuries. But of course, the system isn't perfect and it definitely isn't humane. Bureaucracy, necessity, and greed all allow a gradual shift as to what is "normal". The Government approves giant horses because they do thrice as much work for twice as much food and because they're only big, it's not like they have two heads or anything. Religious fervour, meanwhile, drags in the opposite direction. An extra toe here, a missing finger there, it's not specified exactly what qualifies as not being normal, but the community pursues it with a zealous and rather distressing ardour. And this is where the story lies: when genuine evolution comes along the community runs for the pitchforks rather than celebrating.

There are a lot of themes and interesting ideas in the book, questions about which of the myriad and varied communities in the known world is right in declaring themselves the true form of humanity, if indeed any of them are. Questions about the moral authority of the "normal" community over what they consider their non-human castoffs in the Fringes, and about the moral authority of the perhaps more evolved telepaths living elsewhere in the world, who consider the other mentally mute humans to be at best "near-sublime animals". And so my only real issue with the book is how little any of these ideas are addressed. It's a novella, really, and raises far more questions and issues than it ever has time to discuss before its rather lively ending. I'm not suggesting the book should've continued, it ended where it had to end, nor should there have been a sequel. And maybe it's the best compliment I can pay to the book, that it only gets three stars because I simply wanted more. ( )
  imlee | Jul 7, 2020 |
Every time I pick up a John Wyndham novel I find myself expecting some good clean science fictiony fun, and then get surprised when the violence and the killing and base degradation start up. I'm not sure why — this is my fifth Wyndham book, I really should have learned by now. It's probably nothing more than the fact he's an Englishman called John Wyndham Parkes Lucas Beynon Harris writing in the 1950s, and surely someone in that place, at that time, with that name simply wouldn't write anything disturbing, would they?

Metaphysical cogitations aside, The Chrysalids is a jolly good book. Set some unspecified time after a nuclear apocalypse has ruined the world, it revolves around a community in northern Canada living in an area mostly unaffected by the fallout. Centuries before the story takes place, when the community was founded, a set of rules were laid down, wrapped up in religion, that forbade any living thing to deviate from accepted normality. Deviant crops are burnt, deviant livestock are slaughtered and burnt, and deviant newborn are disposed of and never spoken of again. If the deviation in a person comes to light only later then they are sterilised, stripped, and forced into "the Fringes", a kind of brown belt between the safe zone and the irradiated Badlands.

The system in general isn't an entirely terrible idea. Genetic mutation caused by radiation is almost never beneficial and controlling it would keep the community genetically viable over the centuries. But of course, the system isn't perfect and it definitely isn't humane. Bureaucracy, necessity, and greed all allow a gradual shift as to what is "normal". The Government approves giant horses because they do thrice as much work for twice as much food and because they're only big, it's not like they have two heads or anything. Religious fervour, meanwhile, drags in the opposite direction. An extra toe here, a missing finger there, it's not specified exactly what qualifies as not being normal, but the community pursues it with a zealous and rather distressing ardour. And this is where the story lies: when genuine evolution comes along the community runs for the pitchforks rather than celebrating.

There are a lot of themes and interesting ideas in the book, questions about which of the myriad and varied communities in the known world is right in declaring themselves the true form of humanity, if indeed any of them are. Questions about the moral authority of the "normal" community over what they consider their non-human castoffs in the Fringes, and about the moral authority of the perhaps more evolved telepaths living elsewhere in the world, who consider the other mentally mute humans to be at best "near-sublime animals". And so my only real issue with the book is how little any of these ideas are addressed. It's a novella, really, and raises far more questions and issues than it ever has time to discuss before its rather lively ending. I'm not suggesting the book should've continued, it ended where it had to end, nor should there have been a sequel. And maybe it's the best compliment I can pay to the book, that it only gets three stars because I simply wanted more. ( )
  leezeebee | Jul 6, 2020 |
The gravest of sins
pure outside, tainted within
worse than a big horse. ( )
  Eggpants | Jun 25, 2020 |
In a post apocalyptic world, plants, creatures and even humans who deviate from what is regarded to be the "norm" are destroyed or ostracised. But David discovers he has a difference that is invisible. And who is to stay what the "true form" really is? Interesting science fiction exploration of what is regarded as normal. ( )
  AccyP | Apr 8, 2020 |
The message that some people take from this 1955 science fiction classic is 'don't be frightened of change, always look forward and never look backwards. Change is not always for the best especially when a human made apocalypse seems to have wrecked half the planet. In Wyndham's novel the benefits are a new breed of humans with telepathic skills and so better, faster communications might on the surface seem be a boon to society, however faster communication comes with it's own problems and when super telepathic users start to sense the emotions behind the transmitted thoughts then I can see problems. Wyndham doesn't get to examine those issues in this book whose main theme is a small mutant group fighting for their survival.

In Wyndham's novel the apocalypse on earth happened three hundred years ago and the novel opens with a society that has looked backwards instead of forwards. They have blamed the destruction on humanity moving too far away from God's image. Of course they know exactly what God's image is from the bible (God made man in his own image) and so in a post atomic world anything that is deemed as mutant is destroyed. The novel is set is the village of Waknuk (or it could be Nuk(e)wak) where one of the younger generation (David) starts to understand that he can read other peoples minds through thought pictures. He discovers there are eight others within a ten mile radius, who have similar gifts, but knowing that his father is one of the most strict enforcers of the law against mutants he lives in fear that his mutant abilities will be discovered. He grows up as quietly as he can, but when his younger sister also develops the gift and is unable to control her much more powerful transmissions it is only a matter of time before the group of telepaths are discovered. David has dreams of a society that are something like the ones that destroyed their civilisation, but the inhabitants of Waknuk have become so insular that David can find out nothing about the people that lived on the earth over 300 years ago. The Waknukians are a farming community who live by the teachings of the bible, they are back in the age of horsepower with only one large ancient steam engine to do the heavy work. They are fighting a battle against mutant crops and mutant livestock as well as mutant people some of whom live in the Fringes where mutations have run wild.

Olaf Stapledon's novel Odd John published in1935 explored similar themes to Wyndham's novel and in my opinion delved more deeply into issues facing a mutant group who come to see themselves as an improvement on those around them. Wyndham however keeps his story moving along tightening up on the tensions for a group of people fighting for their freedom to exist and it is told from David's perspective and so there is little space given for reflection on wider issues. The story works well and Wyndham avoids most of the racism and sexism of much science fiction written at this time. In my opinion this is nowhere near as ambitious as Day of the Triffids but one could argue it is more tightly written 4 stars. ( )
1 vote baswood | Mar 26, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 100 (next | show all)
Wyndham lumbers his characters with some verbose, pompous speeches about human nature, but his points are still interesting and as relevant today as when he wrote the book in 1955. It's also a ripping adventure.
added by andyl | editThe Observer, Alice Fisher (Dec 7, 2008)
 

» Add other authors (23 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Wyndham, Johnprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Harrison, M. JohnIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Herring, MichaelCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Leger, PatrickIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lord, PeterCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Malcolm, GraemeNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Powell, RobertNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Powers, Richard M.Cover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Priest, ChristopherIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Salwowski, MarkCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Dedication
First words
When I was quite small I would sometimes dream of a city -- which was strange because it began before I even knew what a city was.
Quotations
There was the power of gods in the hands of children, we know: but were they MAD children, all of them quite mad?
The essential quality of life is living; the essential quality of living is change; change is evolution: and we are part of it.
No one would dream of mentioning [childbirth] openly until the inspector should have called to issue his certificate that it was a human baby in the true image. Should it unhappily turn out to violate the image and thus be ineligible for a certificate, everyone would continue to be unaware of it, and the whole regrettable incident would be deemed not to have occurred.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Re-Birth is the US title of The Chrysalids.
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Book description
In the community of Waknuk 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.
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Penguin Australia

3 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0141181478, 0141032979, 0141045434

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An edition of this book was published by NYRB Classics.

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