Having recently read John Wyndham's famous novel The Day of the Triffids
, which is known more for the film adaptations, I decided to read another of Wyndham's books. The result left me very satisfied and I must conclude that Wyndham now holds a place on my (imaginary) bookshelf of favourite classic sci-fi authors alongside Wells, Asimov and Verne to name a few.
The idea of The Chrysalids
is simple but executed extremely well. As a result The Chrysalids
is a complement to the aesthetic as well as to the mental senses of the reader. This is what I believe Wyndham excels at doing like Wells, creating compulsive and entertaining science fiction which is as readable as it is intelligent and questioning. Like all great novels this book ties to both the past, the present and the future of its readership and humanity.
The plot follows one adolescent boy, David, growing up in a kind of post-apocalyptic world where an event named 'the Tribulation' has occurred. It becomes clear that this 'Tribulation' has affected the genetic make up of the population of the world. The very name of this event reveals another side to the story, a strict legalistic form of Christian religion has formed a new kind of community. In this community mutation is intolerable, a 'deviation' from man as the 'true image' of God. Of course the protagonist David recognises the fallacy of viewing mutants as inhuman:
"Well, every part of a definition is as important as any other; and if a child doesn't come within it, then it isn't human, and that means it doesn't have a soul. It is not the image of God, it is an imitation, and in the imitations there is always some mistake. Only God produces perfection, so although deviations may look like us in many ways, they cannot be really human. They are something quite different."
I thought that over.
"But Sophie isn't
really different - not in any other way," I told him.
As it turns out David is himself a 'deviation', one of those 'sent by the devil' to test the true images. He, and a small group of his friends in the community, can communicate via telepathy. Of course no one can tell visibly that they are 'non-human' and so they remain hidden. That is until one of their number decides to marry a deviation-hating 'norm'.
The issues this novel tackles are broad and far reaching. It is both a challenge to strict Pharisaic religion, which does not heed the true message of its source, and a tale about humanity. It questions what it is to be human: whether it is about appearance or about deeper, underlying issues. And as part of challenging what it is to be human it challenges how we alienate and accept others as alien and non-human: whether that be on race, gender, sexuality, religion, age or so on. The voice of the narrator, the protagonist is perfect for allowing the writer to speak on these issues. Take the following quote for example:
"'Oh,' I said, vaguely but safely. It was odd, I felt, how many people seemed to have positive, if conflicting, information upon God's views."
Ultimately though this book was written years ago I believe it applies to today as an excellent novel we can learn from. I would encourage anyone to make sure that they read this book at least once. It may not necessarily be the best written of John Wyndham's books but it is one that challenges issues still relevant to our present and future.