Before Christmas, I was at a work event and the conversation wonderfully turned to books. A few of my colleagues read a lot, others don’t read at all. This led to us deciding that each of us should have a January challenge of reading a book we hadn’t read or wouldn’t usually read. I was given The Chrysalids by John Wyndham, described on the back of the book as a post-nuclear apocalypse story of genetic mutation in a devastated world. It explores the extent the intolerant will go to keep themselves pure.
Essentially, in this world, there is a strong belief in the “True Image” or the “Norm”, which draws on theological ideas of the true image of God. Any deviations from this “True Image” such as extra toes and unnatural birthmarks are considered fundamentally impure. This applies to people, animals and even fields of wheat. The story begins with a boy called David in a place called Waknuk, part of the larger county of Labrador and those who are deviations have retreated to the Badlands or The Fringes. The story carries a lot of dystopian and sci-fi themes and its language and character development is captivating. The approach the people of Waknuk take in killing babies born with deviations is extreme and quite simply, harrowing.
One key theme in the novel is change and how its presence in life is what makes it worth living. Wyndham takes readers on a journey with David and his friends who come together through their similarities, but also work together in a world of difference. Things constantly change for them, from feeling safe to their very lives being threatened, reflecting the “up and down” nature of life. Change is all around us, and The Chrysalids demonstrates that strongly and effectively, through people, history and society. Sometimes we can put too much negativity onto change. Of course there are major changes that are hard to stomach and they shouldn’t be taken lightly. However, life is never going to be static. In my life, there are two constants - the love of God and change.
Change is what gives life its vibrancy; it helps us to move, learn and develop. There are many trials to face and many victories to celebrate but to get to the victory, we have the journey of the trial. That’s what we see through David’s character in particular. Through the guidance of his Uncle, the need to protect his sister, and the undertaking of a physical journey, you can see how the changes in his life empower him to develop stronger characteristics. I don’t believe we should ever want to stay where we are. We shouldn’t rush through life, because we will miss special moments, but we can’t be complacent either, always looking to change for the better.
It’s been a challenge to write this without giving away too much about the book, and while I wasn’t blown away, the novel isn’t too long and presents an interesting and thought-provoking message.