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The Chrysalids

The Chrysalids

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The Chrysalids is a story where those who are different live a short and precarious life. Their ‘uniqueness’ is perceived as an abomination and a threat to the community, and hence something that must be culled at any cost. This belief is held supreme, even more important than family and love. And within this setting, our main characters learn to survive and make sense of their situation. David walks home to Waknuk, his farm community, by cutting through the woods, keeping his hand on his knife for fear there could be dangerous and large wild dogs or cats. He cuts across four fields to get home, sneaking past Old Jacob. David describes the house he lives in, built by his grandfather, Elias Strorm. The house was built fifty years ago, the first house in the settlement; now it has many rooms, including storerooms and barns that were added over the years. The frame of the house is made of wood, and the walls are filled in with remnants of the buildings left by the Old People. David is unsure of where the name Waknuk comes from, suggesting that it may have been part of the name the Old People used. The great room is the center of the home, where the hearth is located, and the room is decorated with the religious text of Nicholson’s repentances. The repentances serve as reminders to remain pure and be wary of mutants.

The dream that David has of Sophie being sacrificed in a Purification ceremony serves a few literary purposes. The Purification process itself is an allusion to the sacrificing that took place in the Old Testament, as a way of pleasing God by sacrificing a lamb. The dream is also a hyperbolic form of foreshadowing how David’s community will treat Sophie when she is discovered as a mutant. In addition, it is an allegory for the morally exacting way David’s society feels about people who fall outside of their definition of pure. The community of Waknuk and David’s family home serves as the setting for a large portion of the book. Specifically, David describes the solid architecture of his home, and how it was the first home that was built in their settlement. The Strorms’ home represents the solidity of the foundation of the community, based on religion and the power of the genetically pure. I have to say despite it being only 10 months since I last read it, it was still a great Post Apocalyptic book, yes it has a relatively positive ending but who knows maybe that'll be the case post COVID !! In describing his grandfather, David alludes to the fact that he would eventually doubt the honor-laden picture of him that the rest of his family espouses. One again, David is emphasizing his breaking out of the constraints of his society. Elias Strorm is an allusion to Abraham of the Bible, the patriarch of his people, directed by God to leave his own country for another land. Much like Abraham, Elias left his own country because of his strong religious beliefs. Also like Abraham, we find out later that Elias disowns and would have sacrificed his own son, Gordon Strorm/the spider-man, because of his abnormality. Re-Birth (The Chrysalids) was one of the first science fiction novels I read as a youth, and several times tempted me to take a piggy census. Returning to it now, more than 30 years later, I find that I remember vast parts of it with perfect clarity…a book to kindle the joy of reading science fiction. –SciFi.com

The Chrysalids comes heart-wrenchingly close to being John Wyndham’s most powerful and profound work.”–SFReview.net It was yet again an enjoyable read, well written, a good post-apocalyptic story that seems to have been written way before its time. Imagine a world where a little deviation from the norm in physical appearance means burning and banishment because you are far from what God created. Why there are imperfections when we know perfect exists? God creates perfect humans, plants, and animals, so no deviations have the right to live in the world. They're the work of Devil. A world where people have to give away their loved ones because God has not made them perfect. These deviations or imperfections are known as offenses and blasphemies. Plants, animals fell in to first category while the humans found themselves in the latter. Uncle Axel is a widely travelled former sailor, open minded and willing to question conventional religious precepts. Upon discovering David's telepathy, he counsels caution and extracts a promise that David take great care not to allow others to learn of his mutation. That night David has a dream that Sophie is going to be sacrificed in the same manner in which the Strorms usually sacrifice mutant animals, in a Purification ceremony at dawn. Sophie runs barefoot around the circle of people and begs for help, but Joseph Strorm catches her and holds her down as his knife glints in the first light of the sun. David awakes crying.

Many years have passed since a devastating nuclear war left much of the world in ruins. A small village in northern Labrador comprised of religious fundamentalists is on the lookout for what they call “deviations” - food, animals or even people who deviate from the socially acceptable norm. Once these deviations have been discovered, it is either to be destroyed on the spot or if you’re one of the few people born with a deformity, sterilized and banished from the community, destined to live in what they call “The Fringes”. Science fiction always tells you more about the present than the future. John Wyndham’s classroom favourite might be set in some desolate landscape still to come, but it is rooted in the concerns of the mid-1950s. Published in 1955, it’s a novel driven by the twin anxieties of the cold war and the atomic bomb…Fifty years on, when our enemy has changed and our fear of nuclear catastrophe has subsided, his analysis of our tribal instinct is as pertinent as ever.”– The Guardian (London)

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Emily (David’s mother) gives birth to a baby, who is named Petra. The narration foreshadows that she may have some form of deviance. Petra, nonetheless, is still certified normal by the Inspector since she has no deviating body parts physically. Aunt Harriet, who is Emily’s sister, has also given birth recently, but to a Deviant child. In a desperate bid to get her child certified as normal as well, she goes to Emily and hopes that Emily will swap babies with Harriet to get Harriet's certified as normal. However, Emily rejects her proposal, and brings in her husband Joseph who then accuses Aunt Harriet of concealment and attempt to commit a crime. David eavesdrops on this conversation from the next room. Aunt Harriet is later found dead in a river. The Chrysalids begins with a conversation between David and his sister Mary Strorm about David’s dream of a city he has never seen before. Mary warns him not to tell anyone about the dream because in Waknuk, the town where they live, it is best not to stand out. This proves to be good advice when David meets Sophie, who has six toes. According to the Waknukian religion, anyone whose body does not comply with the Definition of Man is a Blasphemy, and must be sterilized and banished from the community. This belief is based on the idea that God makes man in the image of himself, and God does not make mistakes, so anyone who does not look like the Image of God must not be a man, and consequently, must be the work of the devil. David is upset by what happened to Aunt Harriet. He eventually confides in Uncle Axel. Uncle Axel shares some of his philosophy about how the true image of man is unknown: he points out that the Old People caused the Tribulation; thus, they were not perfect either. At the end of the chapter, the telepathic group, which includes a few other characters apart from David and Rosalind, share their names and locations with each other so that they can be more aware of each other in case of any emergencies. a b Wyndham, John. "Random House, Inc. Academic Resources | The Chrysalids by John Wyndham". Randomhouse.com . Retrieved 22 May 2010.

The plot revolves around two stages of the life of the central character, David Strorm. The first is when he is about 10 years old and the next about 6 years later. Without including too many spoilers, it concerns a group of children/young people who are hiding the fact they have genetic variations. They live under constant fear of discovery and the novel builds to an exciting “man on the run” climax - except in this case it’s two teenagers and a child on the run. It’s done very well. Davie himself begins to question this wisdom, after hearing from his Uncle, an ex-sailor, that other societies in other parts of the world have a different understanding of the True Form; he also feels scared and troubled by his Aunt's baby, who because of a tiny blemish will be taken away and never spoken of again, while his Aunt will be expected to do penance and pray not to have a mutant baby again, or will even be replaced, de-certified and cast off (it's always the woman's fault, isn't it?). Even minor ones like a small extra toe will lead to exile or death. The discovery of mental deviation (telepathy) practically causes panic among the ruling zealots and the telepaths are immediately regard as a threat to humanity and pursued.John Wyndham’s novel The Chrysalids is a famous example of 1950s Cold War science fiction, but its portrait of a community driven to authoritarian madness by its overwhelming fear of difference – in this case, of genetic mutations in the aftermath of nuclear war – finds its echoes in every society.”– The Scotsman



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