From The Cover: David Strorm’s father doesn’t approve of Angus Morton’s unusually large horses, calling them blasphemies against nature. Little does he realize that his own son, and his son’s cousin Rosalind and their friends, have their own secret aberration which would label them as mutants. But as David and Rosalind grow older it becomes more difficult to conceal their differences from the village elders. Soon they face a choice: wait for eventual discovery, or flee to the terrifying and mutable Badlands…
The Chrysalids is a post-nuclear apocalypse story of genetic mutation in a devastated world and explores the lengths the intolerant will go to to keep themselves pure.
Why I Chose It: I remember reading this in high school and loving it. I wanted to check it out and see if it’s as good as I remember!
Having David as a narrator worked really well for me. He recalls events in his childhood that he realizes were quite significant, allowing me to see the naive child that David was and how he accepted the strict reality of his society without question. As he gets older, David is contemplating their community and what it means to be “different.” Watching David evolve and begin to question the rules of his society made me appreciate even more the hard decisions these children had to face.
I really like the way the book talks about the telepathic abilities. The children have no idea what it is called or what they are capable of, and Wyndham creates an interesting lexicon for the characters to discuss the abilities with one another. For example, the children send “thought-pictures” to one another initially, until their powers expand to include complicated speech and emotions. Their conversations are easy to follow yet still carries elements that mark it as a different speech, an aspect I really enjoyed.
The world Wyndham creates is very interesting to imagine. The society of Waknuk is highly controlled, so that every minor difference in vegetation, farm animals, and humans is noticed and scrutinized. Should it prove to be a mutation, it is ultimately destroyed. Yet this picture changes completely when David travels into the Fringes. The descriptions of the mutated vegetation is quite vivid, almost as if they have traveled to a different planet. The farther into the Badlands one travels, the more extreme and alien the land becomes. This setting is one of the most memorable worlds I’ve read, and one that I will enjoy reading over and over.
The one aspect I really enjoy about this novel is that it seems so believable. If our world went through a nuclear apocalypse, the land would mutate and become alien to what we know now. Humans have survived in only the remote areas of the world. There is only minor pieces of history that have survived, leaving humans with a warped view of their ancestors. I am completely taken in by the story because there are so many elements that seem on point. I also really love that while many dystopians feature worlds that have already been rebuilt into prosperous societies, The Chrysalids features a story that occurs shortly after the actual nuclear apocalypse.
There are some minor issues I have with the book, particularly with the ending. While I didn’t enjoy it, the ending was certainly thought-provoking and left me contemplating the characters and society long after I put the book down. I would definitely recommend this book for those readers who enjoy recently published dystopians – even though this story was written much earlier, it’s worth checking out!
Rating: 4 / 5
“You can see giant, distorted heads of corn growing higher than small trees; in some places there are fungus colonies that you’d take at first sight for big white boulders […] There are plants which grow on the cliff-tops and send thick, green cables down a hundred feet and more into the sea; and you wonder whether it’s a land plant that’s got to the salt water, or a sea plant that’s somehow climbed ashore.” p 59
“The lands down there aren’t civilized. Mostly they don’t have any sense of sin so they don’t stop Deviations; and where they do have a sense of sin, they’ve got it mixed up. A lot of them aren’t ashamed of Mutants; it doesn’t seem to worry them when children turn out wrong […] Other places, though, you’ll find Deviations who think they are normal. There’s one tribe where both the men and women are hairless, and they think that hair is the devil’s mark.” p 62
“There came a night when a baby howled. […] No one, indeed, would dream of mentioning the matter 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.” p 66