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The Chrysalids

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A world paralysed by genetic mutation

John Wyndham takes the reader into the anguished heart of a community where the chances of breeding true are less than fifty per cent and where deviations are rooted out and destroyed as offences and abominations.

200 pages, Mass Market Paperback

First published January 1, 1955

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About the author

John Wyndham

306 books1,712 followers
John Wyndham Parkes Lucas Beynon Harris was the son of a barrister. After trying a number of careers, including farming, law, commercial art and advertising, he started writing short stories in 1925. After serving in the civil Service and the Army during the war, he went back to writing. Adopting the name John Wyndham, he started writing a form of science fiction that he called 'logical fantasy'. As well as The Day of the Triffids, he wrote The Kraken Wakes, The Chrysalids, The Midwich Cuckoos (filmed as Village of the Damned) and The Seeds of Time.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 3,030 reviews
Profile Image for Em Lost In Books.
874 reviews1,763 followers
April 16, 2019
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.

David is born into this world with the power of telepathy. No one is able to detect this and thus he managed to survive in this cruel world. First he was happy that his mutation did not affect his appearance but as he grew, he understood the repercussion of getting caught. Then things took a turn for worse and he along with two others embarks on journey to the distant land.

It is easy to imagine how this apoplectic setting could have created controversies at the time of its release because after all only a decade earlier the world had suffered World War II, and the horrors were still fresh. But what appalled me most is that even after five decades nothing has changed and people are still trying to overpower each other, still committing heinous crime against each other in the name of religion and superiority.

Definitely one of the better Dystopia that I have read. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Apatt.
507 reviews781 followers
July 25, 2016
John Wyndham is often described in rather disparaging term as the main proponent of cosy catastrophe. This based on the allegation that his protagonists tend to be English middle class white males who are not much inconvenienced by the apocalypse, somehow continuing to live it up while the rest of the populace suffer. Having read three of his books I find that while the allegation is not entirely unwarranted it is also not quite fair. I hope to write more about this issue when I get around to reviewing The Day of the Triffids.

However, there can be no justification in calling The Chrysalids a cosy catastrophe or cosy anything. There is even a quote in the novel that addresses this issue:

“This isn't a nice cosy world for anyone—especially not for anyone that's different,' he said. 'Maybe you're not the kind to survive it, after all”

David Strorm, the telepathic protagonist and his telepathic friends certainly do not have a good time lording it up to anybody. They live in a rural region called Labrador ruled by fascistic religious zealots. In this post apocalypse world the “Tribulation” (nuclear holocaust) has caused wide spread mutations among all life forms, and mutations of any kind are regarded as blasphemies:

“And 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.”

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.

While The Day of the Triffids is Wyndham’s best known work, The Chrysalids is often cited as his best. It is not hard to see why. Beside being a fast paced thrilling story the underlying message of the story is also heartfelt. The book is clearly a metaphor for the plight of ethnic minorities and the disenfranchised. Compared to the other Wyndhams that I have read The Chrysalids is the most compassionate. The plea for tolerance is already evident early on in the book where the narrative focuses on a charming innocuous friendship between the outwardly normal David Strorm and a nice little girl called Sophie. Sophie is almost normal except for a small extra toe on each foot. Once her “deviancy” is discovered the friendship has to come to an abrupt end and she has to go on the run with her family.

The Chrysalids is a wonderful and highly readable little novel (around 200 pages). It reads a little like a YA book due to the age of the central characters, however, in spite of the fairly straightforward plot it is quite profound and moving. The prose is very nicely written, the narrative compelling and highly readable. This book can be an ideal gateway for new readers to the genre, and a must-read for fans of “old school” science fiction.


This mutant chickens book cover is pretty cool, but this Mark Salwowski represents the book better. Really puts the Wow in Salwowski!
Profile Image for Adrian.
562 reviews197 followers
November 20, 2020
2nd READ IN 2020
Well let's be honest, who reads the same book twice in one year, erm me, it appears. It seems like déja vu but I had no intention of reading it again this year, until the group Apocalypse Whenever nominated it as their (our) December Book Club Read.
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 !!
Excellent writing as ever from JW or JBH or whatever combination of names you know this author by (can you end a sentence with by ?? ) For once it is not set in England, his native country, but although that normally means a lot to me, this book just delivers the feeling, the hopelessness, the bigotry, the narrow mindedness of what could be port apocalypse anywhere in the Western world. Great novel.

READ IN 2020
So I had no intention of re-reading this book whatsoever, so why did I ? Well in September I managed to acquire a 1959 paperback edition of this book from a charity shop, and it had sat on my bedside table for a few months until I finished my previous book and just grabbed it to read.
It was yet again an enjoyable read, well written, a good post-apocalyptic story that seems to have been written way before its time.
I have to say that Wyndham is one of my favourite authors.

READ IN 2017
Another wonderfully written Wyndham book. Similar to some of the other reviewers I find that Wyndham's writing draws you in, and before you know it an hour has passed (Not lost as reading is never about losing time) and you want to carry on to continually find out what happens next.
As with some of his other novels I would have loved a sequel to find out how the characters fared on the next stage of their journey, but maybe thats the sign of a good writer, leave the reader wanting more.
In my view its a 9/10 or a 4 and a half stars, but not a 5, so 4 it has to be.
Profile Image for Kylie D.
464 reviews510 followers
June 2, 2019
What if you live in a post-apocalyptic world, where radiation is causing genetic mutations in plants and animals...and humans? What if such mutations are looked upon as being impure and destroyed, or in the case of humans, sterilised and cast out of society? What if your mutation cannot be seen with the naked eye? In The Chrysalids John Wyndham has woven a tale about what could happen in such a dystopian world. The intolerances rising from fear, the sad plight of the outcasts, and the desperate flight of those who would be found out. And yet, from an unbelievable source, there is hope...
A wonderful book I was forced to read in school, yet I have just re-read it again as an adult, and taken so much more from it now than I ever did as a kid. And yet, it stayed with me all those years...
Highly Recommended
Profile Image for Michael || TheNeverendingTBR.
468 reviews161 followers
February 14, 2023
The second book I've read by John Wyndham and I'm also impressed by this one.

Originally published in 1955, it's way ahead of its time.

There are themes of disability, bodily difference and theology.

The story takes place in a post-apocalyptic world and reveals how we never learn even following such devastating circumstances.

Well worth reading even though quite disturbing.

I'm looking forward to my next read by him.
Profile Image for Paul Bryant.
2,196 reviews9,482 followers
May 3, 2021
A few hundred years after the nuclear holocaust and things are sticky. There’s the Fringe where people have six toes or an extra arm and there are strange creatures like a cross between a hyena and a mushroom pizza and so forth, there’s the Badlands which are so bad no one will go to even find out just how bad they are, and there are places even worse that are just mile upon mile of black glass, a challenge for skateboarders. But there are also areas of relative peace and security where it’s almost as good as it was in the 13th century. They try to keep people normal in this part of the world, so woe betide you if you turn out to be born with an extra toe, you are gonna get capped even if you are a likkle weeny itty baby.

Honesty compels me to state that The Chrysalids suffers from being very familiar even if you never read it because there are (apparently) only so many thing that are ever going to happen after the nuclear holocaust. There will be granite jawed high and mighty God-intoxicated flawed leaders (Charlton Heston), there will be hotheaded youths (Leonardo DiCaprio circa 1998), there will be lissom ardent girls in inappropriate garments (Jenny Agutter from Logan’s Run), there is a strong chance of there being bands of roaming mutants led by Brad Dourif, aw, you know the drill.

Anyway, I have a soft spot for the British science fiction of HG Wells followed by John Wyndham followed by Brian Aldiss followed by JG Ballard. Someone should write a mashup of all those guys’ first five novels. It would be hilarious.
Profile Image for Glenn Russell.
1,359 reviews11.8k followers
July 20, 2020

On one level, The Chrysalids is the story of a rustic farming community struggling to survive many years following massive global nuclear destruction. These people hold up two sacred texts as absolute truth: the Bible (from the time of the Old People) and Nicholson’s Repentances containing core admonitions: KEEP PURE THE STOCK OF THE LORD, WATCH THOU FOR THE MUTANT!, THE DEVIL IS THE FATHER OF DEVIATION.

The tale is told by protagonist David Strorm. On the novel’s first page, we listen in as David, a lad of ten, muses on his dream of a city with tall buildings lining streets along a waterfront, with boats in a harbor, all very strange since David admits he has never seen anything resembling such a city in his waking life.

But David comes to realize talking of dreams might have dire consequences since his village of Waknuk judges any eccentricity, any departure from the one, true proscribed way to be and act in this world as a defiance to God demanding the harshest punishment: banishment to the deadly wild fringes outside the village or being put to death, usually a protracted, agonizing death in public to serve as a warning for all to maintain the norm.

Oh, yes, Waknuk goes to great lengths to maintain the norm. KEEP PURE THE STOCK OF THE LORD. David's father, a village leader, along with officials and the inspector overseeing farming districts will pronounce death to babies having the slightest Deviation (author's caps for emphasis) - abnormalities and deviations being mostly the long-term aftereffects of nuclear fallout, things like six toes or too long arms or a hairless head. Similarly with animals and even crops: any Deviation from the proscribed form and the animal will be put to death or the crops burned.

If the authorities will ruthlessly destroy such outward Deviations, David can imagine what would happen if village leaders discovered he and several of his friends posses a particularly powerful Deviation: they are telepathic, capable of sharing mental images and speaking with one another internally, mind-to-mind. And David's younger sister Petra is born with super, mind-blowing telepathic powers, able to communicate with other telepaths halfway across the globe. Holy Deviation!

Unfortunately, the villagers get wind of the strange abilities of David and the others. Ah! Their small group must escape the clutches of all those intolerant, fundamentalist village bigots, journey miles beyond to lands unknown, to encounter new worlds. Thus, on a second level, we have an exciting young adult adventure, one requiring stamina, endurance, courage and resourcefulness. Do you know a twelve-year-old or teenage booklover? If so, The Chrysalids would make the perfect gift.

The ultimate fate of the adventurous band is for each reader to discover on their own. And since John Wyndham saves the most shocking revelations for the end of his tale, I dare not say too much. Rather, I'll take a quick shift to sketch a number of hypothetical situations to mull over (Hint - all three Cases are riddled with bad thinking and logical fallacies).

Case One: Outer space aliens land. They were able to travel across the universe and reach us since they are not bound by our three dimensions. Nope, no primitive limitations for these advanced beings who have the ability to easily and quickly pop in and out of the fourth dimension. And when they are in the fourth dimension, they become invisible to us mere Earthlings. Anyhow, they tell us their population is over 500 million strong and say they need our food in order to survive. Therefore, recognizing life is “survival of the fittest” and they are obviously of a higher species, on all counts of logic and ethics, the proper solution instantly follows: death to all Earthlings.

Case Two: We’re in the future and the United States needs to immediately take over all Middle-Eastern oil fields. It’s a matter of life and death. Via military superiority, such a takeover can be effected next week, no problem. Again, “survival of the fittest” requires this action.

Case Three: Same dynamics as Case Two, only this time we’re talking the forests of the Amazon. The West needs the forests for economic development, so sorry, too bad for the tribespeople.

We’re well to keep these three case studies in mind as we read The Chrysalids, a philosophic tale that still speaks to us today. And the NYRB edition is the one to go with since it includes an insightful introductory essay by Christopher Priest.

British SF author John Wyndham, 1903-1969

“I shall pray to God to send charity to this hideous world, and sympathy for the weak, and love for the unhappy and unfortunate. I shall ask Him if is indeed His will that a child should suffer and its soul be damned for a little blemish on the body. And I shall pray Him, too, that the hearts of the self-righteous may be broken.”― John Wyndham, The Chrysalids
Profile Image for Bionic Jean.
1,228 reviews1,063 followers
February 20, 2023
I love this book! It affects me every time I read it, or listen to/watch an adaptation of The Chrysalids. The depiction of a post-nuclear world, where a tiny minority of telepaths are pitted against the general population of religious bigots is pure Wyndham. He takes just a small step away, presents a "What if?" scenario, and proceeds to show human behaviour in all its aspects, warts and all.
Profile Image for Shannon .
1,221 reviews2,164 followers
October 21, 2009
This has been on my shelf, unread, since uni, when I picked it up second-hand after reading and loving The Day of the Triffids, recommended to me by my mum. I can't believe I waited so long to read this amazing book, and if there is one book you should read in your life it is this one.

It has been a long time - how long no one can say, though surely centuries - since God sent the Tribulation to the Old People (us), near destroying everything we had built and learned. The Tribulation continues: the wilderness - vast tracts of land covered in what looks like black glass - and the Badlands beyond the Fringes, absorbs most of the world. Pockets of civilisation, such as it is, survive with their own form of understanding the past. Genetic mutations of plants, animals and people continue, and everyone has their own idea of what the "true form" should be and focus their energies on zealously destroying the Deviations.

Davie lives in Labrador - at least, that's what they think the Old People called it - and at birth passed inspection. The Bible and a book written after the Tribulation, the Repentances, clearly outline what the True Form should be, and that Mutants are an abomination to God and Man. Even at a young age when none of this is really understood, though, he instinctively keeps his ability to think-speak with several other children in the area, including his half-cousin Rosalind, a secret. It is only as he grows older, especially after he loses his friend and playmate Sophie, whose parents have done all they can to hide the six toes on each of her feet, that he really begins to understand the dangers of being a Deviant.

This book is beautifully, subtly, skilfully written. For that alone it is worth reading. Characters are rarely described yet vividly portrayed through their words, their speech-patterns, their reactions. The feeling of suspense and danger overshadows a Little House on the Prairie kind of lifestyle, and the small-minded bigotry comes across clearly in the small details as much as in the story itself.

What is even more fascinating, though, is the world Wyndham has created here and the philosophies grounded in it. That everyone has their own ideas of what is right, that Davie's people are studiously trying to recapture the Old People's way of life without understanding the significance of that way of life being visited by climatic and genetic destruction, speaks loud and clear. Davie is taught that:

"...mankind - that was us, in civilised parts - was in the process of climbing back into grace; we were following a faint and difficult trail which led up to the peaks from which we had fallen. From the true trail branched many false trails that sometimes looked easier and more attractive; all these really led to the edges of precipices, beneath which lay the abyss of eternity. There was only one true trail, and by following it we should, with God's help and in His own good time, regain all that had been lost. But so faint was the trail, so set with traps and deceits, that every step must be taken with caution, and it was too dangerous for a man to rely on his own judgement. Only the authorities, ecclesiastical and lay, were in a position to judge whether the next step was a rediscovery, and so, safe to take; or whether it deviated from the true re-ascent, and so was sinful." (p.40)

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?).

Another interesting (and damning) perspective comes from one of these other societies, called Zealand, one that has advanced and re-built and where think-speaking is treasured and encouraged - a utopia, in fact, for Davie and his friends:

"...we can make a better world than the Old People. They were only ingenious half-humans, little better than savages; all living shut off from one another, with only clumsy words to link them. Often they were shut off still more by different languages, and different beliefs. Some of them could think individually, but they had to remain individuals. Emotions they could sometimes share, but they could not think collectively. When their conditions were primitive they could get along all right, as the animals can; but the more complex they made their world, the less capable they were of dealing with it. They had no means of consensus. They learnt to co-operate constructively in small units; but only destructively in large units. They aspired greedily, and then refused to face the responsibilities they had created. They created vast problems, then buried their heads in the sands of idle faith. There was, you see, no real communication, no understanding between them. They could, at their best, be near-sublime animals, but not more." (p.156)

Aside from the disparaging remark about animals, whom I tend to respect more than I do humans as a species, this is such a damning view of us Old People, yet so spot-on. Even written in the 50s, it's clear that we as people and societies and other groups, are not learning. Most post-apocalyptic fiction, that I've read anyway, is entirely plausible (though Day of the Triffids is a bit odd in that respect): it's easy enough to follow the path we are on, all the paths, to their worst conclusion. What the people of Zealand are really saying is that communication leads to understanding leads to co-operation and can avert catastrophe.

Despite the religious overtones and the philosophising, this is not a lecturing book, it does not try to tell you what to think or judge you. As the blurb says, it is "A terrifying story of conformity and deformity in a world paralysed by genetic mutation" and, in true fantasy/sci-fi form, every reader will take something different from it, or nothing at all. I personally was thoroughly engrossed in this classic, and find it broadens and strengthens my understanding of the dangers of taking things too literally, in strict interpretations. Freedom of thought and debate is one of our greatest strengths as a species, and without it we wallow, stuck, on the same path, repeating the same mistakes again and again, blinded by our own arrogance and lack of imagination.
Profile Image for B Schrodinger.
305 reviews659 followers
October 16, 2014
It is certainly easy to classify John Wyndham's The Chrysalids as old school YA fiction, from before YA fiction needed a label, but it offers more than your average after school special between covers in that it treats the reader as an intelligent and reasonable person, and that while there is a touch of the 50s to the book, it was certainly way ahead of it's time.

David Strorm is the only living son of a patriarch of an ultra-religious post-apocalyptic community. Faced a level of mutation in the their farming stock, both plants and animals, the community has twisted the christian faith into a fundamentalist view that any variation is a sin against god and must be burnt. This is handled by the community and by appointed inspectors. A few plants that don't quite grow to perfection and a whole crop is burnt to the ground. While this may have helped a little curb the proliferation of any mutagens that may be harmful to humans, it has certainly held back any natural selection processes.

Unfortunately the rules do not end at the farm. Any human born not in god's image is not certified by the inspectors and is taken, hushed up and forgotten. There is also an unspoken rule that a female who produces offspring three times that do not get certified is taken away and quite possibly treated like the livestock that also do not produce. It is a frightening and terror filled community, one that brings back memories of Atwood's A Handmaid's Tale.

So everyone in this community has a stamp of approval that they fit the image of god in all their looks. But what happens if there is a variation that an inspector cannot see? David learns from an early age that he can communicate with a small group of others telepathically. This small group of children band together in their fear and strategise to hide their differences in fear for their lives. But all is changed when people notice their strange behaviour when one of their kind is hurt and they come to their rescue with no seemingly way of knowing that the person was injured.

At a guess I have probably read The Chrysalids about a dozen times. Mostly in my teens as I worked my way through whatever John Wyndhams I could find in my local and school libraries after discovering The Day of the Triffids. So any John Wyndham is a comfort read for me. A mix of good sturdy SF with nostalgia. Truthfully this book probably deserves a 4 star rating, but it means a lot to me. It was the Wyndham that made me that much more confident as a teen who did not fit in. It introduced me to religious fundamentalism. And it also made it OK to be a daydreamer. I think all the John Wyndhams that I read as a teen have made me a better person in the long run. I certainly wouldn't be the same person had I not read and loved them.
Profile Image for Paul Weiss.
1,224 reviews169 followers
November 30, 2022
A perennial soft sci-fi classic!

At a time in some unspecified distant future after a nuclear war has left much of the world a barren, poisonous wasteland, David Strorm, Sophie Wender and Rosalind Morton live in Waknuk, a small agriculturally focused community in central Labrador. With modern technology yet to be re-invented, the strict religious fundamental beliefs of this still primitive community label the apocalypse as "Tribulation", a punishment visited by God upon the "old people" for their sins.

Genetic variations and mutations, now commonplace (no doubt as a result of higher worldwide radiation levels), are seen as evil. "Deviant" crops and animals are burnt. Humans with even the most minor mutations from their highest religious ideal, a physical norm which the community calls God's "True Image", are labeled as blasphemies and are killed outright or banished to eke out their future existence in a wildly savage outlying area called "The Fringes".

When the community discovers that David and Rosalind together with a small group of other young people have developed the ability to communicate telepathically, they are forced to flee for their lives. They are re-united with their friend Sophie, earlier banished to the Fringes for the disgusting aberration of having six toes instead of the normal five. David's younger sister, Petra, able to communicate her thoughts with a power and at a distance far beyond any of the other children discovers the presence of others like them in a distant community who mount a campaign to rescue the children from their persecutors.

In THE CHRYSALIDS, John Wyndham has mounted a vicious attack on religious fundamentalism, bigotry, intolerance and narrow-mindedness. Analytical readers will be mindful of the irony in the closing chapters as it is clear that the more advanced community is as repressive and intolerant as the community from which the children fled. Wyndham leaves us with the unresolved open question as to whether Man's evolution into a new species will perforce require the extinction of the remaining members of the previous species.

Wyndham's characters, his easy-going unforced and completely natural dialogue, his heartwarming portrayal of children at play, a mother's grief-stricken tragedy as she tries to protect her children from religious attack, and the faltering growth of love between young men and women will all remind classic science fiction fans of the pastoral easy reading style of Clifford D Simak, another giant of the genre.

If you've yet to savour THE CHRYSALIDS, a perennial front runner in the field of soft science fiction, I can't think of a better time than right now. Highly recommended indeed.

Paul Weiss
Profile Image for Beverly.
807 reviews291 followers
December 28, 2021
I just did a reread of this and I love it even more than the first time. This is a compact, post apocalyptic thriller with great characters, terrific world building and a heartfelt cry for the disenfranchised.

It is a young adult novel, but don't let that stop you, the issues are adult. David Strorm is the main protagonist, a young man who lives in a fanatical religious community, who is able to send telepathic messages to others like him. His farming village is very traditional. Their traditions include death or banishment for anyone who isn't "perfect". Perfect people have no odd physical deformations, and no mental ones either.

David's father is the staunch, cruel leader of their farming community and won't allow a "deviant" to live. He even kills his newborn babies.

My favorite quote is when David is trying to explain to his young sister, Petra, why they are hated, . . ."when people are different, ordinary people are afraid of them." Then she asks why? "It's a feel-thing not a think-thing. And the more stupid they are, the more like everyone else they think everyone ought to be. And once they get afraid they become cruel and want to hurt people who are different--".
Profile Image for Dan Schwent.
2,930 reviews10.6k followers
December 12, 2009
The Chrysalids is my new favorite John Wyndham book. It's about conformity in a post-nuclear holocaust world. David and his friends live in an isolated community called Waknuk on the island of Labrador. After seeing one of his friends cast out into the Fringes for having a sixth toe, David begins mistrusting his upbringing. Once he discovers that he and a small group of his friends are telepathic, things only get worse.

Wyndham draws on the paranoia and distrust of the deviations from the norm that he uses in his other books, making David's plight seem all too plausible. I'd recommend this to all fans of John Wyndham and 50's sf in general, dystopian future fans, as well as people who dug The Giver and it's two companion books.
Profile Image for Tracey.
425 reviews93 followers
September 19, 2017
An oldie but a goodie. Dystopian fiction at it's best from John Wyndham.
The main character David appears at first to be 'normal'. Anyone with a birth defect is a deviant and either killed outright or sent off to The fringes to live with the other mutant.
As he grows up David becomes aware of others like him who can communicate in thought patterns. (Telepathy). This if discovered would be classed as deviant and they and he would be in grave danger.
David has to protect his friends and especially his younger sister so when danger threatens he takes them away to find a home on the Fringes.
Lots of interesting scenarios and overall a really good story.
I did feel the end was a little too wrapped up for my liking but still well worth a read.
3 1/2 * rounded up to 4
Profile Image for Chris F.
1 review1 follower
February 28, 2009
At first it seems as if John Wyndham is making the point that those with physical deformities are humans just like everyone else, and should be treated as such. However if we divide this book into heroes and villains, and weigh up the pros and cons for each group we find that the “heroes” are the greater monsters. If the villains are defined by their intolerance of anyone or anything that deviates from the norm then our band of heroes, and their ultimate savior, are the worst offenders. I was left wondering if Wyndham’s views on abnormality aren’t the opposite of what they appear to be at first glance. After all, the head of the bad guys (David’s father) is guilty of nothing more than misguided piousness. If he and his likeminded fellows find a person with abnormal features, they sterilize and banish them, which is pretty unpleasant. But compare that to David and co’s beautiful, physically perfect, highly intelligent, super-human savior, who indiscriminately murders hundreds of people to save one girl with qualities which she finds useful. And then defends her actions with what amounts to not much more than a shrug. “people like us” indeed!
After reading both this book and The Day Of The Triffids, I couldn’t help questioning Wyndham’s attitude towards disability. Is he a closet eugenicist?
Profile Image for Indieflower.
330 reviews100 followers
July 29, 2022
I very much enjoyed this little post apocalyptic tale, not sure how I've never got round to reading it before. Simply written, I'm surprised how much it held my attention and - considering it was written in 1955 - how much it highlighted the way folk can be so intolerant and fearful of anyone different from "the norm" which is to say, anyone not like themselves 😐. It was interesting how each of the communities thought their way was unquestionably right, yet each were flawed and intolerant in their own way. I liked the quiet, almost matter of fact unfolding of the story, and weirdly I also enjoyed the somewhat middle class, stiff upper lip, jolly hockey sticks dialogue between the young characters, it reminded me of stories I read as a child, by the likes of Enid Blyton. So a very respectable 4 stars, I got a lot more from this book than I anticipated.
Profile Image for Ian.
726 reviews65 followers
February 17, 2022
This is the second of John Wyndham’s classic sci-fi novels that I have recently revisited on audiobook, having originally read it as a teenager.

The Chrysalids is set in a future world some centuries, perhaps even millennia, after civilisation has been destroyed in a nuclear war. We aren’t specifically told what happened, but it’s clear from numerous references in the book. When Wyndham wrote this novel in the mid-1950s, nuclear war was the favoured means by which the apocalypse was delivered in literature. Nowadays of course it has lost popularity to pandemics and climate change.

The story is set in Labrador, Canada, which in the book has a warmer climate than today. The inhabitants are famers with a technology roughly equivalent to early 18th century Europe. They are aware that “the old people” once had a more advanced civilisation but believe God sent “tribulation” to punish humanity for its sinfulness. They are also ruled by a harsh form of Christianity that is focused on the destruction of “deviations” or “mutants”, whether human, animal or plant life. Radiation residues cause genetic abnormalities which the Church believes are the work of the Devil. The women of Labrador sew large Christian crosses onto their dresses, in the hope they can ward off the Devil and give birth to children “in the true image of God.” As might be expected in such a society, it is women who get the blame when things don’t go to plan. To the south of the settled area lies “The Fringes” where genetic variations are more common, and further south again are “The Badlands”, which are still uninhabitable as a result of the nuclear holocaust.

I had remembered this book as one of my two favourite John Wyndham novels. I didn’t remember much of the detail, but what I do remember is that the setting really gripped my teenage imagination.

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.

The book contains some fairly standard messages about the folly of mankind in using nuclear weapons and thus destroying their own civilisation. The nature of the plot means that it also considers themes like bigotry and the treatment of people who are different. The ending slightly puzzled me though, in the message contained at the end seemed to me to somewhat contradict the earlier messages within the book. I find it hard to believe that Wyndham wasn’t aware of this contradiction, which leads me to conclude he introduced it deliberately. It left me in a contemplative mood.
Profile Image for Kitty G Books.
1,551 reviews2,937 followers
March 14, 2018
John Wyndham has firmly managed to cement himself as a new favourite author for me after reading this as my second book by him (the first was Day of the Triffids). I think the way Wyndham writes, with inspiration drawn from a cosy British living in the 50s, and the fears brought about from the wartime before, mixed with a great blend of SF elements, just really works for me as a reader, and I find I can really enjoy his stories.

This is the story of David, a young boy who has a troubled upbringing in a rural farming community. He's brought into a culture where 'Deviation' is seen as Devil-work and anything that 'Deviates' in any way must be exterminated. This extends through all the crops that the farmers grow, right through to the children they birth. Any abnormality will mean death or desertion of children/burning of crops. Nothing is allowed to go against the True Image, and David's father is one of the most staunch in the community about enforcing this rule.

However, despite this rigid upbringing, David doesn't fully cooperate, and sometimes when he meets others who have a deviation he ends up helping them rather than turning them in. This may be due to the fact that David has his own sort of Deviation, something the adults of his community can't see, and it's something he has to keep hidden. His friends and sister, Rosalind, Petra, Rachel, Michael etc. are also going to be in trouble if he can't keep his secrets hidden...

I really enjoyed the twists of this story. It's not got anything too outlandish by today's standards, but there are certainly moments in the plot where it does surprise the reader and you find yourself drawn into the story. This is actually a fairly short book (my copy just 200 pages) but once you're over halfway it will whizz by and I ended up reading the majority of the book in one sitting.

I would thoroughly recommend trying Wyndham's work if you like twee British stories, but want a bit of sci-fi in there too. A very strong book (4.5*s from me) and I cannot wait to pick up and read more of Wyndham's work very soon.
Profile Image for Althea Ann.
2,232 reviews1,016 followers
August 22, 2017
It seems wrong for the first adjective I'd use to describe a rather miserable future dystopia to be "nostalgic" but that was the mood this book swept me into. Not a nostalgia for the world described within the book, but rather for the style of writing. I read a great deal of fiction very similar to this in my early teenage years, but somehow, I believe I missed this one. Even if I had read it before, it would've held up to re-reading - this is quite an excellent book.

In a post-nuclear-war society, life is restricted by radioactive no-go zones. Physical mutations are common, but, at least in the strict, religious, patriarchal village that is all young David has ever known, mutants - animal, vegetable or human - are ruthlessly weeded out. He's never questioned the morality he's been raised with - until the heavy hand of the law falls upon a childhood friend - and he realizes that he himself may be a new (and unprecedentedly dangerous) kind of mutant. Not only that, but his young sister, Petra, may share his mutation. He is not alone - but will a small group of young people be able to survive in the face of the firmly-held convictions of even their dearest friends and family?

There are a few weaknesses to the book - the "wise uncle" character is a bit too good and knowledgeable to be true, and once our characters are on the run, the plot feels a bit rushed... but...

The book does a superlative job of exploring the psychology of hatred, including the motivations behind it, while making a cogent, compelling argument for diversity in all its forms: what makes us human is not the physical form of our bodies, our gender, or even how we think, but something deeper than that. However, any 'message' is delicately understated, and the ending brings a beautifully structured ambiguity to it: MAJOR SPOILER There are no answers - it's left up to the reader to decide.

While that open-endedness is, in that way, thought-provoking, there is another open end, however, which cries out for a never-written sequel: Petra. With that setup, there really should've been a followup to explore the issue, in my opinion.

Read for post-apocalyptic book club.
Profile Image for Katie Lumsden.
Author 1 book2,822 followers
August 20, 2016
Absolutely brilliant - one of the best books I've read in terms of dealing with a post-apocalyptic world and what they might mean. The writing is beautiful and the characterisation and world-building subtly done. The society Wyndham builds is terrifying and fascinating, and brilliantly created. I think I preferred the slower first half to the more action-driven second half, but this will still definitely be one of my favourites of this year!
Profile Image for Kerri.
980 reviews351 followers
July 5, 2022
Another excellent John Wyndham novel - I've listened to quite a few recently as they are in the Audible Plus catalogue and I have enjoyed them all. They are well written and the ideas and concepts are brilliant.

This one was read by Noah Reid and he was lovely to listen to.
Profile Image for Manny.
Author 29 books13.7k followers
November 13, 2012
Perhaps the best sound-bite from the anti-evolution camp is the one about the tornado. If a tornado hit a junkyard, how likely is it that it would randomly create a 747? I was surprised to learn the other day that the line originally comes from Fred Hoyle, the brilliant but eccentric astrophysicist who also coined the phrase "Big Bang". Of course, it's not a fair comparison. The whole point, as everyone from Darwin onward has explained, is that evolution isn't a one-shot process; it's the result of a gigantic number of tiny incremental steps, where Nature each time throws away nearly all the results as unpromising and keeps only the few that gave something worthwhile.

So I'm not impressed with the tornado and the junkyard as an argument against evolution. But it is an extremely good putdown of the post-apocalytic SF plot featuring mutants with wild powers, of which this book is a typical example. Hard radiation has scrambled everyone's DNA, and this happens to result in the instant creation of, not one, but many people who can communicate telepathically? Give me a break.
Profile Image for Велислав Върбанов.
388 reviews30 followers
February 8, 2023
„Какавидите“ е страхотна постапокалиптична и антиутопична книга на Джон Уиндъм! В нея авторът поставя изключително важни въпроси, над които си струва всеки да се замисли.

Хиляди години след ядрен апокалипсис, от който не е останал и спомен, животът на Земята се е променил, като голяма част от хората са засегнати от различни видове мутации. Религиозният фанатизъм обаче не е изчезнал в бъдещето, даже напротив... Тези, които не са претърпели промени, живеят със силна омраза към „мутантите“, а и са изградили общност, в която всеки по-различен е заклеймяван и преследван като отклонение от „божието подобие“. Главен герой в „Какавидите е малкият Дейвид, който е син на един от най-изявените фанатици, живеещи на място, наречено „Лабрадор“. Момчето няма външни отклонения, обаче притежава телепатични способности, чрез които влиза в контакт с други като него. Телепатите се намират в сериозна опасност, тъй като тяхното общуване също се смята за отклонение, затова са принудени да пазят в тайна своята дарба...
Profile Image for Metodi Markov.
1,304 reviews298 followers
December 22, 2022
"Какавидите" и "Денят на трифидите" са двата мои най-любими романа, излезли из под перото на британския майстор Джон Уиндъм.

Оригинален постапокалиптичен свят, симпатични герои и послания, изпълнени с надежда за развитето на човешкия вид - това е общото помежду им.

Този кратък роман е написан чудесно и не бива да се пропуска от почитателите на sci-fi жанра у нас!

P.S. С най-голям кеф я препрочетох за пореден път. ;)
Profile Image for Abubakar Mehdi.
158 reviews221 followers
October 1, 2022
How does it feel to be different?

I asked myself this question many times and, on many occasions, to understand how and in what ways was I different to those around me. While this is all wildly subjective, I didn’t understand the true and inescapable nature of this quandary until one winter evening I walked into a pub in South West of England.

As I stepped into the century-old low-ceilinged quaint pub, I could feel dozens of eyes glued to the back of my neck. The hush of murmurs punctuated by squeaking chairs and gruff coughs alerted me to the realisation that I was different. I was sticking out like a sore thumb and it wasn’t eluding anyone. As soon as it came, the realization drowned in the chatter and the crackle of the woodfire in the hearth. It was, after all, an ordinary evening for the regulars. I was but an aberration in their reality, worthy of notice but neither threatening nor permanent enough to warrant concern among the resident beer gulpers of the village.

When I recall that day, I can certainly think of many similar situations. Some that occurred more in my head than in the three-dimensional world, but some were unmistakably pronounced enough to be etched in my mind forever. What is it, I ask myself, that makes me different? Is it my height, my unplaceable accent or my beard that made me stand out? Perhaps it is the colour of my skin. Or maybe it is the fact that I speak other languages that remain as cryptic to those pub-goers as their silent inquisitiveness was to me.

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.

Wyndham is a gifted story teller. He makes the reader feel alarmed and cosy at the same time without compromising on the pace of the narrative which is consistently thrilling right to the very end. It is a sound treatise on what it means to be different and why that doesn’t have to be a bad thing, but is most often considered to be one.

It leaves one to think about one’s own experience with racism in this pre-apocalyptic world. Not being ‘white’ can expose one to all sorts of risks and not being a ‘straight male’ may mean that one is disproportionately exposed to hurt, both physical and psychological. So, if/when you find yourself in that spot, remember that your uniqueness makes this world what it is; wondrous and beautiful.

And those who seek to have only one colour in their landscape will soon lose all sense of the horizon. Theirs will be an arid world; a flowerless garden with nothing but parched soil the colour of the sky.
Profile Image for Ashley.
248 reviews63 followers
June 14, 2020
"To be any kind of deviant is to be hurt - always."


There were a few things about "The Chrysalids" that I really loved. For one thing, the post-nuclear ruins of the world were fascinating and eerie, and the community's reverence for "the Old People" (namely us) was spooky. The setting was well-imagined with its fanaticism and emotional detachment. The themes of Naziism and metaphorical racism were applicable to the social and political issues we face today. The way that "deviants" were treated echoed our current struggles as a society to accept one another. I liked that it was reminiscent of "The Giver" and "Brave New World." David was also a noble, capable, and trustworthy protagonist.

Nevertheless, while the first third of the story was engaging, profound, reflective, and mysterious, a lot of the edge was lost as the plot progressed. I lost interest as it devolved into mind-chatter between a large group of interchangeable telepathic characters. Furthermore, Petra was annoying, David's apparent relationship with Rosalind seemed contrived, and several new plot elements were introduced towards the end (including the Zealanders, who were totally random). It became increasingly unrealistic, even for a dystopian novel, until it ended up being rather silly. None of the characters seemed to truly feel anything about their predicament and were happy to just keep following orders or walking along until they reached - well - who knows!? Certainly not these characters!

And a point on which I am particularly bitter is the handling of Sophie: a ballsy, fun-loving little girl who disappears for eight years only to return as a love-sick mistress who'd rather die than be cast aside by her cruel master, who'd happened to show, apparently, some semblance of kindness to her. And what's worse is that she was written in such a way as to justify her attachment to him, like it was completely reasonable and no one could have possibly expected anything different. And, of course, Sophie is also madly in love with David. Everyone is madly in love with David.

But I am MOST bitter about the ending. At the risk of giving too much away, I must say: I fail to understand how the murders of TWO full communities can be justified by the explanation that they were "intellectually underdeveloped," when the whole point of the novel (up to that point) was to accept everyone for their differences. (The consequence of failing to do so, is the creation of a cold, harsh, stringent, and unhappy society where everyone lives in fear of everyone else). Perspective is a matter of one's environment, and there is none superior to the other. But by the end of this, the author seemed to be saying: "All perspectives are equal, except for this one, which is more equal than all the others." Can you tell I've read "Animal Farm"? ;)

I know that the people of Waknuk were immoral in their thinking, but that did not justify mass-murder. They were simply uneducated and needed guidance. Telepathy is not a requirement for intelligence.

The world was more engrossing when it was being revealed little by little, when there were still elements left to the imagination. When Uncle Axel lectured about the surrounding land, I was completely in awe because it wasn't adding up, because it piqued my interest, because it reinforced the theme of environmental damage and how our perspectives are shaped by our surroundings/experiences. Once plot holes started to fill in and become repetitive, I quickly grew bored and ceased to care. It's a shame because this novel had a lot of potential and a lot to say about how we treat one another.
Profile Image for Brandon.
902 reviews233 followers
September 25, 2014
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”.

Author John Wyndham brings us into the mind of David, a young man born with telepathic powers. Where his own personal deviation is not visible to the community, he and others who share this ability must keep their special talent a secret for fear of death or banishment. Can David and his fellow friends keep their special skills under wraps or are they doomed to live among the fallen?

There’s nothing that creeps me out more than hardcore bible thumpers. I’m not about to go Rust Cohle and step onto some imaginary soap box and start throwing shade on those who believe in a higher power. I understand the purpose in believing that there’s some omnipotent being that guides us through this thresher (OK, maybe a little Rust won't hurt) but when you start forcing your beliefs onto the general population and allowing it to govern the way you operate as a society, I get a little upset.

David’s father is a no-nonsense preacher who presents select bible verses as fact and therefore is void of empathy when it comes to protecting the community from so called deviations from the devil, despite the fact that many pose no threat. Since nuclear waste has an approximate half life of twenty-four thousand years, there’s a good chance that the deformities are a result of radiation rather than the mythical man below. However, I guess the struggling society isn’t all that knowledgeable given the separation from the “Old People”.

Wyndham’s novel is less about the apocalypse, genetic mutations and God than it is about what we’re doing to ourselves as a species. If we’d put away our own reservations about race and religion, we could really accomplish more as a society rather than be bogged down in archaic ideals about what’s “right” and what’s “wrong”.
Profile Image for Ilana.
606 reviews163 followers
April 20, 2021
I lost a lot of sleep because of this book. Simply couldn’t put it down. A puritanical society where any deviation from strict codes of what constitutes normality and thus “godliness” and which destroys everything deemed “deviant” in which a boy born with all the right numbers of fingers and toes and all outward appearances seems perfectly acceptable, but with a terrible secret to hide: the gift and curse of telepathy which he shares with a small group of other children, which they must hide at all cost.

Written in the 1950s, we are given to understand they are living like early colonizers in a post-nuclear world where nature continually offers strange mutations, and nightmarish, unnameable things lurk in the Fringes. Somehow still terribly relevant, and more so than ever in this Trumpian dystopic reality show we are all presently living, because isn’t MAGA all about returning to the values of the postwar era? Which makes me think the return of some form of McCarthyism can’t be too far away... 😰

Whatever your political or philosophical leanings, it’s a great yarn with an ending that can be read in many ways and leaves you thinking long after you’ve turned the last page.
Profile Image for Emma.
2,438 reviews830 followers
July 19, 2018
John Wyndham and this book pass the time test incredibly well. A fascinating look at post apocalyptic life.
“Life is change... The living form defies evolution at its peril; if it does not adapt, it will be broken. The idea of completed man is the supreme vanity: the finished image is a sacrilegious myth.”
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