John Wyndham – The Chrysalids

Posted on | July 6, 2010 | 8 Comments

john_wyndham, the_chrysalids

When I was quite small I would sometimes dream of a city -which was strange because it began before I even knew what a city was.

So opens John Wyndham’s post-nuclear catastrophe dystopian novel, as narrated by David, a child living in a small place called Labrador. Not much is known about the nuclear war, how humanity survived, and the extent of the damage done. That’s all in the past – all that matters is the present state of affairs, the present society, where mutation of any form is illegal, and anyone “different” is sent out to the Fringes and cast away from society.

It’s a religious society, which staunchly believes that “any creature that shall seem to be human, but is not formed thus is not human. it is neither man nor woman. It is blasphemy against the true Image of God, and hateful in the sight of God,” and David’s father is one of those people who follows this to the tee. Everyone is taught the basic moralities of this society at a very young age:

Watch Thou for the Mutant

The Norm is the Will of God

The Devil is the Father of Deviation

and few, if any, question these maxims. However, when David befriends a “mutant,” a girl with six toes, he starts puzzling over the ways of his world. Flowers, people and animals which are considered to be “deviant” are done away with, and even new born babies are inspected by the officials, before they are given the “certificate of humanity.”

David himself is “different” though – he can telepathically communicate with a group of children (think Midnight’s Children). When the authorities discover the “mutation” of this group of arguably gifted children, they flee to the Fringes, to escape the fate that awaits them in Labrador, with the Inspectors hot on their heels.

While this book is essentially an adventure story, it’s also a discussion on human nature and society. If we juxtapose this against the present world, the two words that come to mind immediately are fundamentalism and conformity. The religion is laid out for everyone to follow, without them having a say in it. The Bible and another book, Repentances, survived the nuclear horror, and everyone is compelled to follow them, without challenging or contradicting any of their sayings. However, if we don’t challenge society’s beliefs or their norms, how do we figure out what’s fair and what’s right? How do we grow? How do we improve ourselves? And, if everyone is identical, and there’s no tolerance for any “mutation,”  how do we evolve? How do we become a “developed” society?

I think those are the points Wyndham stresses on, as he creates this post-apocalyptic world. However, this book is fast-paced and essentially a thriller, so much so that the themes he discusses blend in with the story, and very much become a part of it: from the time David questions the beliefs of the society he belongs to, to the time he ponders Enlightment.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book – my first Wyndham incidentally. Post-apocalyptic dystopian novels seem to be a genre I rather “enjoy” (slightly warped?), so are there any other books you’d recommend? Or, any other books by Wyndham? Day of the Triffids and The Midwich Cuckoos are two that have been recommended to me recently.


8 Responses to “John Wyndham – The Chrysalids”

  1. Jackie (Farm Lane Books)
    July 6th, 2010 @ 9:18 pm

    I haven’t read any Wyndham yet, but I got The Day of the Triffids out of the library yesterday. I hope my first Wyndham experience is as good as yours.

  2. Becky (Page Turners)
    July 7th, 2010 @ 3:26 am

    I have had this on my wish list for a very long time and the more reviews I read the more I want to read the book. it sounds fascinating

  3. Claire (Paperback Reader)
    July 7th, 2010 @ 12:24 pm

    I think I am going to leave The Chrysalids until last as it is supposed to be Wyndham’s best novel. I loved The Midwich Cuckoos, Day of the Triffids and Trouble With Lichen (the last two are reviewed on my blog); I have a copy of Plan for Chaos and have Chocky and The Kraken Wakes on my wishlist (I adore the cover designs that the above one comes from and collecting them!)

  4. Mae
    July 7th, 2010 @ 2:18 pm

    This sounds interesting. I kept hearing about it but I didn’t know what it was about. To be honest, it gives the impression of something to do with butterflies or moths…

    I love this new Penguin decades series. The covers are gorgeous. i just bought myself some.

    And, I’m not at all partial to dystopian/post-apocalyptic stories but there was one I really enjoyed and thought it was very sad (as they are all). It’s an Australia publication – ‘Things we didn’t see coming’ by Steven Amsterdam. (

  5. biscuit
    July 7th, 2010 @ 5:26 pm

    Now I really really want to read that book. Be sure to lug it back with you so that I can borrow it. Great blurb.


  6. Jodie
    July 8th, 2010 @ 12:40 pm

    For dystopian fans I always recommend ‘The Carhullan Army’ by Sara Hall, which is so short and yet so amazing.

    The Chrysalids sounds good, maybe a little bit too neatly good vs evil but that just means I need to be in the right mood. I always wonder why so many dystopian societies become so religious (is it that the more religious people survive, with an end to technology do people need something to fill that void…). What do you think?

  7. anothercookiecrumbles
    July 9th, 2010 @ 6:11 pm

    @ Jackie : Ooh, I look forward to your thoughts on Day of the Triffids. Probably going to be the next Wyndham I read. Hope you enjoy it.

    @ Becky : Hope you read it soon. Think it’ll be worth the wait.

    @ Claire : Love the covers as well. As and when I buy more of his books, I’ll be looking to collecting the same “editions.” Right, popping over to yours to read the reviews…

    @ Mae : Haha, I thought the same to. Oh, chrysalis! Thanks for the recommendation. It does sound quite good – not a book I’d heard of before.

    @ biscuit : Sure thing.

    @ Jodie : I have the Hall on my to-be-read list. I loved How To Paint A Dead Man, and want to read her other books in due course of time. Thanks for pointing this one out to me – didn’t realise it was a dystopian novel.

    Yep, you’ve got a point about the whole black v. white thing going on in The Chrysalids. Maybe that’s what society is going to come to, if the majority doesn’t question anything and just take what the elders say at face value?

    Possibly – on one side, it’s the whole science v. the church thing, and how the church tried to discredit science for the longest time. It’s easiest to attribute the unknown and the unexplainable to the so-called greater power out there. On the other though, I think it’s to do with the “survivors” not being left with anything else, as civilisation comes to an end, so maybe they just resort to prayer, and think prayer has saved them from dying out completely? I really don’t know…

  8. Sarah
    July 17th, 2010 @ 2:20 am

    Oh, I am glad you like it! It’s such a long time since I read this that I had forgotten why I rated it as my favourite: thanks for a beautifully reasoned reminder. I have never had my own copy, but now think that I really should. More than a hint of cover love behind that thought; your copy is rather lovely.

    Midwich Cuckoos, The Kraken Awakes are both good fun, and there is a less well known novel about spiders, upon which I believe the film Arachnophobia was based…

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