Sunday, November 11, 2012

Rosy's scrawled book recommendation: The Chrysalids by John Wyndham

The Chrysalids
John Wyndham

There are many covers but this is the one
 my old copy has.
Nuclear war has devastated the world, bringing with it a host of genetic mutations. In the bleak, primitive society that has emerged from its ruins, any sign of deviation, no matter how small, is ruthlessly rooted out and destroyed. David lives in fear of discovery, for he is part of a secret group of children who are able to communicate with each other by transferring thought-shapes into each other's minds. As they grow older, they feel increasingly isolated. Then one of them marries a 'norm', with terrifying consequences. 

Penguin Classics


Rosy's scrawlings on The Chrysalids
This is a book from the man who wrote The Midwich Cuckoos, which was converted to film as Village of the Damned, and Day of the Triffids. This alone should be enough to get you interested. Should I just stop here? No. There's more to say.
This book was written only ten years after WWII, the impact of which was still deeply resounding. The Chrysalids focuses on what the world and humanity might be like if it weren't only two atomic bombs dropped. Working with the idea (reality) of large amounts of radiation and nuclear fallout altering the land's fertility and the DNA of animals and humans we're taken many years into the post war future to see the direct results. The results are much as to be expected post-atomic warfare but there's more than just the existence of mutants to the story. Wyndham goes a step further and analyses the probable relationships be 'pure stock' and mutants, mostly through the lives of telepaths David, Petra (something more than telepath), Rosalind, Michael, Rachel and the mutant Sophie who only has a sixth toe. They're relationships with their families and friends as well as their positions within wider society, along with heavy socio-religious expectations. Religion is now used to keep the stock pure, be it humanity of farm animals. There's even a hint at the Nazi eugenics programme in the religious strictures that govern society.
All this sounds rather heavy doesn't it. Except this was a book that I read multiple times instead of other children's books. I still have it about and crack it open as a favourite read that takes me back to being a kid. How this is at all possible is all because the story is from the perspective of children and there are telepaths, not just extra toes. The telepath issue went down well with some literary critics and not so well with others but even this was a non-issue when reading the book the first three or four times. To me the book was an adventure through the wilderness, a search for a place and acceptance as well as an exploration of the still fantasy creatures telepathic mutants. Only later did I learn all the heavier issues involved, though not too much later as history was one of my favourite subjects even if it frequently sent me into a frustrated and angry twist (humanity can really make you angry at times). As such the story was and still is intriguing and more an adventure than anything else. Also, the themes of social divisions, survivalism, tolerance and acceptance were more important to the story than atomic fallout and the impact of war. These themes were far more accessible to a child and remain more accessible to most.
The Chrysalids is an exciting and engaging read for one related to war, eugenics and intolerance. It is a must read if you're interested in was stories of a different flavour. It's a dark fantasy in a rural setting, a look at WWII social, religious and political issues through the inhabitants of a small farming town, and a look at humanity's true nature through the eyes of a group of children running for their lives. The big issues aren't reduced but they're looked at from the perspective of the children and so they are easily accessible and not too invasive. There's much to learn or ponder on, a sign of a good story, and it can be read when you want to relax. I couldn't recommend it more.

I'd recommend this book to: anyone interested in war and post-war stories, apocalyptic stories and mutants. Also, anyone searching for an enjoyable intellectual read (not always the case, you have to admit).

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