The Chrysalids – John Wyndham
There are a few us in Liquorature who have a soft spot for post-apocalyptic fiction. There is something about the genre that allows the imagination to run rampant with the ‘Stephen King question’…what if? It begs the reader to ask themselves ‘what would I do if…?’ I like that. I like too that it is a grittier sort of subject matter.
Though The Chrysalids doesn’t quite come across as gritty, it does present a somewhat callous view of existence in the aftermath of the unexplained catastrophic event. It is a neat little tale. It touches on morality, acceptance and coming of age. It asks you to question fundamentalism and conformity. This is accomplished in simple prose without the author ever resorting to preaching.
The story itself is soft sci-fi. It tells of an agrarian society recovering after some sort of ‘Tribulation’ and searching for favor in God’s eyes again. The implication regarding what Wyndham refers to as ‘Tribulation’ seems to be post-nuclear war, but it is never made explicit. Waknuk, the community in the novel, works within the bounds of a flawed fundamentalism in that anything deemed to be outside the norm, or true image, is a deviation and banished to the ‘Fringes’ or destroyed. The problem lies herein. There is no way of knowing what the true image actually was before the ‘Tribulation’.
The Chrysalids is a coming of age tale. It presents us with the lives of a handful of the children of Waknuk, and their attempts at hiding their unique deviation from the tight-knit community. It is a relatively simple parable, that allows for a little in-depth thinking as well.
The only criticism comes with the conclusion of the book. Wyndham has been accused of using the ‘deus ex machina’ ending. That will be up to you to decide.