REVIEW: The Chrysalids by John Wyndham

I was a big fan of science fiction in my younger days but I haven’t read so much of it recently so I decided to pick up this old favourite by John Wyndham.

Wyndham wrote, among other things, The Day of the Triffids and The Midwich Cuckoos, which have both been turned into films , The Midwich Cuckoos being retitled The Village of the Damned. Apparently there is also a Sky Max television series but I haven’t seen that.

My introduction to John Wyndham began with Chocky as a kid but The Chrysalids remains my favourite of his novels.

John Wyndham Parkes Lucas Benyon Harris (wow what a mouthful) wrote under several pennames including John Benyon and Lucas Parkes. Benyon and Harris were his father’s second and third names and his mother’s maiden name was Parkes. I have no idea why his parents felt it necessary to also add Wyndham and Lucas.

His early works were published under the name John Benyon but after the Second World War he began writing science fiction using the name John Wyndham.

The Chrysalids is set in a post-apocalyptic society in which only things, people, animals, plants that conform to a prescribed set of ‘norms’ are allowed to survive. Fanatical townspeople check their own and others’ crops, animals and even children for signs of deviations and cast out or destroy those determined to be deformed. And women who repeatedly give birth to babies judged non-human are also cast out or worse.

Against this backdrop David, son of one of the most fanatical of farmers, and his half-cousin Rosalind discover they can talk to each other telepathically. In fact they are in contact with others around the area who can do the same but David’s Uncle Axel advises David to keep quiet because they will be considered mutants.

And this is fine until David’s younger sister Petra shows signs that she is the most powerful telepath of them all and sets off a chain of events that puts all their lives at risk.

The townspeople are terrified to discover a deformity they cannot see and hunt down the youngsters in a bid to destroy them.

This novel is a brilliant portrayal of fear, prejudice and fanaticism set in a world that has been decimated by disaster.

Wyndham’s writing from the perspective of a child who doesn’t understand why something as small as an extra toe can make someone inhuman, brilliantly picks apart the beliefs and rationale of the townspeople who willingly (or not so willingly) sacrifice their own children if they are deemed to be imperfect.

It’s a story about how people turn on each other and of hatred and prejudice but also of love, friendship and hope.

It was just as good when I read it this time around as when I first read it more than 40 years ago.

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