Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Chrysalids - John Wyndham

As I have mentioned before, I love post-apocalyptic texts, and I love mutants even more.

I always wonder about what would happen to the world after a great disaster. If the world were to be shattered, would society rebuild? And in what way? What would change in the minds of the people left behind?

Wyndham takes an approach that I find fascinating, specifically that the society the novel follows, some 1000 years after the destruction of Earth, are living much like humans of the 18th century would have. That is to say, would time and history repeat itself?

Waknuk is a small community located on what we know to be Labrador, and it is here that our protagonist resides. We find out early that David is different from his family, and that his distant cousin is also different in a similar way, but for whatever reason they are unable to share what it is that separates them from the rest of society. When David befriends a young girl, nothing out of the ordinary is brought forth until her foot is caught between two rocks. In helping her to pry it out, it becomes known that she has six toes on each foot. David is sworn to secrecy by her family, and it slowly becomes clear that this community lives in a very strict form of Christianity. This form constitutes that if a human being is not formed in the image of God, they are formed in the image of the Devil. Any altercation of the body is considered to be evil, and these beings are cast out into the Fringes (the direct outside of the community) or into the Badlands (where nothing and no one can survive). David's secret becomes known after the community becomes aware of Sophie's six toes, as well as the similar secrets of his friends and his little sister, Petra. All of them possess what they refer to as "thought-speak", in which they can telepathically speak to one another.

In a rush against the community, and specifically David's own father, the group of children seek an unknown voice that they have heard in Petra. From far-away, someone else has been attempting to reach them, and because of Petra's bizarre power, she is able to respond. They all set out, racing against those that aim to kill what they do not understand, and the savages of the Fringes.

I think it is fascinating how this community attempts to justify what proper human form is. Throughout the novel, anything that is not in the image that is so determined in the Bible is cast out to die. As if this isn't bad enough, when David's secret is discovered, they decide that alterations to the brain are not acceptable either. I cannot wrap my head around the understanding that some people are alright for the world, and some people are not. As well as who it is that decides these things. Text like this always boil down to the root of what it means to be human and, spoiler alert, it isn't always the ones in charge.

I give this novel a 5/5. I used to read it often when I was a child, and I think it was perhaps the first post-apocalyptic text I ever read. I love the vague understanding that all of the people have of the world before the apocalypse, and I find the attempt of the community to filter out the deviations of the human form and the human mind fascinating. This novel toys with the idea of evolution and rejection of religion with a post-apocalyptic backdrop, and I think it is difficult to turn something like that down.

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